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Boundaries for the Highly Sensitive Person

If you’re a highly sensitive person, setting boundaries can present some extra challenges. In this article, we’ll explore why this is and I’ll share some tips for setting boundaries as a Highly Sensitive Person.

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Photo courtesy of Omid Bonyadian/Canva

What is a Highly Sensitive Peron (HSP)?

Some people are naturally more sensitive than others. And with that comes advantages and challenges.

Highly sensitive people have more sensitive nervous systems and tend to process information more deeply. As a result, they notice details and are often sensitive to environmental stimuli (such as bright lights and loud sounds) and other people’s feelings.

HSPs will find highly stimulating environments and emotionally charged situations more draining than the average person.

HSPs generally have high levels of empathy and can sense how others are feeling. For example, HSPs will notice subtle signs that someone is upset or disappointed with them or if someone is feeling sad or overwhelmed.

And since HSPs sense other people’s feelings so deeply, they are impacted by them—and understandably this makes them inclined to want to relieve other people’s suffering and make choices so as not to upset or disappoint others. And while these are caring acts, they are not always in the HSP’s best interest.

Read more: Are You a Highly Sensitive Person?

What are boundaries?

Boundaries are limits that we set to protect ourselves. You might need a boundary to protect yourself from physical harm or from the exhaustion that comes from overcommitting or the discomfort of being around someone who yells a lot.

Boundaries can take many forms. Sometimes they are requests for someone else to change their behavior. And sometimes they are actions that you take to protect your time, energy, personal space, money, and so forth.

Here are a few examples of different kinds of boundaries:

  • Telling your boss that you can’t work late.

  • Declining an invitation or request for help.

  • Asking your mother not to give your kids candy before dinner.

  • Limiting yourself to one glass of wine.

  • Leaving the room when someone makes you uncomfortable.

  • Letting your coworker know that their jokes are offensive and you’d like them to stop.

  • Hanging up the phone when someone is yelling at you.

  • Turning off your phone at 11 PM to avoid being woken up by late-night texts.

Why are boundaries so important, especially for HSPs?

Everyone needs boundaries, but boundaries are especially important for HSPs because they are so strongly impacted by other people and their environments.

Boundaries work as a filter—to let in what you can cope with and keep out things that will deplete, overwhelm, or harm you.

It’s important to create boundaries that are firm, but flexible. You can be this by being self-aware and knowing who and what promotes your health and wellbeing and aligns with your goals and priorities.

Why is it difficult for HSPs to set boundaries?

As a whole, HSPs are empathetic people. They can sense how others feel and notice subtle shifts in people’s behavior. And they feel their own emotions deeply. As a result, they may worry that setting boundaries will hurt other people’s feelings or lead to conflict or rejection.

So, to avoid feeling guilty, hurting someone’s feelings, or being criticized, HSPs will ignore their own needs—and not set boundaries.

How to set boundaries as a Highly Sensitive Person

Setting Boundaries: Tips for Highly Sensitive People

Know yourself and accept your limits.

Being self-aware helps us make choices that keep us healthy and happy.

I am an introverted, highly sensitive person. There are many advantages to these qualities—and there are some limitations. For example, I know that spending eight hours in a busy office is draining, and socializing after work is not fun or relaxing, as it might be for some people.

Because I need quite a bit of time alone, I need to set boundaries to create that time and protect it from other activities. Other people may have different limits, but no one can do everything and meet other people’s expectations all of the time.

We don’t have limitless amounts of time, energy, and money, so we need to set boundaries so we don’t over-commit, over-give, over-spend, or over-exert ourselves.

Pay attention to what you need and how you feel.

Your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations will let you know when you need to set boundaries. For example, when you feel tired, think about what boundaries you need to set so you can replenish your energy. Or if you feel resentful, consider whether your anger is the result of not setting a boundary or speaking up for what you need.

Read more: 7 Types of Boundaries You Need to Set

Be direct.

It can be scary to ask for what you want or to say “no”. However, when we ask directly and clearly for what we want or need, we’re more likely to be understood and to get our needs met.

