Understanding Your Internal Boundaries

Updated: Mar 8

A lot of times when we talk about boundaries, we're only talking about them because something has "gone wrong." We're familiar with the idea of setting boundaries with other people, and we do it all the time. If someone says, "Can I come over at 6AM?" You might say, "No, that doesn't work for me. How about 10AM?" You're setting simple guidelines to help people understand how to approach you and work with you. I call those External boundaries.

External boundaries help people have:

* Clear understandings

* Clear agreements

* Healthy permission to engage

We also have Internal boundaries. Internal boundaries are the rules and guidelines we set with ourselves on the inside. Ideally, these boundaries are based on what we value and what we believe. The more important those values are to us, the more we will keep our internal boundaries.


For example, if you value self care and rest, and you've decided that sleeping in on Sundays is a part of what nourishes that value, then you won't schedule things for Sunday mornings. This influences the external boundary you set with others. It's the reason behind why you say no to a 6AM meeting, but might be fine with an afternoon meeting.

However, you might also value family, and if that value is stronger, you might displace your agreement to sleep in on Sundays if a family member asks for that time. The family value wins out, and the boundary becomes flexible.

For that same Sunday morning, you might say "No" to hiking with a friend, because of the sleeping-in agreement based on your self-care value, but say "Yes" to breakfast with your brother who's flying into town. You might feel great about that, as long as the family value really is the higher value. Otherwise you might tell your brother you'll meet him later in the day.

When we adhere to our internal boundaries, they give us a sense of confidence, order, and safety in our lives.

The woman who decides she will only have intimate relations with her partner after they have spent at least 3 months of dating together, is setting an internal boundary that has nothing to do with the partner in question, and more to do with what she values in order to feel centered in life. Her boundaries may shift if other values come into play. This is a natural part of flow between values, internal, and external boundaries.


When you set and keep internal boundaries as a result of your core values and desires, you will always be safely held in your life. If you set internal boundaries based on egoic beliefs, or on socialized behaviors, they will crumble when your true desires come into the picture. It's good to spend time with yourself, journalling and reflecting on what you truly want, regardless of social acceptance, regardless of what your upbringing taught you, regardless of what parents told you about what you could or could not have. Write down these true desires.


Trouble arises when one of our internal boundaries gets tangled up in beliefs from old childhood trauma, wounds, or from social expectation. For example, you value getting a raise at work, but you value self care even more. Maybe you have a wound from childhood that has led to the unconscious limiting belief that "You need to get all of the raises and achievements offered, or you're a loser."

Then your boss calls and asks you to take on a new project that will require you to work every morning 7 days a week, with no vacation time. Your high inner value around self care may make this an immediate "No," but if you perceive that your answer is going to cripple your chances of a raise at work, then because of those old wounds and limiting beliefs, you may feel afraid to stand by your internal boundary.

Let's add in that your boss has already told other employees that you will "probably" be doing the work. Now holding your boundary feels important to you, but from the outside you may feel social pressure or shame for saying no, in addition to your old narrative about being "a loser." You might decide to go against your internal boundary.