Those Pesky Boundaries

Photo by Fabien Bazanegue on Unsplash

Fuzzy boundaries?

Boundaries are one of the biggest challenges facing highly sensitive people.

They can be a source of aggravation and unhappiness.

There are many reason why boundary issues are a problem for us, some having to do with us and others having to do with the world.

It would help if we could get a handle on them.

Why Boundary Issues Are Different For Highly Sensitive People

Boundaries are personal and impersonal.

When we stop eating because we are full, we are responding to a natural boundary.

When we are on time for an appointment we are respecting a social boundary.

When we stop our car at a stop sign we are responding to a societal boundary.

Those boundaries are fairly easy to deal with.

Then there are the others.

These are values and identity boundaries that create all sorts of problems.

An identity boundary would be the one on same sex marriage that is being challenged and overturned.

A values boundary would be one about war, or greed. Values boundaries show up in the priorities we set.

Setting boundaries is different for HSPs. Highly sensitive people often have humanitarian and compassionate values that conflict with the world around them. Their physical needs are greater and therefore they will have situational challenges in setting boundaries.

So what can we do about this?

Step 1: Know Yourself And Your Needs As A Highly Sensitive Person

This first step in creating boundaries is to make some time to consider your needs and ideas.

You need to create a way to confidently handle boundary issues. When you have that map in your mind, you will be able to handle conflict in a way that works for you and hopefully the other person, whether they are highly sensitive or not.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  1. what are my most cherished and essential values? Being clear about your values helps you identify good choices which is important for HSPs. Values are the core of your boundary strategy and what you most need to honor.
  2. what are my most important priorities, including the priorities you have to have because you are highly sensitive? It is easier to respond effectively to others, when you are respecting your most important priorities.
  3. what is non-negotiable for me? Non-negotiable items are related to your values or conditions in your life like your health. For highly sensitive people, their need for frequent breaks to manage stress is critical.
  4. what can I be flexible about?  This can be a difficult question for HSPs. When we are too flexible we run the risk of wearing ourselves out.
  5. how do I typically handle trade-offs? Do they usually work for me or not? There is nothing wrong with making sacrifices, but if they are too frequent they can leave you feeling resentful and burned out.

When considering how you want to handle boundary issues, think about all aspects of your life and your needs. Then consider your environment to create the most workable solutions for yourself and others.

Step 2: Plan Strategies For Difficult Situations

We all have challenging boundary situations.  When you are highly sensitive your different values can make boundary issues more uncomfortable. However, you can help yourself a lot if you do your homework and some planning. Here are some planning considerations:

  1. identify the boundary situations that are most difficult for you.
  2. notice when you feel you have no ground to stand on during a conflict. Is it because your values are different? Is it because you feel disrespected? Do you have trouble with someone else’s sense of entitlement?
  3. notice when empathy is a problem for you.
  4. when you start to feel manipulated? Is it when someone is unhappy? or complaining? Is it when someone makes decisions for you? or has expectations that are never discussed or explicitly agreed to? Does someone take your things without asking? Notice when you are being treated dismissively.
  5. when you are uncomfortable taking action? Is it when someone is very sarcastic, dismissive, or contemptuous? Who do you have a hard time challenging?
  6. do you have challenging situations that lend themselves to a direct one-on-one approach or perhaps more indirect strategy where you need to have a group on your side to effect change.
  7. identify when you need to treat yourself as important as everyone else and may not.

Step 3: Develop Your Strategy

As a general rule, most people want good relationships as much as you do. Most people are not looking for unnecessary conflicts.

If you respect others and their concerns, they will likely do the same. Therefore when you are willing to listen to the another person, it is common courtesy that do the same, and you are entitled to expect the same in return.

It also helps to be in a constructive frame of mind. When you ask questions of the other person you can then offer suggestions, alternatives or even substitutes for what is being asked of you.

