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S2 EP110 – Boundaries: What They are and What They Are Not

Episode Summary

Many people are confused regarding what a boundary is. Discover the big different between what you may believe is a boundary that come from the fear of your wounded self, and an actual boundary that comes from the love of your loving adult. Discover the major difference between actions that are controlling but that you might be calling a boundary, and actual boundaries. 


Hi everyone. This is Dr. Margaret Paul with the Inner Bonding podcast, and today I want to clarify the issue of boundaries – what they are and what they are not.  I’m also going to be talking about the big difference between boundaries set from fear in order to control, and boundaries set from love to take loving care of yourself.

A very important aspect of being a loving adult is setting loving boundaries with others so that our inner child feels safe. Whether or not a boundary is loving depends upon which aspect of you is setting the boundary – the wounded self or the loving adult.

The intent of the wounded self in setting a boundary is to have control over not being controlled or rejected by another. The wounded self comes from the fear of being invaded, rejected, engulfed, abandoned, seen as wrong, bad, or unworthy, and projects these experiences from the past onto the present or future. Instead of discerning what is actually happening in the moment, the wounded self protects ahead of time, just in case someone may be invading or rejecting. The wounded self enters an interaction already defended against his or her fears.

The wounded self believes that a boundary is telling someone else what to do or not do. This isn’t a boundary – it’s an attempt to control, and it has no power because we generally can’t make others do what we want them to do unless we use threats or some form of force.

The intent of the loving adult in setting a boundary is to take loving care of yourself in the moment. The loving adult knows that a boundary is something you set for yourself, letting the other person know what you are going to do if their unloving behavior continues.

The loving adult discerns whether another is open or closed, loving or unloving. The loving adult is compassionately aware of the feelings of the inner child in the moment, which is Step One of Inner Bonding. If there is anything other than peace and fulness within, the loving adult immediately moves into an intent to learn, which is Step Two of Inner Bonding, to determine what the inner child is reacting to in Step Three of Inner Bonding, and how to handle it lovingly in Step Four of Inner Bonding. The loving adult then sets the boundary, taking the loving action in Step Five of Inner Bonding, to take care of the inner child. Sometimes setting boundaries can be done softly, along with an intent to learn with the other, such as “I don’t like being spoken to with this anger. Do you want to talk about what is upsetting you?” Other times, when you already know the other will not open, the boundary needs to be set firmly and acted upon immediately, saying something like “This doesn’t feel good. I’m going to take a walk and maybe we can talk about it later,” while disengaging from the conversation.

When being right or not being rejected or controlled by another is more important than being loving to yourself and others, your wounded self is in charge. When you find yourself feeling righteous, resistant, judgmental, angry, or shut down, notice your intent. What is most important to you in this moment? Are you afraid that opening to learning and loving makes you too vulnerable to being controlled by others? Do you feel that opening your heart is giving in to someone who wants you to be open? Are you afraid that you will not know how to take good care of yourself if someone gets angry, critical, or in some other way invasive or rejecting? Are you shut off from receiving the messages from your higher self regarding the loving action?

It is only when we are open to learning and loving that we can feel, hear, and perceive the messages that are always coming to us from our spiritual guidance. It is only then that we can know how to take loving care of ourselves in the moment.  

People are often confused about what a boundary is because, as I said, many people think a boundary is something that you set for somebody else. The ego wounded self sets what it thinks is a boundary in order to control, but that not a boundary because you can’t make another person do it. Like you can say to somebody, you can’t talk to me that way. A client said to me, ‘I set a boundary. I told my partner that he can’t talk to me that way.” I let the client know that that’s not a boundary – that it’s a form of control that doesn’t work at all because you have no control over whether or not the other person talks to you that way. The other person will continue to do whatever they want, regardless of what you say they can or can’t do. A client said to me, “I told my partner she can’t be late anymore. It’s driving me crazy. She can’t be late anymore.” Obviously, there’s nothing you can do about somebody being late so there is no way to enforce this. Since you don’t have control over the other person, it doesn’t do any good at all to tell somebody what they can or can’t do when you have no way of enforcing that. This is true with both kids and with adults, that if you have no way of enforcing it, then it’s a useless thing to do.

