Are you Creating Boundaries or Self-Imposed Limitations?


As someone who used to have very thin boundaries and lot’s of self-imposed limitations, these two heavy hitters often get confused more often than you think. Word-wise the difference seems obvious. Boundaries are defined as self-protective, and limitations are defined as rules and restrictions.

Whether you jump into creating a boundary or a limitation as a reflex is determined in those powerful moments when you sense things are getting uncomfortable, or as if your reputation and value may be on the line. It’s also when the difference between these options can also become a lot more blurry. For example, are you saying “no” to something because it’s really not a fit, or because you are already thinking of all the ways it will be hard or too complicated to succeed at doing it?

When it comes to managing boundaries and self-imposed limitations, I’m not just talking about entrepreneurs or creatives, or folks willing to take a more risky approach to life. I’m talking about any human being. How we personally connect with these two concepts sticks with us, but doesn’t always necessarily change and grow as we do.

Clear Boundaries Create Simpler, More Heart-Felt Decisions

As I mentioned earlier in the post, I’ve learned to create much better boundaries. I’m a naturally giving person and like to help others, in addition to being highly empathic – which means I literally feel the pain someone else is experiencing. For a long time I didn’t understand that I was wired this way, and would often let other people’s emotional states takeover my own, overpowering my thin emotional boundaries.

Fast forward to the present, and I have become very clear on what is mine or someone else’s, as well as how to create boundaries that are clear but loving. It’s definitely a regular practice!

Not everyone experiences life as an empath, but anyone can sense when they are feeling pushed, forced or overwhelmed by another person or situation. So to put things in perspective, it can help to check in on a few things when one of your boundaries feels pushed:

  • Is it the person or situation?
  • Has the same feeling come up with others or similar situations?
  • How do you feel — anxious, scared, annoyed, bullied, frustrated — etc.
  • Are you willing to let that feeling go or does it stick with you long after an interaction is over?
  • Can you envision ever feeling differently in a similar case scenario or with that same person?

These simple questions will give you some clearer information to work with when considering how to react currently or in the future. For example, if someone in your life keeps behaving in a similar way that doesn’t work for you, it may be time to change up your boundaries regarding how you interact with them.


Limitations Tickle the Fear Button and Shrink the Creative Success Ceiling

On the flip side, limitations are a bit trickier than boundaries in that you don’t know what you don’t know. It’s part of how we grow, faced with choices that expand us vs. shrink us, or keep us safe instead of growing. It’s not predictable, but it’s all changeable, if you are willing.

You may also not realize how many self-imposed limitations are narrowing your view of your creative capabilities. Aside from negative self-talk, the words of parents and respected elders can echo in your head when you want to try something new or different, as well as all the “imaginary” dangers that may flare up as a consequence.

Or, maybe someone you trusted said something hurtful you took to heart. Carrying it around ever since, it keeps you from expanding into a fearful place of proving them right, even if new opportunities reside in that same space. Poof, instant limitation – unless you are willing to push through it or break it down altogether.

Another example would be boredom. If you consistently feel bored in a situation or with a specific person, it might be time to dig a little deeper and see what’s really going on with you. Are you bored because you are afraid to connect on a deeper level and the relationship has stalled or is it the other way around? Or, have you outgrown a situation or experience, only sticking around because it’s safe and familiar? In that case, your boundaries may be a bit too tight and bordering on limitations. It might be worth doing a little deeper introspection to find out how to be a bit more open to the idea of change or explore more expansive thinking on a topic or person.

The Push and Pull of Boundaries and Limitations

So how can you tell when you are looking at a limitation vs a boundary? In my definition, limitations are just a heap of unnecessary boundaries you’ve created to protect you from something that doesn’t exist and keep you from being all of who you are. Limitations just focus on all of the things that are too hard, or all the reasons why life sucks and you can’t do anything about it. Boundaries are a necessary part of self-expression and self-preservation that enable you to show up authentically in life and your community.

When you can be at peace with where you are without feeling overwhelmed from lack of strong boundaries or defeated by a self-imposed limitation, you have found that beautiful sweet spot between the two. Do you know yours?

Photo credit by Ollie Brown, Iqbal Osman