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Internal Boundaries

The last of the Seven Boundaries at Work are Internal Boundaries, and these are important not just at work, but in any relationship you have -- both with other people and with yourself.


Internal Boundaries – To manage your feelings and decide what you do with them

This is the boundary that protects you (and others) from yourself. It serves as a filter between your feelings and the actions you take because of those feelings, or as I like to say between your reactions and your responses. This boundary helps you sort through your strong feelings -- anger, pain, excitement, infatuation -- and decide whether, and how, to express them or act on them.


Internal boundaries give you impulse control. They keep you from overreacting and allow you to intentionally respond. In his book What Happy People Know, Dan Baker talks about the "life-changing quarter-second" that allows us to interpret our situations differently and not let the fear-driven amygdala hijack our mental processes. Through neurological experiments, scientists have uncovered a quarter-second delay between the urge to move a finger and the movement of the finger.

"This means that every urge you will ever have -- including every fearful urge and every angry urge -- contains a quarter-second window of opportunity in which you can disengage from that urge." -- Dan Baker, What Happy People Know

The quarter-second delay allows you to determine that loud noises aren't gunshots, that your friend's comment isn't an insult, or that the difficult feedback you're receiving can actually be helpful. This is about what you let in. But internal boundaries go two ways -- they're about what you let in, but then also what you let out. You may determine that the noises weren't gunshots but still scream at the kids who set off the firecrackers. Or you can push your comment-making friend even though he wasn't insulting you. Or you can blurt out a defensive comment while still recognizing the hard feedback is true. To have strong internal boundaries, you control both what goes in and what comes out.


On the way in, internal boundary violations can look like:

  • Believing that harsh feedback must be true

  • Assuming strangers are always intending to hurt you

  • Thinking the world is out to get you

  • Taking everything personally

On the way out, internal boundary violations can look like:

  • Sabotaging something you love because you're angry or hurt

  • Eating the cookie when you’re on a diet because “you deserve a treat”

  • Replying all on that reactive email without rereading it

  • Drunk-dialing an ex

  • Not exercising when you know it makes you feel better

Internal boundaries are often what we call on when we decide whether or not to enforce all the other boundaries we've talked about. Let's say someone gives you unsolicited advice or tells you what you should think (breach of a mental boundary). Your internal boundary first decides whether or not to take in that advice and then second decides whether or not to say something about the breach. There are four combinations available:

  1. Take it in and say nothing. This is usually a sign of weak internal boundaries.

  2. Take it in and say something. In this case, what's said is usually a reaction, not a considered response, so it's pretty similar to #1.

  3. Don't take it in and say nothing. This often happens when taking action to enforce the boundary is less valuable than ignoring the advice -- say, with a casual acquaintance or the first time someone gives you advice/tells you what to think.

  4. Don't take it in and say something. This is a sign of healthy internal boundaries, assuming that what's said is productive and protective (not defensive).

Learning how to assert (and reassert) your boundaries is a powerful way to start teaching others how to treat you, and a great place to start is with yourself. Do you respect yourself enough to protect yourself from others? Are your internal boundaries strong? If not, I can help. Book a sample session with me to see how!



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21 jan.
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Clear explanation!

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