What the loving adult does is speak your truth, for example saying, “I don’t like it when you talk to me in that judgmental, disrespectful, and diminishing way,” and then you say what you are going to do. For example, you might say “The next time you talk to me like that, I’m going to walk away,” or “I’m going to leave the conversation,” or “I’m going to go in another room,” or “I’m going to leave the house,” or whatever it is you are going to do to take loving care of yourself rather than try to control your partner. That’s a boundary. The boundary is what you’re going to do if the other person continues to be judgmental, or late, or whatever it is he or she is doing that feel unloving to you, because that is what you have control over. You have control over your choices, not over someone else’s choices. I have control over what I’m going to do, so if I say “I really hate being late all the time and it drives me crazy that you’re always running late. So the next time you’re running late, I’m just going to take my own car.” This is letting your partner know what you are doing to do, and that’s the boundary.

If you don’t like it that your partner leaves his or her socks or underwear or clothes all over the place, you can say, “The next time you do that, I’m going to hide them.” That’s the boundary, that’s what you’re going to do and you’re letting the person know ahead of time that this is what you’re going to do to take care of yourself in the face of what your partner is choosing to do. You can say that their behavior feels unloving or disrespectful to you, but you can’t make the other person care about what’s important to you. You can’t make the other person be on time just because it’s important to you, or pick up their clothes just because it’s important to you, or be kind because it’s important to you. It’s heartbreaking when a partner doesn’t care about what’s important to you, but when somebody is in their wounded self, they’re not capable of caring about you. The wounded self isn’t the caring part of us.

When you or another are being disrespectful or judgmental or in any way unloving, you’re in your wounded self. And the wounded self is not caring – it’s controlling. To expect a person who’s in their wounded self to care is unrealistic. Our responsibility is to learn to care about ourselves and to do it in a kind way – not in a mean or punishing way, because then you’re in your wounded self, trying to control the other person’s wounded self. If you say in a mean, critical or punishing way, “I can’t stand it when you’re late. So the next time you’re late, I’m just going to take my own car.” That is not what I call a loving boundary because it’s coming an intent to control. Your tone of voice will always betray your intention.

So whether it’s a boundary or a form of control, like everything in Inner Bsonding, it depends upon the intention. If the intention is to control the other person, it doesn’t matter what you say or how you say it, the energy of the controlling energy will be there. But if your intention is to take loving care of yourself, then that kind and gentle energy will be there. It’s not so much the words you use. I can say, “Honey, I just hate being late. It makes me anxious. It makes me crazy. I know it’s hard for you to be on time, so next time this happens, I’m just going to take my own car and we can meet there and then you can take all the time you want.” Or, I can say the same words with a controlling and blaming tone, “Honey, I just hate being late. It makes me anxious. It makes me crazy. I know it’s hard for you to be on time, so next time this happens, I’m just going to take my own car and we can meet there and then you can take all the time you want.”

It’s the exact same words, but it’s a totally different energy coming from the wounded self. This unloving energy is coming from the to intention control. It’s to punish the other person. Lots of times people ask me what to say, and I say, “It’s not so much what you say to set the loving boundary. It’s about your intention. It’s about focusing on what’s in your highest good and taking loving care of yourself.”

Clients ask me, “How can I take care of myself so that I don’t feel resentful and so that I can keep my heart open? I don’t feeling like a victim of this person.” When you want to set a loving boundary, what you need to do is share your feelings, like if someone’s judging you, yelling at you, telling you what to do, or interrogating you, lying to you, and so on, what you want to do is say, “This is hurtful to me. It doesn’t feel good at all so I’m going to disengage and go in the other room, or go for a walk or a drive, or get off the phone, or stop texting.” If somebody’s interrogating you, you can say “I’m not available to be interrogated. It doesn’t feel good to answer this question. I don’t want to discuss the issue right now because it doesn’t seem like there’s openness,” and then disengage.

These are examples of boundaries. It’s about what you’re going to do in the face of another’s unloving behavior. You might say, “This anger is scaring me so I’m going to go for a drive.” If there’s violence, then a boundary would be to call the police. Obviously leaving a relationship if there’s physical abuse or intense emotional abuse and gaslighting is what is loving to you. Then, of course, you need to not be around that person, not be in the relationship, otherwise just saying that this is what you will do is a form of control.

