Setting Healthy Limits

What is it that keeps us from setting healthy limits and boundaries with others?

Is it that we don’t know when someone has crossed the line? Or perhaps our limits were never honored as children, so we learned that they won’t be honored as an adult either? Perhaps we just don’t pay attention to or trust our own inner responses. Our insides can tell us when we have had too much or not enough of something, just like our stomach can tell us the same thing after we have finished a meal. In the same way, our emotions can let us know if we are getting too much of what we don’t want or too little of what we do want. If we learned to ignore our emotions (gut vs. mind), then it may be harder to recognize when this is happening.

Many of us learned to treat our feelings as a problem instead of a critical information source. We were taught that ‘big boys don’t cry’, ‘emotions make you vulnerable’, and many of us were teased or made wrong for being sensitive to what did and didn’t feel good to us. We were trained to disregard or even judge our emotions as bad and wrong and instead we were trained to ‘stay the course’, ‘suck it up’, or just get on with it.  This orientation away from recognizing and honoring our insides has created an epidemic of boundary issues in our relationships.

When we begin to tune into, accept, and honor what feels best to us in each situation we are faced with, our priorities shift and we activate our capacity for healthy limits and boundaries.

Our emotions are designed as a messaging system. They are energies that are moving through us to give us their message and then move on. When we don’t allow them to fully surface and speak to us, we push the energy back down and the message stays stuck within us versus moving up and out to be recognized and released on a conscious level. Most of our negative emotions (anger, hurt, sadness, fear) are aimed at helping us understand that we are not getting something we want, or we are getting something we don’t want. When we don’t feel like we have a choice to act on those messages, it can become easier to avoid the feelings altogether. Once we decide that feeling good is our highest priority, we can start to use our attention to notice when we DON’T feel good. Those are the times to question if a boundary has been crossed.

It’s up to us to take care of what feels best to us – even when others are behaving badly.

Our job is to notice that a boundary has been crossed and then decide what we can do to take care of ourselves given the current situation. What would be most loving for us? It’s not about making the other person wrong and it’s not about beating ourselves up for it happening in the first place. It’s simply about noticing that it has happened and deciding what to do to honor feeling good inside yourself – now. If someone has said something that is hurtful, it’s OK to let them know it didn’t feel good and in the future, if they do that again, you will be ending the conversation. If someone gets angry with you or makes you wrong for something you did or said, you can acknowledge that they feel angry without agreeing with them or taking it personally. You can simply stop the conversation, let them know you are willing to talk when they are done venting or walk away. It’s up to us to take care of what feels best to us – even when others are behaving badly. Wanting others to change to feel better ourselves never works and leaves us merged with others and disempowered to take care of ourselves. Deciding what is and isn’t OK with you and then honoring those limits without making anyone wrong – you or them – is the key.

What new limits are you willing to set today?


Wendy Watson-Hallowell | The Belief Coach
Wendy Watson-Hallowell | The Belief Coach
WENDY is passionate about enabling individuals, organizations and communities to value themselves and each other in the ongoing process of change. Wendy has guided hundreds of individuals and over 750+ public and private sector organizations to achieve tangible increases in impact and performance. Her successful practice in mentoring and coaching has led to authorship of the book, ‘Live a Life You Love and Make a Living Doing It’. Over the last 30 years, Wendy’s skills have been honed in leadership roles at MTV Networks, The Rensselaerville Institute, and a variety of community based projects in her town. In 2015 she launched BeliefWorks and offers Belief Coaching as a way to address the root cause of what limits the results we can achieve both personally and professionally. This is an 'upstream' solution to change. Instead of changing limiting behavior, she focuses on changing the limiting beliefs that drive that behavior. In all cases, her clients and partners speak to the specific increases in achievement that her consulting, coaching and partnership roles make possible.

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    • It sure can be the hard part Maureen. Knowing what we’re actually feeling. So many of us have been told to ignore or deny our own experience. Thank you for your commen!