How to find a balance with personal boundaries

In this blog post, we are going to look at how to set down personal boundaries with integrity that will benefit you and others around you.

If you try it mistakes will be made along the way, and I’m talking from experience! However, the biggest mistake you’ll ever make in life is not making any mistakes at all. JK Rowling gave a wonderful speech to Harvard graduates about the value of failure. So, even if the idea of setting down some personal boundaries scares you, that’s fine but don’t let it put you off.

Let’s take a look at some aspects of setting personal boundaries from the perspective of personal ethics - see last blog in the Strengthening your inner house with mindfulness series for more on this - and being too loose with them then being too rigid.


Avoid too loose

Setting down boundaries and then being too wavery with them just doesn’t give one a chance to grow within those boundaries.

What I mean by this is that often having boundaries means you have to be strong enough to then live by them, often despite what others are doing around you. Sometimes this means not fitting in with the crowd always, but it can also have the effect of strengthening one’s resolve.

When the boundaries are too loose this strengthening process just can’t take place.

It’s like you have nothing to push against therefore nothing to strengthen your mental muscles against; to strengthen your arm muscles you need something to push against and the same can be said for your mind: boundaries limit your whims and wandering thoughts, and instead strengthen qualities like resolve and self-respect.



There is an interesting article in Psychology Today that takes another angle on this entitled 4 Ways to Set and Keep Your Personal Boundaries.


Avoid too rigid

At the other end of the scale it is easy when you get the idea of putting down some personal boundaries to lay them down with a great amount of enthusiasm and energy, and then become far too rigid with them. Then also, due to that energy, go on about them to others; a quick way to get up other people’s noses believe me!

It was a mistake I made initially when establishing some ethical boundaries as part of a mindfulness practice - only for a few years or so, thankfully - before I realised I needed to respect others and how they viewed the world plus be a little more flexible at times.

One of my boundaries is trying to keep honest but not harmful in speech (including the written word). Some years ago I had a situation where I thought my point of view was the right one and thus when I aired it, true!

It turned out my point of view was just that, how I was seeing the situation, true from my perspective but not necessarily from others. I learned then to add some flexibility to my approach when putting across points of view.



“From my point of view...” is a good line to use before saying something you believe is true but is only your perspective on a situation.

Boundaries with integrity

Boundaries with integrity that are often quiet ones are, I’ve found, are the best by far; setting down in your life what you are happy doing, but then not going on about it to others plus having a decree of integral flexibility with them.

This allows you to live in a way that is not harming yourself or others but, also gives others room to be themselves. Then, if others do happen to get out of hand pushing you to go outside of your limits, you’ll be willing to back off or even walk away from them if necessary.


Quietly getting on with it

Here is an example.

Instead of saying, “Hey look at me I always work the hours the boss has set, as not working those hours would be stealing time from the boss and the company!” (this would be annoying, to say the least) just work the hours set honestly and quietly.

I’ve done this and as a plus, I’ve sometimes found that others see this and also start to work this way.

Also, the boss then trusts me and my relationship with the boss has a much better chance of being a good one. I’ve found this leads to a better working atmosphere: I don’t judge anyone else so people don’t think, “oh not him again quick hide!”

This brings up the effect we have on others and others have on us. Being able to, like in the above example, work honestly and quietly has a minimum impact on others, and often quite a positive one.


Understanding intentions

Another example, I used to have a lot of jokes with my work colleague Emily at a cafe I once worked at. They are what I’d call “good-humored banter” that didn’t cross the line and I knew when to stop.

I also took a good amount in return from Emily, it was given and take but there was a good enough working relationship there for that to happen; plus it made the day go by a bit more lightly. However, I noticed with others there could be times when the banter went too far, and this is a good example of when boundaries could kick in to prevent upset.


Will, what I’m about to say cause harm?

Will, what I say make the person feel low?

Is what I’m about to say misleading or spreading disunity between people?


