A boundary is, in essence, where you end and another person begins. I define it as a limit that you set to define what you will and will not do, or what you will or will not accept or tolerate from others.
Our boundaries are all about who we are and what we want and need. Boundaries help us feel our best and make it possible for us to live the life we most desire. If you want to experience more joy and excitement in your life, it all begins with boundaries.
If you want a life of your own choice, if you want your own needs to be met more often than not, if you want the freedom to be your true self, and if you want better relationships, then you must learn to set boundaries.
Wait a minute. Did I just say that better relationships come from better boundaries? This is often the first objection I hear. Turns out, most of us neglect to set boundaries in large part due to our fear that others won’t love or accept us if we do. Won’t the people in your life be angry at you for not acquiescing to their desires, and asserting your own instead? Well, some might—at least at first. But over time, if you’re relating with people who truly love you and want you to be happy, your authentic needs will eventually be welcomed. If there’s anything I’ve learned since my divorce, it’s that relationships are much more genuine and intimate when we are completely honest with each other. There’s less emotional discord when both parties are open about their needs. Staying in self-sacrifice mode is what blew up my marriage; it’s simply not sustainable. Falsehood and masks are the enemies of intimacy.
We often presuppose that our needs and desires will be in competition with those of others. But what if every party in a relationship could have his or her needs met at the same time? In truth, our own desires aren’t necessarily in opposition to what others want. Voicing them may even help others access their own true wants by example.
What I’ve learned is that if I’m suffering, my relationships suffer. My relationships have improved immeasurably since I’ve done my boundary work. I now prioritize self-love in a wholehearted way. I take at least as good care of myself as I take of the other people in my life. In fact, I’ve found that the more I love myself and take care of my own needs, the more love I have available for others. If I continually empty my cup trying to help others, I am left thirsty. It’s like trying to squeeze blood from a stone. But when I fill up—by offering myself self-love and self-respect, in large part by honoring my own boundaries—my cup overflows. I have much more to give to those I love. When I set healthy boundaries, I get my own needs and desires met more often than not. I then let everyone else in my life be a grown-up and take responsibility for getting one’s own needs and desires met. Bottom line? My needs are my job, and your needs are yours. Setting and keeping our own boundaries is an inside job.
How Do You Know If You Need to Set Boundaries?
Here are several “Boundary Needed!” scenarios I hear frequently from clients. Do any of these sound familiar?
• Your mother calls you five times a day and tells you everything you’re doing wrong in your life;
• Your significant other leaves dirty clothes on the floor knowing you’ll always pick them up;
• Your neighbor plays music very loud, disrupting your sleep;
• Your boss expects you to work overtime without prior notice or extra pay;
• Whenever you go out to eat with your friend, she tells you what you should and shouldn’t eat;
• Your partner makes plans for the two of you without ever asking for your input;
• Your extended family members assume you will tell them every detail about your life;
• You’re freezing in a restaurant, but you don’t want to ask that the heat be turned up;
• Your aunt drops by your house anytime she wants, expecting you to stop what you’re doing and spend time with her;
• Your teenager takes money from your wallet without asking, thinking you won’t mind;
• Your partner consistently puts you down and acts as though you’re overly sensitive if you feel hurt.
How many people’s needs do you shoulder on a regular basis because you haven’t set appropriate boundaries?
For example, it’s time to set some boundaries if . . .
• You frequently feel like a victim as a result of the behavior of others;
• You feel you have little privacy in your life;
• You usually let others make the plans when you spend time together, allowing them to choose the movie, the restaurant, or the vacation destination;
• You feel like you’re a pushover when others express their desires;
• You prefer not to say anything when someone hurts you or cheats you (on purpose or accidentally);
• You feel it’s virtuous when you put others ahead of yourself, and you feel mean and selfish when you try to assert your own desires;
• You often feel resentful toward others because they don’t seem to take your needs into consideration;
• You’re sure you could never set boundaries with certain people in your life;
• You’ve been able to set some clear boundaries in your life but want to graduate to true “badassery” in this area.
If you identify with any of the above, you probably believe some of the following common myths about boundaries:
• Love requires that we set no boundaries.
• Setting boundaries will make me a selfish person.
• Setting boundaries will make everyone hate me.
• I can have the life I want without setting uncomfortable boundaries.
• I can’t set a boundary because I don’t know what to say without causing an argument.
• If I take care of my own needs all the time, no one else will get their needs met.