If you’re in a relationship and your partner comes at you for sex in a very needy or demanding way, or a way that expects you to give yourself up or a way that’s not connected, not loving, a boundary might be, “I need to feel emotionally connected with you in order to want have sex. I’m not turned on by your needy or demanding energy. So I’m not going to have sex with you until we can get into a loving and emotionally connected place with each other.”

If spending time with your partner ends up feeling bad, a boundary would be, “I’m not going to spend much time with you until we can be together in an open and caring way with each other.”  Again, it’s what you’re going to do rather than trying to change your partner. If there’s financial issues and you’re the breadwinner and your partner is un-unnecessarily spending a lot of money, a boundary might be “I’m going to cut up the credit cards and give you an allowance instead. I’m no longer willing to pay for these frivolous things.” A loving boundary is about doing what you can do, what’s in your control to do. It’s not about trying to get the other person to be different or telling them what they should be doing.

The art of setting boundaries is tied in with fully accepting your helplessness over others. As long as you believe you can control another person, then you will not accept the truth – that you are powerless over another’s intent to be loving or unloving.

However, you are not at all powerless over whether YOU choose to be loving or unloving to yourself. When your intent is to be loving to yourself, then you will be unavailable for others’ unloving behavior.

The thing that makes this so challenging is that it is very hard for all of us to accept that we have no control over another’s intent and their resulting behavior. We want so badly to be able to get a person who is being unloving to us to open and loving, because we don’t want to feel the pain of their choice. This is why it is so important for you to learn to compassionately manage your very painful feelings of loneliness, heartbreak, grief and helplessness over others. Without knowing that you can manage these feelings, you will either try to control others or be too afraid to give and receive love. Neither of these choices will lead to joy or a loving relationship.

One of my clients, Allison, wanted to know what to say to her husband when he disrespects her in front of their children. She didn’t want her kids to keep witnessing disrespectful behavior toward her. She said, “When I challenge his statements of me, his anger escalates and the chastisement worsens, and I’m frequently embarrassed. I wish my children to understand that this is not okay. How can I model what to say to him so that my kids can learn how to take loving care of themselves in situations like this?” She also went on to say that he is often disrespectful to her in restaurants in front of others.  

What I said to her is, “Allison, this is the kind of situation where you don’t want to challenge his treatment of you, because as you said, it’s going to escalate. What you want to do in this situation is to state your truth, which is, ‘I don’t like being treated in this judgmental and disrespectful way, so every time you do it, I will speak up and say I don’t like it and I will leave the room. If it’s out in public, if we’re in a restaurant, I will get up in front of people and say, ‘I don’t like being treated this way. It’s not okay to treat me disrespectfully. And then I will leave. I will take our car and go home and you can find your own way home. I will no longer stay in your presence when you treat me this way.’ You would need to say it in a fairly firm way. Obviously, he’s been controlling you with his unloving behavior. It would be very good for your children to hear you say to him, ‘It’s not okay to treat me in this unloving disrespectful way. And when you do, I am going to walk out.’ That’s a role model for your children. When you challenge him, you’re trying to control him and you can’t. Your children need to see what it looks like to take loving care of yourself, to do what you do have control over, which is you. You have control over saying, ‘I am not going to be around you when you’re being unloving and disrespectful with me.’

It would be excellent for your children to see you moving into your power, by saying no, it’s not okay to treat me this way and when you do, I’m going to leave and then walk out. Walk out to another room, walk out to your car, go take a ride, walk out from a restaurant or from a party, even of others are there. In fact, if others are there, be sure to say it loudly and firmly so others hear you. Wherever you are you need to be prepared to say, ‘It’s not okay to treat me this way so I’m leaving.’”

