Boundaries as Self-Care for Highly Sensitive People

The boundaries of Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) tend to be less robust than those of others for several reasons. Yet stress and resentment which build up over time don’t do anyone any good – not us and not the people we care about. That’s why boundaries are an important form of self-care for Highly Sensitive People. In fact, boundaries are what allow us to offer our best to the world.

Boundaries are how we take care of ourselves, not how we control others. Text set on background of an empty gold picture frame.

Fitting in with others

As HSPs, we may have become used to overriding our own needs to fit in with the non-sensitive world, hiding our sensitivity out of a learned fear that it’s some kind of shameful weakness. On top of this, one of the identifying features of Highly Sensitive People is what’s known as “depth of processing”. This tendency to reflect deeply and conscientiously comes with a heightened sense of empathy. Ignoring our own needs can come as the flipside of this ability to intuit what others may be thinking or feeling.

Couldn’t I just put up with it?

Another reason for holding back could be the worry about how much we’d suffer by communicating our boundary. We might imagine how much trouble we’d cause ourselves by “making waves” and having to endure the uncomfortable arousal of our sensitive nervous systems. After all, we could just put up with things because patience and fortitude are virtues, right?

Indeed these are positive qualities, but on some level we’ll know if we’re being honest with ourselves or making justifications for not practising self-care. Dr Elaine Aron, the research psychologist who identified the HSP trait, suggests a method to help weigh up your needs. On a scale of 1-10, try rating honestly how much the other party might suffer if you were to honour your boundary. Compare this to how much you would suffer in giving it up, and notice if you’ve underestimated one side or the other. This can be helpful for working out whether you’re stretching your “patience muscles” with an appropriate challenge, or lifting a weight that’s too heavy and could do you an injury.

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Control issues?

Part of the hesitation to create boundaries may be due to the mistaken belief that they’re about controlling other people’s behaviour. This misunderstanding, while common, really is unfortunate.  If there’s one thing life teaches us, it’s that we can’t control the actions of others. Trying to do so will ultimately lead to disappointment, resentment and frustration – at best. We need to keep in mind what is under our own control (our own actions) and what is not (everyone else’s). Boundaries fall definitively into the first category. If you hear yourself saying something that sounds like an ultimatum, you’ve likely overshot the mark.

In fact, boundaries are how we look after OURSELVES. They’re a key form of self-care for Highly Sensitive People that actually put power back in our own hands. By taking compassionate responsibility for our self-care, we can wholeheartedly share our unique HSP gifts with others.

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