• If I spend my life setting boundaries, I’ll no longer be a giving, generous person, and no one will
want to be around me.
• Boundaries are restrictive, rather than freeing and expansive.
• Once I’ve set a boundary, I’m done and won’t need to set it again.
Do you hold to any of those myths? I’m going to bust every single one of them and reframe the whole conversation around setting limits. You’ll learn practical strategies for locating and managing your boundaries with the care and attention they deserve. Only then will you be able to fully live the life that was meant for you.
Introducing Boundary Badassery
The way of living I’ve just described is what I’ve come to call “boundary badassery.” It has taken a lot of work for me to become a “boundary badass,” and it never ceases to be a learning process. But boundary badassery has completely changed my life for the better. It has brought me greater peace, ease, contentment, and well-being in every area of my life. When I ask for what I want and honor my own needs, I no longer feel guilt or a pull of obligation to take care of the other person at my own expense.
It’s funny. The more I honor myself, the less I find myself engaged in conflicts about my boundaries. I have become more sensitive, so I feel pretty far in advance when I’m approaching a boundary! It’s become second nature to name my limits—immediately—when I notice they’re on the horizon. Plus, I do it without worrying others won’t
like me anymore. Sound impossible? It’s not, I promise.
Everything I do begins with self-love. That’s because in my opinion, loving ourselves is the foundation of life—including loving others. When it comes to boundaries, loving ourselves means that we know we have a right to our boundaries, no matter what they are and no matter what anyone else wants. We’ll collaborate and negotiate when and where it makes sense to us, but we don’t abandon the boundaries that are most important to us.
For those of us who have been the people pleasers, the rescuers, the fixers, and the savers, it feels radical to put ourselves in the position of priority, to check in with our own desires first, and to seek our own comfort first. I know it’s frightening, and some of you may be shaking in your shoes at the thought of setting certain boundaries. Trust me—I understand. I’ve been there. But if a do-it-all doormat like me can become a boundary badass, so can you! Tips for Setting Boundaries That Stick
Most of us would agree that setting effective boundaries is important. Boundaries can protect us, make us feel safe and establish our self-esteem. I’d even go so far as to say that boundaries are essential for helping you make yourself a priority and find greater freedom. Yet, most people still struggle to set and maintain the boundaries needed to live a happy life! Becoming a Boundary Badass begins when you understand what boundaries are and what they are not. This check- list can serve as a reminder that YOU have the power in each situation to choose how you will react and what to do next!
Freedom is yours to claim!
• A boundary is a limit that you set to define what you will and will not do, or what you will or will not accept or tolerate from others.
• By not setting boundaries, you abandon your true self. The consequences include squandering this life you’ve been given by not living it to the fullest.
• You are the one crossing your own boundaries. It’s no one else’s responsibility to see that your boundaries are not crossed.
• You can’t change others or force them to uphold your boundaries.
• You have a choice: the long-term pain of letting your boundaries be crossed versus the short-term discomfort of setting limits and keeping them.
• Healthy selfishness will be a game changer in your life.
• Conflict can simply be the illumination of differences, and you can maintain relationships even if you agree to disagree.
• Becoming a boundary badass means that you care at least as much about your own wants and needs as you do about anyone else’s.
My Invitation for You
I invite you to allow our exploration of boundaries to feel expansive and hopeful instead of constricting and
fearful. While much will be said in this book about initiating boundaries to protect, preserve, or keep something out, your boundaries are also the way you can carefully choose and consciously curate what you want to bring in.
Your willingness to feel the short-term discomfort of setting boundaries is the gateway to having everything you’re longing for in your life. Truth, connection, and freedom become available to you when you make your preferences
your priority, with courage and grace.
Remember, each time you set a healthy boundary, you’re saying Yes! to you.
About Nancy Levin
Nancy Levin is a Master Life Coach, radio host and best-selling author of five books including her latest, Setting Boundaries Will Set You Free: The Ultimate Guide to Telling the Truth, Creating Connection and Finding Freedom. She has coached thousands of people to live life on their own terms by making themselves a priority and setting boundaries that stick.
Formerly the Event Director at Hay House from 2002-2014, Nancy now teaches regularly at Kripalu, 1440 Multiversity and the Hay House Writer’s Workshop and she also recently launched Levin Life Coach Academy – a premier life coach training & certification program designed to revolutionize the industry. She received her MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics from Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado and she continues to live in the Rocky Mountains.