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July 9, 2021

We Can’t Give what we Don’t Have: 6 Boundaries we Must Learn how to Set.


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“Let’s go to my car.”

I’ve been working there for a few weeks. I knew they were with someone—I knew it wasn’t right, and yet, I still slowly and shamefully walked toward their car.

How can I say “no?” My mind and lack of boundaries said, “You just got this job. You need this.”

A moment later, I felt like throwing up. Finally, I had the bravery to say, “It’s getting late; we should go.”

I didn’t say what I really wanted to say, which was, “No, I don’t want this. I don’t want to follow you to your f*cking car just so I don’t lose my job.”

Whenever I think about boundaries, what initially comes to mind are the standard obvious ones. At the supermarket, the person behind me needs to recognize the space between us. If I can feel their breath on my neck, they’re too close. If I meet someone for the first time and they hug me without asking first, they’re too close. I love to hug, but not until at least the second encounter.

It wasn’t until I had children that I realized boundaries should exist, not just with strangers, but also with our loved ones. For example, my mother loves to buy big items for my children and set them up at my house. But if I wanted to buy my children, say, a trampoline, I’d get it myself. So, with boundaries, it is important to have consent and to communicate our wants as well.

Another example is family members who stop by unannounced. Sometimes, when I wasn’t expecting company, I don’t have the time or energy to sit with guests or entertain them. My time is valuable, too. Or, friends who buy me a ticket to a concert when I can’t attend because I’m already stretched to the limit. To me, putting me in a position to go somewhere when I can’t is crossing the line.

As children, we aren’t taught about boundaries. We didn’t know that people whom we loved, cared for, and trusted could cross them. And we never even knew we had the right to set up our own boundaries whenever our lines were crossed.

Who is supposed to teach us how it looks to say no? We are so brave about so many things, and yet, we aren’t courageous enough to stand up for ourselves or to have our boundaries and self-respect.

Boundaries should be established and learned during our childhood through communication, consistency, and patience. Whenever they’re established, we learn about confidence, responsibility, safety, and respect—not only for ourselves but for other people as well. We learn that it is healthy to disagree or not want to do something. We learn that our bodies are sacred and they deserve to be valued and respected.

But what happens when our childhood reflects a lack of boundaries? What happens when in order for us to feel loved and special, it implies letting people do to us whatever they feel is right?

We learn to bend over, not knowing how to stand tall. We see boundaries as our last resort when in reality, they are healthy and necessary in every area of our life. We relate boundaries with a specific tone in mind—strong or angry—so that people learn that this is important to us. But being assertive doesn’t have to equal screaming or being angry. Being assertive is being kind and loving enough toward ourselves to set our own limits with others.

Without boundaries, we lose parts of ourselves to the world. We are allowing the world to create who we are. We adjust our own power, strength, and force according to other people’s needs or expectations.

There is a fine line between boundaries and being close to people or seizing opportunities. As with everything else, balance is key. We have to be truthful and open enough as to why we have them. We have to ask ourselves, “What is the reason behind having this boundary? Am I respecting myself or hiding so that others don’t see me?”

As a culture, we do what we are told. There is no space for conversation or opinion, and no respect for debatable ideas. So we simply smile, sit correctly, and don’t ever question orders because that is what a good girl or good boy does—or so I’ve thought.

Engraving this in a young person’s heart, it is no surprise that as adults, we don’t know how to set healthy boundaries with other people. In order to set them, we must first identify the areas in our lives that need structure or limits.

We can create boundaries that reflect our own goals and values:

1. Material boundaries.

We can decide what we are able to share regarding money and possessions—what we are willing to give versus what we are required to give. This gives us the power to control our own finances and freely share them with others. It allows us to give from a place of abundance. We can’t give what we don’t have, just like in the aircraft announcement, “Put on your mask first and then help the people next to you.”

2. Physical boundaries.

We need our personal space. A place where we can breathe and connect with our own essence. Allowing ourselves the necessary space also teaches us to give space to others. It formulates respect, understanding, and acceptance.

3. Emotional boundaries.

We are all entitled to having our own emotional needs. We do this by giving ourselves love and care. By owning and respecting our own needs, we can recognize and respect the emotional needs of others, too.

4. Mental boundaries.

Our mental state is constantly challenged on a daily basis. How we feel, think, and react are part of what makes us unique. Having boundaries could also mean being selective to the kind of thoughts we allow ourselves to have and what external thoughts we give space to.

5. Workplace boundaries.

In order to form a healthy work-home-life balance, we need a separation between the two. This ensures we protect our commitment to our families. It gives us permission to enjoy our family time when our workday is over. The separation will also ensure that when we are working, we are fully present while devoting each work hour to our jobs.

6. Sexual boundaries.

We develop a sense of how far we are willing to take what we do sexually. We learn that our bodies decide what feels right, what is comfortable, and how far we are willing to experiment—for us and us alone. It guarantees we have an enjoyable sexual experience without shame or regret.

When setting boundaries, let’s remember that our life, health, and wants are important. Saying “no” doesn’t mean we don’t care about the other person; it means we care enough to be honest and truthful.

Here are some common phrases when setting boundaries and what they actually communicate: 

>> “I can’t,” says, “I respect what I can give.”

>> “I truly don’t want to,” says, “I respect and value my feelings.”

>> “I am not going to sleep with you,” says, “I respect and value myself and my body.”

>> “This isn’t part of my job responsibilities but I am happy to do it with the proper compensation,” says, “I respect my effort and have high value for my work.”

>> “I need space,” says, “I value my health, personal space, and what I need for myself.”

>> “I can help you but I don’t feel this is the best way to do so,” says, “I believe in you and I know you are capable of sorting this out with help, not someone doing it for you.”

>> “Yes, I can help you financially. Let’s set up a date for you to pay me back,” says, “I value my effort, money, and work.”

>> “I waited for you; we can reschedule,” says, “I value and respect my time.”

Boundaries are a conversation between our deepest self and pleasing others. They are a debate between what we truly want against what is expected or what others want from us. But in reality, they’re a battle with ourselves more than they are against someone else.

Like anything we are not used to, of course, it will feel awkward and unnatural at first. We resist speaking up when we are used to toning down who we are so other people can accept us.

We need clarity in our own minds about what we need. Using our authentic self to gather a clear message of what we are trying to communicate will ensure success in translating what is in our hearts. When we communicate with love and kindness, we are setting an example of the importance of what we want.

The people who are supposed to be in our lives will understand and respect the boundaries we set. Anyone else can choose to walk away if they can’t understand or refuse to respect our boundaries.

Boundaries are connected to who we are, and the treatment and respect we believe we deserve. This can be in constant change according to and how we see and love ourselves within. They require realness with a side of truth, not openness with a side of apologetic reasonings as to why we or they should be respected.

They aren’t about giving in or pretending we can agree with absolutely everyone. They always have been about who we are, what we care for, and our power to run freely into the wild. We can trust our Divine body, mind, and soul in the process.

Let’s get real with ourselves. Let’s connect to feel our f*cking power ignite as the magic of our own complete freedom explodes.

We don’t need to be everything for everyone when we can be whole and respectful toward ourselves.

So let’s be our own best f*cking hero.

For more from Sharon.

For more from Michelle


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S. DeNofa & M. Gutierrez

author: Michelle Gutierrez & Sharon DeNofa

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Editor: Rasha Al Jabi