When we have leaky, overly-permeable boundaries, it can feel like the weight of the world is on top of us. And when having leaky boundaries becomes a part of our identity (“I can’t say no”, “I’m just such a giving person”, etc.), we feel drained, over-extended, and resentful of the people around us.

Why is our relationship with boundaries so complex? The over-simplified answer: it’s a learned way of relating to others. For many of us, it’s deeply encoded in our emotional and physiological selves. We may have learned early on that putting ourselves first is selfish, or that we aren’t deserving or worthy of having our needs met. Continuing to operate in the world with leaky boundaries merely serves to strengthen our belief that somehow WE DON’T MATTER.

So how do we get out of this vicious cycle?

First of all, get curious. Notice how you feel when you’re with certain people in your life. Working towards creating healthy boundaries actually includes the ability to be discerning about which people we feel safe to share more of ourselves with, and which people we don’t.

Secondly, take a moment to pause and check in with yourself when you feel your boundaries have been violated. Is this a familiar feeling? Instead of immediately attempting to mitigate it or rescue yourself from it (i.e. lashing out, getting defensive, reaching for a glass of wine, etc.), try to stay with it for a moment. Then name it: “I feel ______”. Do your best to be-friend the feeling, and avoid judging yourself for having it in the first place–it’s there for good reason (i.e. somewhere along the line you learned that you needed to give yourself away in order to have your needs met).

Thirdly, do something different. Make a different choice. Step into the discomfort of putting yourself first. This might look like saying “no”, or expressing how you feel about something even if you know it may hurt someone else. Other people’s responses to our boundaries aren’t our responsibility.