The Emotional Magic of Relaxing Your Boundaries

BOUNDARIES.  It's a hot topic, perhaps even a celebrated conversation in our culture today. The communities advocating self-care, emotional health, and new concepts like "reparenting" yourself from childhood setbacks, all share boundary-setting as a cornerstone of their messaging. What I love about these communities is they teach people to recognize their self-worth, prioritize their well-being, and boldly pursue their ambitions.

However, some of the prevailing techniques, such as learning to say "no" more often or establishing rules around relational engagement, can lack critical emotional context and truly cripple people's quality of life.

There's a better way.


I saw a friend’s post on Facebook the other day that made me smile and write back how proud of her I was. The post mentioned how her Saturday mornings are always set aside for self-care. It’s her time each weekend to join her CrossFit team and get a good workout in. This particular Saturday morning, however, her parents were out and about when they decided to spontaneously call and ask if they could take her and her husband to breakfast. She was at a crossroads. Normally, she says, she’d decline an invitation like this in favor of sticking to her workout, but she felt in her heart she needed to adjust and make family a priority that morning.

It probably happens more often than we think, where we’re faced with two perfectly valid life values momentarily in conflict with one another. Clearly, my friend values her health and wants to stay consistent in her physical activity. However, she also values quality time with her family and knows connecting with them in a meaningful way requires intention and sometimes sacrifice.

I can’t help but think if she had actually set a hard-and-fast rule in the name of self-care — where nothing could trump her Saturday morning workout — it would have taken precedence by sheer stubbornness and default. There would have been no room to reassess and flex to what may have been more important in the moment.

This is where rules and boundaries become a severe handicap. It turns our behaviors into auto-pilot reactions instead of thoughtful, soul-searching responses. Rules have appeal because they reduce the amount of complex, everyday decisions we have to make, but the trade-off is that we live with less intention. The real root of wanting to set boundaries and say “no” more often is that we don’t actually trust ourselves to make snap decisions that serve our best interests and values.

The truth is, when we show up to the world boxed in by fences we’ve built around ourselves, people sense it. And the tactic we thought was protecting our quality of life is the very thing restricting it from being fully realized. Boundaries put us on defense where we constantly strive to manage potential breaches. Boundaries are only as effective as other people’s willingness to observe them, which forces us to either take up arms or concede dependency when they’re violated. This is no way to set ourselves up for success.

There may very well be times boundaries are applicable, I just believe they're fewer and farther between than these communities push for. When we learn to allow our deepest values to govern our decisions and relationships, we take an active role in shaping life around us to align with our true worth.

This is why clearly defined, purposeful core values for your life are a critical and far superior alternative to setting boundaries. Core values are the vector point from which all of our life decisions extend. When core values are absent or undefined or foggy, we have nothing to judge the quality of our decisions against. And because of this, we’re tempted to legislate explicit rules in an effort to self-protect.

Consider this. When I show up to every interaction knowing full-well who I am and what values drive me, I don’t need rules. I have the self-trust and confidence I need to make high-quality, unscripted decisions that promote what I value most. This level of clarity makes me a force no person even wants to take advantage of. Honest people will be drawn in by my confidence and convictions. Self-serving people will be repelled by my resolve and redirect their energy elsewhere*. Either way, my well-being and worth is implicit in the beliefs I project and in the way I carry myself. In other words, respect is commanded, not asked for.

To sum it up, here are four reasons core values will serve you better than boundaries ever will:

1. Core Values Keep You in Control

Boundaries are rules that demand compliance. Core values are convictions that command respect. Boundaries put your well-being at the mercy of others’ behavior. Core values promote your well-being through intentional self-governance.

2. Core Values Keep You Moving

Boundaries are walls that feign security and confine you to a limited domain. Core values are road maps giving you freedom to race toward your goals with clear direction.

3. Core Values Keep You Thriving

Boundaries obstruct your perspective and squander your emotional energy on mitigating negative relationships and experiences. Core values frame your perspective and channel your emotional energy toward the people and opportunities that give you life.

4. Core Values Keep You Generous

Boundaries keep you close-fisted and constantly in fear of being exploited. Core values allow you to live a generous, open-handed life, because you trust yourself to make decisions that honor your values.


If this is the life you want, my challenge to you is to spend time defining your personal core values and allow them to quietly but confidently guide your interactions and decisions. Doing this will naturally create a separation between the people and experiences that don’t align with those definitions, and you won’t have to work so hard to shape a life you’re proud of.

If you’re like most and feel overwhelmed by the thought of starting to define your core values, I have great news. I’ve done the hard work for you and have a free-to-download framework to get you started. This download comes with a blank worksheet, as well as a fully-filled out example sheet to help you start thinking in the right direction. There’s no transactional trickery behind the button below. It’s truly free and open for download with no strings attached, because I am that committed to you finding the trust in yourself to lead a more open, yet convicted life.

*I understand there are truly malicious and toxic people in the world that need clearly defined boundaries or, you know, actual restraining orders, for example. As always, there are extremes on both sides of probably everything I write. I've not addressed those extremes. Proceed at those ends of the spectrum with your best judgment.