My client, Teresa, said, “I have trouble setting boundaries with some members of my family. They disregard my feelings and often feel they can use and take my possessions. I find the best way to deal with this is to set physical boundaries by not spending any time with them. Often, if I stand up for myself, I’m seen as a troublemaker.” I told Teresa that, “Not being around them is one kind of boundary. You could also say if they are at your house and you see them using or taking your possessions, that you’re going to ask them to leave. And they will see you as a troublemaker and that needs to be okay with you. If you’re at their house and they’re taking something of yours that you’ve brought, and you speak up, they’re going to see you as a troublemaker because they want to do what they want to do.

They don’t want you to take care of yourself. They don’t want you to speak up for yourself.  So you have to be willing to have them see you as a troublemaker. If you are not willing to have them judge you, then you’re not going to be able to speak up for yourself. So I want to encourage you to make it okay for them to see you as a troublemaker and to speak up and say that it’s not okay to use or take your possessions, and that if they do, then you’re not going to be to be around them. And then if they say, ‘You’re a troublemaker,”’ you can say, ‘That’s right and I will continue to be a troublemaker and speak my truth because it’s not okay to use my things without my permission or to take my things.’

In order to set the boundary – and here’s one of the challenges with setting a boundary – is that you need to be willing to lose the other person rather than lose yourself. And it’s not easy to reach that place. You need to be willing for people to be angry with you, to be upset with you, to tell you you’re a troublemaker, to tell you there’s something wrong with you. You must be willing to have that happen because if you’re not, then you’re going to continue to give yourself up and allow yourself to be violated in one way or another.

It is not easy to commit to take loving care of yourself and risk losing your partner or your family or your friends. But is the illusion of connection with someone worth the reality of losing yourself?

In a caring, loving relationship with a partner, you can make reasonable requests of your partner and your partner will want to do all he or she can to meet your requests. But in a dysfunctional relationship, your partner might ignore your requests. That’s when you need to accept that the caring is getting lost in the power struggles and control issues. To get yourself out of the unloving system that the two of you have created, you may need to control what you can control, which is how you treat yourself and how you respond to others’ unloving behavior.

We train people in how to treat us. If we allow others to use and abuse us, then they will likely continue to do so. Since others generally treat us the way we treat ourselves, you might want to explore how you are treating yourself that may be leading you to feel used or abused in your relationships.

My client Maddie told me that, “With friendships, I often am not sure what is a loving boundary when it comes to how frequently I call or make plans with a friend. I sometimes hesitate to call a friend out of fear. I think I’m reaching out too frequently. Now that I have been practicing in Inner Bonding, I’m aware of how I have reached out to friends from a needy place. I really want to connect with my friends, but part of me is now hesitant, because I don’t want to reach out from an empty place anymore. How can I differentiate from my wanting to reach out for connection from a full place versus an empty place?”

I said to her that “This has to do with how you’re feeling in the moment. If you’re feeling full, if you’re feeling happy, if you’re peaceful and you want to share your peace and your love and your caring with your friends, then by all means reach out. But if you’re feeling empty and you’re trying to get something from them, that’s not a good time to reach out. It’s up to you to tune in and to see what’s going on inside of you. It’s up to you to set an inner boundary regarding allowing your wounded self to act out with neediness.”

We not only need to set loving boundaries with how others treat us, we also need to set loving inner boundaries regarding not allowing our wounded self to act out in unloving and controlling ways. The more you learn to set inner limits on your own wounded self, the easier it will be for you to set loving limits for yourself regarding the unloving, wounded behavior of others’ wounded selves.

Practicing Inner Bonding is a powerful pathway to develop your loving adult, capable of setting both loving inner boundaries with yourself, and loving outer boundaries with others.

I hope you join me for my 30-Day at-home Course: “Love Yourself: An Inner Bonding Experience to Heal Anxiety, Depression, Shame, Addictions and Relationships.”

You can heal your relationships with my 30-Day online video relationship course: Wildly, Deeply, Joyously in Love.

My recent books will also be a big help to you: The Inner Bonding Workbook: Six Steps to Healing Yourself and Connecting With Your Divine Guidance,  Diet for Divine Connection: Beyond Junk Foods and Junk Thoughts to At-Will Spiritual Connection, and 6 Steps to Total Self-Healing: The Inner Bonding Process. You can get my books on our website or at Amazon or Goodreads.

And, of course, we have much to offer you at our website at

I’m sending you my love and my blessings.

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