Reviewing like this is useful, and will tie in with a sense of mindfulness of the present moment.


When others don’t have clear boundaries

Of course, as we know, not everyone has such clear boundaries.

This could be due to not understand the benefits of boundaries; or not being brought up with clear boundaries; or not thinking limits matter, for example, the attitude of just act and go through life without them; or it could be a combination of these and others not mentioned.

These might be people we know or even family members.

When around them, they may push us against our boundaries with a great deal of force.

At worst these people can start to harm us, and in the long term, we can be left with a choice as to whether or not we let these people stay in our lives and to what degree, if any!

With family members, this can be incredibly hard to manage to preserve our integrity.


A reflection on not having boundaries

Before I go into this, the above is a prime example of how a lack of personal boundaries is harmful to others; abusive partners, cheating partners, aggressive bullying bosses, dishonest friends, the list could go on.

These are just examples, and perhaps you can think of some in your life too.

The point is the harm a lack of personal ethics can do, but rather than point the finger at this point, as it is often hard to know another’s background fully, reflect on what the impact can be on both sides.


When is it time to walk away?

Back to walking away then. My feeling is, and from experience, there is a point where sometimes one has to just walk away.

This point I’ve often found is when the other person is unable to see they have a problem, and will just carry on harming others and in fact as a result, to themselves.

Walking away, particularly when there are strong emotions involved, often starts with backing off and drawing back from the relationship, and then there comes a breaking point.



One can be left feeling guilty and wondering if the right thing has been done.

This is often when a good friend network or advice from someone you respect can come into its own; this can benefit the letting go process and often the recovery one too.

What I have found is that when the dust settles, one comes to realise the decision to break away was the right one as the results of not walking away could have been far worse!

Whether we like it or not we can get sucked into other people’s whirlpools of negative energy; if it is just a little one in a river and we have the strength to resist, even look on with a bit humour, that’s ok; if the whirlpool is an almighty one in the sea and getting in the vortex will drown you then it is better to stay away.

In time one can recover from such situations, and the navigation of doing so can only be helped by the foundations of setting personal boundaries in one’s own life.


The results of keeping personal boundaries

Well, for one thing, we are far less likely to create whirlpools of negativity that will suck others in; in that respect, we can offer an area of safety for others to be around.

Secondly, that area of safety creates a calm in our lives; being an honest alright guy (or girl) means others trust us and we trust ourselves; relationships like this are happy ones and usually stronger too.

Personal boundaries in effect set done a solid foundation with which to go through life.

For example, you are unlikely to get sacked for being an honest worker.

Can you imagine this?

“Yes come into my office, I understand you have been an honest hard working employee that others trust and for those reasons I see no other option but to sack you.”

Very unlikely to happen!

Furthermore, and back to an example in last week’s blog, people won’t avoid inviting you into their homes with warmth if they trust you. The quality of connection with others will be good, and in times of trouble, this can be very important!


Easier to live in the present moment

Lastly, on a wellbeing level personal boundaries are an essential foundation for establishing a solid mindfulness practice.

When the mind isn’t chewing over past regrets of how one has harmed others; or when the mind buries its past regrets beneath layers of negative thoughts; or when one worries about having to deal with the problems arising from negative actions, one's mind can rest clearly in the present moment.

When difficult times hit, this ability to stay calmly in the present moment can be a lifesaver!

This is a theme we will be exploring in the next blog.


What are your experiences?

Living calmly in the moment touches on the sense of freedom and openness boundaries can bring; it is kind of ironic really, on the surface you’d think the opposite, boundaries sound restrictive. In reality boundaries via personal ethics give one a sense of confidence to navigate life wisely.

What are your experiences with keeping personal boundaries? I’d love to hear from you so feel free to write in and share.


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About Paul

Paul has been practising mindfulness since 1997, but still has a "beginner's mind" approach to meditation. He is the author of the eBook series The Silence Between the Noise and primary contributor to the Establish Mindfulness online meditation center.