Brene Brown on setting Boundaries

Boundaries are Friggin’ Important- According to Brené Brown

“Boundaries are friggin’ important.” That’s a direct quote from an interview with Brené Brown, a leader in the field of research on vulnerability, empathy and shame.

If you’re looking for some inspiration, I highly recommend you check out Brené Brown’s videos. She’s a passionate and inspiring speaker and storyteller. (Warning- you may get sucked in for hours at a time.)

Brené Brown on setting boundaries

Brown’s take is simple, “a boundary is what’s ok and what’s not ok.”  If we tap into our internal compass, we can learn what “ok” feels like for us.  The process of getting to know more about yourself will help with boundary creation and a host of other self-care tasks.

Saying “No”

Many of us have a hard time saying “no.” We get sucked into obligations and situations that we really don’t want to be a part of. That can bread resentment.

Most of us want to be liked and we fear that by saying “no” we’ll lose out in some way.  Either people will stop asking us to do things or they will be angry with us for setting a limit.

There was a time in my life when I had trouble saying “no.” Prior to becoming a therapist, I worked in the non-profit arts world. For those of you who work in non-profits, you know that if your boundaries are not strong, you could end up working for free for a cause you believe in night and day. That’s what happened to me. I burned-out, lost my passion and was filled with resentment about something that used to bring me joy.

Taking Back Your Time

Be honest with yourself. When someone asks you to do something that will require your time or money, evaluate how you feel about the ask. Is it something you’re interested in being a part of? Do you want to spend your time or money in different ways?

Setting a limit can feel scary, but it can also feel empowering.  When I finally set a limit with my non-profit job, I never looked back.  It also gets easier the more you practice.

Cultivate Empathy. Brené Brown talks about the difference between compassion and empathy in her interview. Compassion, she states, comes from the idea that “we’re all inextricably connected to each other by something rooted in love or goodness.” Empathy is a skill-set that allows you to communicate compassion to other people. Once your boundaries are clear, there will be more room to express empathy for others.

In my non-profit job I was resentful because I wasn’t able to set clear boundaries. Once I set a boundary and had some space from the organization, I rediscovered my passion for the arts.  I have also been able to empathize with those who still work for the company.

Be Clear in Your Communication. Once you discover that you need to set a stronger boundary, be clear about what you want and what you expect from someone else.

With the non-profit job, I gave the company an ultimatum. In the end they could not accommodate what I needed and I left the job. However, in the process I found a new career that I love, and most importantly I let go of my resentments.

Action Item

Think about your own life.  Is there a relationship or situation that is begging you to set stronger limits?  As a thought exercise take a few minutes to imagine what it would be like to set a boundary in that situation.  What feelings come up?  Is it scary?  Empowering?  Do you feel relief?  Go into as much detail as you can with the thought experiment and make space for whatever comes to mind.  Spend some time with that experience and talk about it with a trusted friend or journal about it.  Making a chance in behavior is tough and there’s not need to rush.  When the wind is in your sails, you make the changes you need to make.


Tom Bruett

Tom Bruett

Tom Bruett, LMFT is a licensed psychotherapist with an office in San Francisco, CA. Tom feels passionately about helping people have better relationships. The purpose of this blog is not to provide advice or to take the place of working with a mental health professional. For more information please visit the homepage.