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Setting Boundaries – Part One

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Personal boundaries forest separated by a river

Personal Boundaries

Assertiveness, self-esteem and self-confidence are all linked to each other. When you have a high sense of self-esteem you are able to assert yourself without showing up as aggressive. Your body language and communications exude a sense of self-confidence which in turn helps to attract the right opportunities and people into your sphere of influence.

Asserting ourselves and what we stand for in any aspect of our life can improve our self-confidence. For that, we need to first set up our personal boundaries and set limits for others that are acceptable to us.


The story of Ruby’s journey to assertiveness and self-confidence


I remember as a student in London, I had a friend whom I will call Ruby (yes, friendship means we don’t reveal true names) who used to get walked all over by another girl, whose codename was Meanie in our student hostel.

Ruby would cry about it to the rest of us, get her cup of tea and counselling, promising to be more assertive and two days later the cycle would be repeated.

Perhaps being the youngest in our group of girls on the corridor had something to do with it and perhaps it was Ruby’s desire to be part of the group to which Meanie belonged because they were the IT group.

The fact that everyone else was wary of Meanie or the fact that this girl had no female friends and the IT group had only one girl member did not put off my friend who otherwise belonged to a happy bunch of young women who had a purpose in life and were a quasi family for each other in a country far away from home.

Things finally came to a head when one evening, there was a loud bang on my door and I found Ruby outside crying her heart out. Over the cup of tea, I learnt that this time, Meanie had gone to Body Shop where my friend had a part-time job as a cashier and handed over a bottle to her for refill, without the money and run off with her Mauritian boyfriend while my friend was serving a customer.

Ruby got a dressing down from the Manager because the customer she was supposed to have been serving complained. While the admonishing was justified, it was most upsetting. One could make out that a warning had also been issued and that this was not the first time something like this had happened at work.

Unaware of what coaching or assertiveness training was at the time, we finally took the bull by the horn and I gave my friend the ultimatum – either she brought tea bags and cake with her the next time she came crying to feed the set of 6 friends who were part of her support group, or she needed to stand up for herself and put her foot down.

In other words, to set up her personal boundaries. Ruby had the assurance of the support group (who had by now all assembled in my room since the crying could be heard down the dormitory) that we would support her but the first step had to come from her.

It took time for my friend to become assertive but she eventually did much to everyone’s relief and the other girl suddenly found herself with no female friends.

Lesson on preserving self-esteem


It did bring home a lesson on how people can damage their self esteem by letting other people use them, one way or another. These people range from their colleagues, friends and even family, to strangers they meet on the street. Meeting people, talking to them and other interactions should be relaxing and a connection based on mutual trust and respect.

But it is not like instant coffee and one has to work on these connections and relationships to ensure that they meet our needs as well as those of the other party. If you don’t want others to use you, then you need to set up clear and concise boundaries – even with family.

There are 2 ways in which people can use or abuse you:


  • By getting your various resources, without giving you something of equal practical value in return, or
  • By getting you to repress various sides of your personality, which makes you less authentic.


It is one thing to be kind and nice and quite another to be putting the needs of others before yours. Particularly, when there is no mutual compensation or benefit.


Setting up personal boundaries is essential


Having personal boundaries means indicating by your behaviour, and verbally if the other person is so thick skinned as to not get the message (beware, some accomplished users have learnt the art of wearing the other person down into acceptance like a hard sell salesperson) of what you are and are not willing to do, of what you will and will not tolerate from others.

Having well established boundaries allows you to build healthy, non co-dependent relationships and live a normal healthy life.

It is similar to the way cats claw the trees to establish territory and male dogs urinate on trees and lamp posts. Two dogs in my building actually do it on the wall near one of the entrances and you know it’s there because the other dogs run!

As humans, we have the benefit of being able to set up boundaries using psychology, communication skills, body language and more subtle actions than our animal friends.


The first step in setting up boundaries is to know and understand oneself


This means to introspect and ask oneself

  • What do I want
  • What do I not want
  • What am I comfortable
  • What action, speech or behaviour of others makes me uncomfortable
  • At what point do I feel that someone has overstepped a limit

There are other questions to consider and writing them down helps. Once you have an idea of what you are all about, it becomes easier to determine what your boundaries are and chart out an action plan.

Remember to be flexible and fluid. No boundary is set in stone. The types of boundaries that you have can change over time as you change.

Waves crashing on rocks signifying flexibility of personal boundaries


Do you notice when people are overstepping into your boundaries? Or does the realization dawn when you are in abject pain? 



PS. I’ve recently released my Self-help and Self-study program Self Confidence in 8 Steps on Kindle.  If you are a Do It Yourself buff who wants the guidance but loves to fly solo, then this book is a must check out. Just click on the image!


Self Confidence in 8 Steps to achieve your true potential
Written By: Vatsala Shukla
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10 Responses to “Setting Boundaries – Part One”

  1. Tanya Smith says:

    Vatsala this is such a great story and a reminder of the power of healthy boundary setting. Too often, especially as women, we have to learn this gift from a tragedy or broken relationship. I love that you lay out a step by step process for putting boundaries in place to protect your well-being.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Thank you Tanya. People who are prone to giving often forget that respect is a reciprocity relationship and women, who have a caring or nurturing instinct are more prone to fall into the trap of overrun boundaries, like my friend Ruby. We were all young at the time and perhaps as more mature women we would act differently but the truth is that each one of us has to define our boundaries and maintain them. Self-preservation is important.

  2. Great article! The first step, going within, is so important because if we don’t know who we are and what we want…it is left to others to define for us.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Thank you Tikoshia! It is for us to define who we are and not others. A similar concept applies in personal and professional branding. If we do not define our brand, then others will and that may turn out to be to our detriment. Thanks for dropping by at the blog and sharing your valuable insight.

  3. Debra Jason says:

    Having boundaries is important. I think sometimes it takes life lessons to help us see what those boundaries are.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Sad but true, Debra. It is better to set up personal boundaries from the beginning and even if we don’t, the next best thing is to learn from our life lessons and not repeat our mistakes. Thanks for dropping by at The Karmic Ally Coaching Experience Blog.

  4. Reba Linker says:

    Lovely post and fascinating topic. It is truly painful to be bullied or to watch someone we care for be bullied. I’d love another post on the topic to learn what exactly Ruby did to in response to ‘Meanie’ to get her tormentor off her back.

  5. Julia says:

    I absolutely loved the wisdom shared here, thank you Vatsala. I always found it difficult to set and enforce effective boundaries and be assertive, and it is still a learning process for me, but like you say the more we learn to know and love ourselves, the more we come to an understanding of what is healthy in relationship and what is not. Thank you for sharing this excellent guide.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Thank you Julia. Hero Journeys can be painful but the lessons we learn are precious and if we can show the way for others who are facing similar situations, then the journey is worth it. It’s when we are able to embrace ourselves with self-love and self- respect, we are able to build boundaries that ensure we maintain healthy relationships.

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I believe the world would be a better place if high achieving professionals accepted setbacks and challenges to their careers as Wake Up Calls to embark on a Journey where their empowered course correcting actions create a New World Order that encompasses achieving their career aspirations & potential with authentic life balance.

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