If I were to create a formula for a boundary setting process it would be:

  1. establish a positive intent. “I love how my blouse looks on you…”
  2. state a concern.  “That blouse was a gift and is important to me.”
  3. ask questions if necessary. “We need to figure out a holiday schedule.  What is your situation and do you have any ideas?”
  4. ask for what you need in a way that respects the other person.  “I like to help when I can but I need for you to ask if you want to borrow my things.”
  5. get agreement. ” Does that work for you?”

Successful problem solving is a combination of respect and creativity.  When you combine both, your chances of a positive outcome increase.

Step 4: The Tough Cases For Highly Sensitive People

When you have a difficult or stubborn situation, it can help to come up with way to change the existing dynamic. This can be challenging for highly sensitive people because we are often seeking results that are not the norm.

Here are some possibilities:

  1. change the other person’s perception of your value. Most HSPs are devalued so you may need to develop some skill in promoting your interesting ideas.
  2. change the social dynamic. Sometime you can ignore someone who is being difficult. In some situations you may need to insist that someone become more reasonable.You can also use humor to loosen people up when they have dug in their heels. Laughter works wonders.
  3. you may need to throw in the towel. Perhaps you have heard the story about the villagers who caught a monkey by putting peanuts inside a coconut shell. The monkey found and grabbed the peanuts in the shell. He wanted to hold onto the peanuts but could not run away from the villagers at the same time. All he had to do was let go and he would have escaped. Sometime letting go is best. It creates space for new ideas to develop and head to cool.

Step 6: The Key To Boundary Happiness

I believe that the key to boundaries and good relationships lies in being in a constructive frame of mind. When the people around feel valued and appreciated, they will be in a positive frame of mind when working with you.

It also helps to have a sense of humor and to be creative.

Highly sensitive people can have a tough time with boundaries. Our empathy can make us too helpful, and stress and fatigue can overtake us easily. We have to take our natures into account but we also can be afraid that we will then be rejected. Sometimes we have to stick our toe in the water a little at a time to find arrangements that work for us.

When you are willing to do so, you are not just taking from others, but you are enabling yourself to be at your best which is a way of giving to others. Hopefully thinking that way will make the risk seem worth it.


About Maria Hill

Maria Hill is the founder of Sensitive Evolution. She is the author of The Emerging Sensitive: A Guide For Finding Your Place In The World. In addition, she has created the immersive Emerging Sensitive Program using cultural and personal development frameworks to help sensitive people master their sensitivity and turn it into the asset it can be. She also offers The Magic Of Joy program for quantum healing and the Emerging Sensitive Community focused on living in the world as a sensitive person and navigating the challenging cultural shifts of our times. She is a longtime meditator, reiki master, student of alternative health and Ayurveda. Maria is a Certified Theta Healer and certified in Spiral Dynamics. She is an abstract painter whose portfolio can be found at Infinite Shape and also very interested in animal and human rights and the environment.


  1. Annys on October 20, 2014 at 9:25 am

    Oh, Maria – another excellent article! Boundaries are a huge problem for me, and the more we find out about and discuss them, the better. Learning to truly value ourselves and to tune into ourselves seem to be key.

    ‘Most HSPs are devalued …’ – there’s an interesting one! I personally feel very valuable and at the same time invisible and valueless.

    It’s all so fascinating, isn’t it? I agree absolutely with your reply to Dawn: we “should be proud that we are making the journey”.

    love, Annys

    • Maria Hill on October 20, 2014 at 1:11 pm

      Hi Annys,

      It can be true that we are aware of our gifts and also feel invisible at the same time because they are not noticed or appreciated. It helps our emotional health to appreciate ourselves as we try to get the world to become more aware of what HSPs offer.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Judith on July 16, 2018 at 10:18 am

    The boundary issue is a long-standing one I have been working in depot recently. This is an excellent post. It is very valuable to be reminded to stand my ground as a valuable human being who deserves respect, as all humans do. Thank you for your inspiring blogs Maria.

    • Maria Hill on July 16, 2018 at 11:20 am

      Nice to hear from you, Judith – I hope you are well. Boundaries are one of those issues that keep coming up for all of us.