012. The Connection Between Boundaries and Self-Worth


“You just need to get some boundaries.”

I am tickled when I hear someone say that as if things like boundaries, self-worth, and confidence are things we can pick up at the grocery store.

“Oh, boundaries are on aisle seven, right next to the feminine products, darling. Buy one, get one free!”

I wish it were that easy.

However, I do think there is a gift in the fact that we cannot purchase boundaries or self-worth, rather they are parts of ourselves that we get to cultivate and be intentional to practice.

For some of us, we may not even know what a boundary is. That seems like a great place to start!

A boundary is a line that shows both ourselves and others where we begin and where we end.

The Boundary of Space

This boundary can be geographical as in the boundary of the ocean and the land. Think Gray Malin’s aerial beach shots where the people and umbrellas look like tiny, colorful ant populations on the sand and then you see that lovely stretch of icy blue waters. When the boundaries of the ocean and the land get “crossed” bad things tend to happen. We can think about Hurricane Florence most recently, Hurricane Katrina, the flooding in Houston last year, monsoons, etc. When you see water flooding into your living room, you know something has gone terribly wrong, i.e. a clear boundary is being crossed.

The Boundary of Time

A boundary can also be about time. Curfews, the time of our classes, the length of our workday. When I see clients, I let them know our time together is 50 minutes long. I make a point to begin and end on time because I want to establish clear boundaries from the get-go. When time is up, I will say it’s time to end.

Sometimes, the clock strikes at rather inconvenient times or rather, someone shares something incredibly vulnerable in the last five minutes of our session. It’s still my responsibility to hold the boundary and let the client know we need to stop. It’s a clear end that communicates I am honoring both my clients time and my own.

The Boundary of Our Body

Then there are the boundaries of our bodies. Let’s think about the difference in touch. My husband and I love physical touch and find it incredibly healing and incredibly playful. He can most definitely give my rear end a squeeze and I welcome the playful touch. Why? Because I’ve given him access to my body and I invite his touch.

A few years ago, a man snuck up behind me and grabbed my rear end on the streets of San Francisco. My body instantly jolted away from him. I found myself really upset and it took me a while to shake the feeling of violation. Based simply on my body’s response to the touch, it was clear a boundary was crossed when that man chose not to respect and honor my space. I, in no way, communicated he had access to me and yet he still decided to touch my body.

I believe consent is directly linked to boundaries. Have I said yes you could have access to my body or have I communicated that you cannot have access to my body? 

The Boundary of Our Preferences.

A boundary can also be more internal. It might be nuanced and unless we vocalize our boundary out loud, some people may not know they are crossing one. I can recall a few times where I’ve been with people and they started asking me what I would consider pretty invasive questions. The questions weren’t necessarily “off-color” they were just questions that I did not find appropriate for the level of intimacy we had established thus far in our relationship. While my body language conveyed I wasn’t comfortable with these questions, I needed to come to the realization that if a person was already asking me questions that were overly vulnerable, that they probably wouldn’t be picking up on my body language that told them they had crossed a line anytime soon.

It’s my responsibility to hold the internal boundaries. I need to let a person know that I didn’t feel comfortable sharing that information. In doing that, I’ve taken responsibility for myself and not put that responsibility on someone else.

The link between boundaries and self-worth are intricately connected.

There is a sense of honor and respect that happens when a person regularly practices boundaries. When a person is able to say no to certain people, behaviors, and practices in order to be their most full and authentic version of self, they are in essence communicating that their life is full of value. In saying yes or saying no, they are respecting their limits and committing to living in sync with their self.

For example, I often say no to dinner plans with friends during the week. When I say no, I am able to say yes to getting 8-9 hours of sleep and waking up rested and rejuvenated. I begin seeing clients at 7:00 am several days a week, so I need to be alert and have a clear mind. Saying no to weekday evening plans allows me to do that.

The same thing goes for drinking alcohol during the week. Alcohol is something my body has grown incredibly sensitive to. It’s not something my body can sustain even in small doses. I need to honor my body’s limits and sensitivities by saying no and refraining.

The heart behind saying no is not that I don’t want to hang out with friends or partake in celebrations. The heart in saying no and holding that boundary is to say I value my calling, I value my work, I value my rest. I want to show up for others with clarity, vibrancy, and presence.

Boundaries take time and require us living in sync with who we’ve been created to be.

Maybe you grew up in a family where your “yes’s” and “no’s” weren’t heard, valued, or respected. If so, boundaries may take more time for you to establish.  You may even believe that setting boundaries are rude, selfish, or insensitive. They may even feel like so at first. That’s perfectly normal y’all. We all have to start somewhere!

A myth about boundaries is that one has to have self-worth before they can start practicing boundaries. I’ve found in my own experience, practicing one increases the other and vice versa.

I have a boundary I practice yoga three times a week. In saying yes to that I’ve experienced many benefits of having a consistent practice. I feel mentally, physically, and emotionally stronger. That increases my self-worth and I’m able to show up in my different arenas feeling strong and capable.

As some of you know, I can be pretty boundaried around the food I eat. It’s because I’ve grown to care more for myself, my preferences, and my tastes. I am able to say yes and no to certain foods and restaurants. In honoring my self-worth, I’m able to move away from feeling shame around having strong opinions.

I wonder how you could start practicing boundaries and honoring your self-worth today?

Self-Care Questions:

What could you say no to?

How could you say yes to something that would serve you better?

What could you shift your energy from in order to give more energy to?

Are there boundaries you might need to place around Netflix or Instagram or Facebook? Do you find yourself struggling with comparison and envy? How might boundaries help protect you against those feelings and limiting beliefs?

What are your boundaries around communication? Is there an expectation you reply to e-mails, return texts and voicemails 24/7? What changes might you need to make to honor your time and eliminate resentment for having to be available 24/7?

Pick out one or two things and implement them today.

Implementing boundaries into a previously boundary-less space can be hard and emotionally taxing. Support from friends, a trusted therapist, an accountability coach, or a support group is integral for you to succeed. Asking for help and naming that you can’t do it alone is a great way to start practicing boundaries and letting people in.

If you’d like to learn more about practicing boundaries, growing your self-worth, and the connection between the two, I’d love to help! Feel free to contact me and we can get to work so you can lead a worthy-filled, boundaried, honoring, and sustainable life!