Boundaries are crucial components when were learning to live well in pain and to take care of ourselves. When our boundaries are not upheld we very easily slide towards overwhelm and burnout.

What are boundaries? They’re the demarcation between us and the people around us. They’re the delineations between what we experience, our energy and emotion and that which is felt by others - they are where I end and you begin.

When we don’t have strong boundaries we’re likely giving our energy and attention to things that drain us. It may be that we have things we need to achieve or accomplish and these things feel so close and yet remain so far away. Part of the reason for this could be because we’ve given away all of our resources to others, leaving us with nothing to build towards our own goals and our own sense of happiness.

Establishing and upholding strong boundaries doesn’t mean we’re cutting ourselves off from others and being selfish. In fact, strong boundaries very often mean that we are able to form deeper and more meaningful connections with others because we feel safe and protected, and are able to engage from a place of stability.

What do strong boundaries feel like? They feel like waking up calm and centered, they allow us to develop a deep sense of inner stability which means we’re more likely to deal with whatever life throws at us. Strong boundaries feel like taking care of yourself, your mental and emotional health well enough to allow you to take care of others.

For some people having weak boundaries gives them something to hide behind. Always “having” to make time for others and putting ourselves in the role of saviour, martyr or victim can mean that we are able to uphold a narrative about why we can’t resolve issues in our own lives. I’ve been guilty of this so much in my own life, and it’s still a work in progress.

But, as a work in progress, I can tell you that doing this work, while it can feel confronting and uncomfortable, is ultimately incredibly freeing. What I didn’t expect is that it’s allowed me to show up better, stronger and more present for the people that I love. And that includes myself.

I’m more easily able to identify and avoid situations that will take my last spoon (if you don’t know spoon theory have a read here), to step back from experiences that will ultimately harm me and more able to preserve my own energy stores.

But it’s more than learning to say no when I mean no. Learning to create strong boundaries has hugely shifted so much of the guilt that I carry around as a chronic pain sufferer; guilt that I can’t be a more fun friend, that I can’t attend every catch up and birthday, that I need to rest more than most. It’s helped me look internally for the validation I need to do the things that help me to take care of myself. Seeking that externally was drying me out and felt like I had a thirst I couldn’t quench. I’ve now found my own self-filling wellspring and it’s made all the difference.

In part two of this blog I’ll talk more about how to begin to establish healthy boundaries.

What does having strong boundaries mean to you?

Kate McGoey