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How to Begin to Set Internal Boundaries

Internal boundaries empower you to look at how you interact with yourself.

Key points

  • Internal boundaries empower you to look at how you interact with yourself.
  • In order to maintain strong external boundaries, you need to establish a foundation for them through internal boundaries.
  • Learning to say "no" to yourself is just as important as learning to say "no" to others.
Photo by Caleb Frith on Unsplash
Setting Internal Boundaries
Source: Photo by Caleb Frith on Unsplash

When I first learned about internal boundaries, my mind was blown. It made complete sense and yet I had completely neglected to honor, set, and enforce internal boundaries. So let’s dive together into the world of internal boundaries.

They are different than external boundaries, which allow you to establish healthy limits in relationships with others and help you to regulate how you interact with the world around you. Instead, internal boundaries empower you to look at how you interact with yourself.

Challenge negative thoughts

Thoughts are just thoughts. You can interpret them as facts or simply as just thoughts. By interpreting them as "just thoughts" you are able to challenge their validity.

Validate emotions without minimizing

Validate difficult emotions rather than ignoring them. You're allowed to feel and fully experience your range of emotions.

Approach yourself with compassion, not criticism

When experiencing difficult emotions, try to resist criticizing yourself for having the difficult emotion. For example, you may notice yourself thinking, "Ugh, this shouldn't bother me. Why do I let it bother me so much?" If you recognize this thinking, say "Hi," and then redirect your focus to how you can give yourself compassion for the difficult feelings. You may want to remind yourself that "this feels hard and I deserve compassion."

Pause to consider your response to emotional reactions

This is a big one. Take a time out and allow yourself some time to de-escalate before responding to intense emotional reactions. This may look like taking 10 minutes to yourself—away from the trigger—before addressing what made you upset.

Say "no" to yourself when needed

Yup, we need to say "no" to ourselves as well. For example, if you value time with your family—you need to say "no" to spending extra time doing XYZ (away from time you committed to your family). Uphold your values and get stern with yourself when necessary.

Forgive yourself when you make a mistake

And most importantly, you're going to make mistakes. This means you're trying to embrace internal boundaries. Practice self-compassion—notice any mistakes and provide yourself with grace—allowing you to notice and move forward without becoming stuck.

Without strong internal boundaries, your external boundaries don’t stand a chance—they exist on a wobbly foundation.

More from Carolyn Rubenstein Ph.D.
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