Use Your Inner Wisdom to Set Boundaries

“I draw circles and sacred boundaries about me; fewer and fewer climb with me up higher and higher mountains – I am building a mountain chain out of ever-holier mountains.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

When we engage in behaviors that run counter to our values or how we see ourselves as people, the result is often an internal sense of distress.  It can be difficult to assert yourself in situations where it would be “easier” to just go along with the actions of others or to remain quiet.  The truth is that in the long-term, a sacrifice is made when we engage in overt or covert behaviors that are not in line with our values.  It often takes deep reflection and practice to begin to stand up for those things which we know to be right or true.

Use “Wise Speech” to Set Boundaries

Psychology Today blogger Toni Bernhard, J.D., incorporates Buddhist teachings on wise speech into an approach to setting wise boundaries:

Is it true to yourself?

Pause to reflect on whether or not what you are about to do (or not do) is true to your values.  Ask yourself honestly about your intentions and motivations behind your actions.  Are you about to behave in a way that you can feel proud of or do you feel a sense of regret forming in the pit of your stomach?  Many people get caught in a trap of behaving in ways that are not in line with their values out of a sense of social pressure.  Other times, it simply feels “easier” to go along with things that make you uncomfortable.

Begin to ask yourself if the choice to act (or not act) in ways that are not in line with your values is truly “easy” in the grand scheme of things.  What are the short-term and long-term consequences of your behaviors to the way you see yourself?  To the way others see you?  To your relationships?

Pause to mindfully reflect upon what you are about to do (or not do) and notice what thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations arise within.  If the world was watching would you be proud of yourself?  Be kind to yourself and recognize that we all make mistakes sometimes.  Try to avoid extreme thinking like “I should never make mistakes” and instead adopt a compassionate and mindful attitude towards yourself.  When mistakes do happen, reflect on what important lesson needs to be learned.

Choosing to become more mindfully self-aware in the present moment makes it less likely that you will engage in impulsive, careless, or otherwise regrettable actions.  Notice what you are about to do or say before doing or saying it.  Consider the effects that your actions will have on others and make fully aware and informed decisions.  If what you are about to say or do feels somehow “wrong” to you, honor your deeper wisdom and intuition.  Listen to what your inner voice is telling you and respond with mindfulness.

Is what you are about to say or do kind and helpful to yourself?

Sometimes we engage in behaviors that we believe other people would like, but that are not truly in our own best interests.  If you have the sense that what you are about to say or do will be harmful to yourself in some way, explore your motivations honestly. What are you hoping to gain from others?  Consider the reasoning behind your potential willingness to set your own needs or wants aside.

There are times when it is appropriate and loving to allow our own needs to temporarily rest on the back burner if someone we love is in need or danger.  Other times, we end up putting ourselves in the position of the martyr unnecessarily.  It is important to recognize those times in which we must set boundaries to protect our own physical, mental, or emotional health.  Many people have powerful urges to jump in and “help” or “save” someone who really needs to learn difficult lessons for themselves.

It is crucial to remember the value of taking care of yourself before helping others.  If you are physically, mentally, or emotionally drained and depleted, you are not going to be helpful to others in way you desire.  Take the time to employ self-care strategies into your life so that your “gas tank” is “full.”

Notice times when it is in your best interest to say no to a request or invitation.  Tap into your inner intuition and mindfully notice your initial reaction (i.e., thoughts, feelings, or sensations) to the requests or demands from another person.  If you feel tension develop in your stomach or neck when something is asked of you, don’t ignore it.  Your body is trying to tell you something important, if only you will listen.

What is your experience with setting personal boundaries with yourself and others?  Do you often say “yes” when you would rather say “no?”  Explore the consequences of your own pattern with boundaries and limits.  Become more mindfully tuned in to your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations.  Use your inner wisdom and intuition to set healthy boundaries that are in line with your true values.  Choose to treat yourself with more kindness, compassion, and forgiveness.  Notice the difference inside.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Bernhard, T. (2011, August 24). When to say “no” or “not now” [Web log message]. Retrieved from

Featured image: Undulating fence by The Wandering Angel / CC BY 2.0

About Laura K. Schenck, Ph.D., LPC

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. Some of my academic interests include: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, mindfulness, stress reduction, work/life balance, mood disorders, identity development, supervision & training, and self-care.

What's On Your Mind?