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What Having Boundaries Actually Looks Like

Boundaries help us teach people how to stay in relationship with us

Sara Russell

You say for the umpteenth time, “I’ve told you to not fight with me over text while I’m at work. I need you to respect my boundary!”

The problem is, you texted that message. While at work. So guess who wasn’t respecting your boundary? That’s right, you.

We so badly want other people to hold our boundaries for us. But when someone steps across our line in the sand, it’s because they’re reaching for what they want—and if we keep giving it to them, they are unlikely to stop. Why should other people be expected to uphold our standards when we’re not willing to uphold them for ourselves?

So what does holding a boundary actually look like?

Begging someone to respect your limits? 

“Please stop calling me over and over when I say I need some space,” you say, after you answer the phone. 

Not a boundary.

Getting upset about an unmet, unexpressed, unnegotiated expectation you had? 

“You didn’t tell me you’d be going out with your friends. If you respected my time you would have checked with me first.” 

Not a boundary.

Controlling somebody in order to manage your own insecurities? 

“Block her on instagram, I don’t trust her.”

Not a boundary.

Our boundaries are where our “no” begins. We practice expressing our boundaries verbally; sometimes sharing our boundaries is enough. But holding our boundaries means taking action: moving our bodies away when we’ve reached the limits of our consent. 

Show, don’t tell, your boundaries.

That means not answering the phone after you’ve said you need space. That means letting your partner know you won’t be cooking dinner if you don’t know when they’ll be home. That means leaving if you don’t trust your partner to respect the agreements of your relationship.

You get to decide your standards for how you’re treated. You don’t get to decide how someone else responds to those standards. It’s up to you to put space between yourself and whatever is approaching your limits.

Focus on the reasonable result of someone violating your boundary. Will you extend less time, trust or intimacy? Will you ask for a conversation where you can more clearly communicate expectations and standards? Will you choose to stop relating with someone?

Boundaries aren’t the act of shutting someone out, but rather how we teach people how to stay in relationship with us. 

As Prentis Hemphill says, “Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously.” 


Sara Russell is a relationship coach, podcast host and Taoist practitioner who helps her clients analyze behaviors, relationships and systems to see where old habits are no longer serving them. Co-conspire with Sara on Instagram.


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