Boundaries: Defining What They Are

Setting boundaries requires making the journey from the “What will people think world.” to the “I am enough world.”

In our last session, What I Might Need, we reflected on our needs in a variety of areas of our lives. Before preparing for that session, I for one, had not spent time reflecting on what was important to me.  If you had trouble defining needs, you can also look at what you gossip or complain about to process your frustrations. A whole laundry list of needs is not helpful.  So next, we need to prioritize our needs so we can set boundaries. We don’t want to get too rigid in setting boundaries for every need as they don’t all have the same importance. 


Get into a comfortable meditative posture. Looking through your list, take the most important ones and list them on the sheet called Preferences, Desires, and Deal-Breakers. Preferences mean that you are partial to one option over another, but there is room to compromise.  Desires are a step up from preferences; while we may compromise on them, we would prefer not to. Deal Breakers are non-negotiable boundaries, things you cannot live without. Rate each need you listed.  If you selected your top needs, most would be desires or deal-breakers.

Setting Boundaries

Now comes the hard part, actually setting the boundary.  If you are a people pleaser like me, you may be wishy-washy on your boundary because of your fear of being disliked, or appearing mean or selfish. I struggle to learn to live with the short-term discomfort of setting boundaries, but the long-term benefits will far outweigh the costs. When we set boundaries, we stop being passive-aggressive, avoiding confrontation, hoping that the other person will figure out what we want.

Let’s review the two types of unhealthy boundaries, so we don’t fall into their traps.  Porous boundaries are too loose because you are overly concerned with hurting someone’s feelings or being rejected.  When our boundaries are rigid, we draw a line in the cement instead of the sand; our defenses are so strong that they keep everyone out, not just abusive people. We don’t want to keep people out; we just want to show them how to exist in relationship with us.

Setting boundaries helps us live a more connected life.  We have time for ourselves and cultivating relationships with the people who matter. We choose where to focus our attention, as that is where our energy will flow. While we will always veer off course, we have our North Start to point us in the right direction when we begin again. 

Setting boundaries requires making the journey from the “What will people think world.” to the “I am enough world.” We have to believe that it is OK for us to have needs and that we deserve to have our needs met, at least our deal-breakers.

When setting boundaries, it is easiest to start with boundaries for people who don’t matter so much.  Then we can move on to the people who really matter after we have honed our skills. As you set boundaries, remember that your boundaries shape your life, what you say yes to, and what you say no to. Boundaries can come from a place of love or a place of fear or anger.

Be specific about your boundary, whether the boundary is physical, sexual, material, mental, or emotional. “That is not funny.” is not a boundary. “Please do not make fun of my weight.” is a boundary.  “The kitchen is a mess.” is not a boundary. After eating, please rinse your dishes and put them in the dishwasher, and wipe down the sink, counter and table.” is a boundary. A boundary informs the other person of your preference, desire, request, or limit.


Take one of your needs that you feel uncomfortable asking for directly. Since we will be giving each other feedback on the boundary, please don’t make it too personal. Picture what life would be like if that boundary were in place to help clarify in your mind precisely what you want. Then in as simple a language as possible, describe your boundary. Only add context to help the other person better understand you and your boundary request. There is no need to justify your boundary.

Go all out in setting this boundary, be sure to ask for everything you might want, whether you deserve it or not. We will get in breakout groups later so you can ask for feedback on whether your boundary is too much. Remember that at the heart of boundaries is the courage to tell the truth.

  1. Get into a comfortable meditative posture.  You may choose to close your eyes until you are ready to begin writing.
  2. Begin with three long, slow deep breaths.
  3. Decide which need you will set a boundary for.
  4. Picture what life would be like if that boundary were in place.
  5. Clarify in your mind specifically what you want.
  6. Then in as simple a language as possible, describe your boundary.

Find a friend that you can communicate your boundary to. We all need to practice being the “bad guy.” Ask your friend to tell you if you have been: direct, clear, specific, apologetic, firm, and kind.

If you were not direct, clear, specific, firm, kind, and unapologetic, try restating your boundary. Once you have clearly stated your boundary, feel free to ask your friend if your boundary is too much or not enough.

You may choose to continue this exercise with other deal-breaker needs.

When I am able to be really present with your requests, demands and desires, because I myself have spent enough time examining my own soft spots to know what is and what is not OK for me, that changes my response to you. It means I am more likely to be direct with you, without you feeling the weight of my anger, guilt or condescending.” Rezzan Huseyin

Next session, we will look at what Terri Cole calls our Boundary Blueprint. We will investigate whether our current boundaries are indeed ours or if they were just inherited. We will evaluate whether our boundaries are porous or rigid, serve us well, or distract us from feeling.