Saying “maybe” or “I don’t know” when you really want to say “no”, confuses other people and leads to feelings of overwhelm and resentment for HSPs.

When you set a boundary, it’s best to express it clearly and directly. Sometimes, in an effort to avoid unpleasant feelings or conversations, HSPs will For example, if you don’t want to watch a horror movie with your boyfriend, it’s best to tell him directly that you don’t enjoy all the blood and gore.

Focus on setting boundaries respectfully, not on controlling how others respond.

Often, we don’t set boundaries because we’re afraid that others will respond poorly—they’ll be angry, disappointed, or hurt.

It’s good to consider other people’s feelings and needs and when we do so, it’s important to remember a couple of things.

  1. You can’t control other people’s feelings and actions. For example, being polite and kind doesn’t guarantee that someone won’t yell at you.
  2. Not everything is about you. Sometimes people lash out at us or seen annoyed when we set a boundary, but in reality, many thoughts and experiences may have contributed to their feelings and actions.
  3. You’re not responsible for another adult’s feelings and actions. You may contribute to someone feeling angry or upset, but you alone didn’t cause it. And it’s not your job to keep everyone happy all the time. We are all responsible for managing our own emotions and taking steps to feel better.
  4. Other people’s feelings and needs aren’t more important than yours. It’s not selfish or mean to take care of yourself and ask for what your need or want.

You are responsible for setting boundaries respectfully. Making your boundary requests or statements with a warm tone of voice and respectful language will probably feel most aligned with who you are and make it easier for you to set boundaries.

Remember, you’re not responsible for nor can you control how others respond. Just focus on delivering your message respectfully.

Read more: How to Set Boundaries with Kindness

Start small.

Don’t try to make too many changes or set too many boundaries all at once. Ease into your boundary-setting goals. Identify the boundaries you need to set and start with some of the smaller ones. As you gain more confidence and skills, you’ll be able to tackle more difficult boundaries.

Slow down.

Take your time when deciding what to say “yes” to. We often feel pressured to respond to requests and text messages at the moment, but these are rarely emergencies or issues that require an immediate response. So, slow down and take time to carefully consider requests or invitations before agreeing. It’s okay to say I need to think about it and I’ll let you know tomorrow.

Taking a little extra time can help you gain clarity about what you need and what you want to commit to. And when you’re clear about why you’re saying “no”, you’re less likely to feel guilty.

Read more: Why Do I Say Yes, When I Really Mean No?

Boundaries take practice.

No one learns to set boundaries in a day, week, or even a month. However, the more you practice, the easier it becomes.

In this article, I offered the following suggestions for setting boundaries as an HSP:

  • Know yourself and accept your limits.
  • Pay attention to what you need and how you feel.
  • Be direct.
  • Focus on setting boundaries respectfully, not on controlling how others respond.
  • Start small.
  • Slow down.
  • Boundaries take practice.

I hope that using these tips will help you get started!

©2021 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved. Photos courtesy of Canva.com.

Arrives November 1st

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The Better Boundaries Workbook

A step-by-step guide to setting boundaries in all areas of your life.

Sharon Martin is a psychotherapist, writer, speaker, and media contributor on emotional health and relationships. She specializes in helping people uncover their inherent worth and learn to accept themselves -- imperfections and all! Sharon writes a popular blog called Conquering Codependency for Psychology Today and is the author of The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism: Evidence-Based Skills to Help You Let Go of Self-Criticism, Build Self-Esteem, and Find Balance and several ebooks including Navigating the Codependency Maze.

4 thoughts on “Boundaries for the Highly Sensitive Person”

  1. Great article, thank you.
    Just a question in dealing with needing more time to recharge than others.
    Do you find as a highly sensitive introvert that people give up inviting you out for drinks, or are looking for a friendship that is more active and exciting? I now honour my boundaries about not being in loud spaces with lots of alcohol, but I found my friends dropped away because I enjoy more passive environments. It can be very lonely at times.

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