Healthy relationships can’t exist without healthy boundaries. Simply put, boundaries are the rules and limits set by an individual to ensure their well-being and happiness.
There are two types of boundaries.
External boundaries and internal boundaries.
Most people are familiar with external boundaries. You create these boundaries with other people to identify how they should behave towards you.
Internal boundaries, on the other hand, are the boundaries between you and yourself.
Why is setting internal boundaries important?
Incessantly beating yourself up over past mistakes, holding onto failed relationships and toxic people, telling yourself you’re not good enough, or even procrastinating are all manifestations of having weak or no internal boundaries.
The outcome? You end up hurting yourself and wasting your time while falling behind your goals.
See, your thoughts and emotions can have a life of their own and become your actions, which is why you need to set strong internal boundaries to make them work for you, not against you.
How to set internal boundaries
The ability to set internal boundaries is dependent on your level of self-esteem and self-worth.
Self-esteem is how you see yourself at any given moment while self-worth is believing that you’re worthy regardless.
If you have low self-esteem and low self-worth, you’ll struggle to stand up against your own inner voice when it becomes critical or downright abusive.
When something negative happens to you, you’ll immediately direct the anger and shame towards yourself. When instant gratifications are available, you’ll think you don’t deserve any better and give in to them instead.
You need high self-esteem and self-worth to believe deep in your bones that you deserve the protection of your boundaries.
To set internal boundaries, firstly, work on your self-esteem and self-worth.
Here are a few tips:
Identify any negative beliefs you have of yourself and address them one by one. Focus on the facts about yourself and frame them positively.
Find a safe space to work through your feelings and emotions. For example, write emails to yourself or go to therapy.
Create a healthy lifestyle and adopt a growth mindset. Set realistic goals. Make vision boards. Invest in your education.
Develop habits that foster your relationship with yourself. For example, go to the gym, journal, meditate on gratitude, etc.
Setting internal boundaries is personal business. It’s not written in any rule book to follow. However, here’s a good rule of thumb:
When you feel disharmonious — regardless of the circumstance — it’s a sign you need to step back and enact an internal boundary.
Some common disharmonious feelings are guilt, shame, or resentment.
When you experience these feelings, it means there’s a knot in your thought process that needs to be untangled and set right.
It’s your responsibility to define your limits, take appropriate actions, and adopt a mindset to support your limit and actions.
For example, after a breakup, you contact your ex to find closure but it only causes you pain.
You decide that you don’t want to be held back by the past anymore (limit)
so you block your ex (appropriate action)
and tell yourself that your ex is not capable of giving you the closure you need due to emotional incompatibility (supportive mindset).
How internal boundaries can help let go of ex-partners
In many cases, you struggle to let go because you keep reminiscing about the good memories and blaming yourself for the bad ones.
You let your emotions guide your decisions and prioritise easing your momentarily hurt feelings over your long-term happiness.
You continue to seek validation from your ex-partner even though they always make you feel worse about yourself.
Setting internal boundaries will help you stop subjecting yourself to such disappointment and pain.
Whenever you catch yourself thinking about your ex or having the urge to contact your ex, you can use the same formula as discussed above:
(1) Define your limits
(2) Take appropriate actions
(3) Adopt supportive mindsets.
You might not be able to find the answers to all your questions regarding your ex, and your relationship with them might have left you unsettling feelings of shame and injustice.
Regardless, you have to draw a line at some point to protect your time and well-being and make a decision to move forward with your life.
Think of these internal boundaries as “hard rules” — implement them and know that you will be better off on the other side.
How to maintain healthy internal boundaries
As internal boundaries are linked to self-esteem and self-worth, you need to make sure you nurture the relationship with yourself and create good conditions in your life that allow you to keep positive headspace.
On the ground of that, here are 3 tips to strengthen your internal boundaries.
1. Practice makes perfect.
The more you enact your internal boundaries, the better you will be at sticking to them.
It could be as simple as reminding yourself to not take a comment personally. These basic boundaries will help form a mental habit to watch your thoughts and separate facts from opinions.
From there, you could work your way up to bigger boundaries such as not dwelling on the past or trying to “fix” people.
2. Use affirmative statements.
You can rewire your brain to watch out for your own interests by writing down affirmative statements every day for many days.
Use these templates:
I am… (e.g. worthy of love)
It’s okay that I…(e.g. turn down invitations and spend alone time with myself.)
Although I feel… (e.g. hurt and disappointed), it doesn’t mean that I… (e.g. have to get validation from my ex)
3. Ask yourself what your role models would do.
Do you have a role model who is self-disciplined and living the life you want for yourself? If yes, ask yourself what this person would do if they were in your situation and set the same boundaries they would set.
If you don’t have a role model, think of your inner mentor — the wisest, most mature version of yourself — and visualise meeting this person in a safe space. Ask them for advice.
Internal boundaries are essential to having good relationships and living a happy life.
To set internal boundaries, you need to have high self-esteem and self-worth.
When you face a situation that causes you disharmonious feelings, you can use this formula to set an internal boundary: Define your limits, take appropriate actions, and adopt supportive mindsets.
It can also be applied to romantic relationships when you need to let go of an ex-partner. Set hard rules and believe that they will benefit you in the long run.
To strengthen your internal boundaries, keep practising setting them, use affirmative statements to remind yourself of what you accept and don’t accept, and ask what your role models would do.