Setting Healthy Boundaries

Written by: Nick Ortner

keepcalmDuring my years teaching EFT/Tapping, helping people overcome chronic pain, insomnia, financial challenges, and more, I’ve noticed several underlying issues that most of us struggle with at some point in our journey. One of them is setting boundaries.

Boundaries are tricky because we often don’t know where our boundaries are until someone has crossed them. To add to the overwhelm, when someone does cross a boundary, we’re often taken aback.

Because of the shock we experience in the moment, it can be hard to respond in a healthy way. Instead of speaking up for ourselves or taking some kind of action to protect ourselves, we often freeze.

Why we freeze when a boundary is crossed…

Have you ever looked back on a moment when someone crossed your boundary and wondered why you didn’t say or do something to defend yourself? It’s called the freeze response, and it’s a primal protective response that happens to just about everyone.

The best way to understand the freeze response is by watching animals in the wild. When an animal, like a possum, is attacked its body goes stiff, and by all appearances it seems to be dead.

As a result, its attacker typically loses interest, and abandons pursuit. Once the attacker has left, the possum will stand up and run off to safety. (That’s where the phrase “playing possum” comes from.)

While it may look like the possum is “playing” at looking dead, the freeze response is a physical state of being frozen, unable to move or defend itself other than by freezing.

That’s why, for example, you may feel “frozen,” unable to reply or respond appropriately, if someone suddenly confronts you. That’s your body initiating a freeze response in order to protect you from another attack.

(There are many different ways people “freeze” when they’re experiencing a freeze response; that’s just one example.)

But then afterward, we feel angry and resentful.

Whether or not we experience the freeze response when someone crosses a boundary, we’re often left feeling angry and resentful. In fact, feeling resentful toward a person is a great indication that he or she has crossed your boundary.

Until we process and clear the leftover anger and resentment, it’s almost impossible to set healthy boundaries with people who have crossed them in the past. So let’s do a tapping exercise that allows you to clear those emotions and begin setting healthy boundaries with people.

A tapping process for clearing resentment and setting boundaries…

Here’s a tapping process for clearing resentment from past attempts to create boundaries and set healthy new boundaries with people now:

Think of 5 people in your life who have hurt you, or crossed your boundary in some way. Pick one to start and imagine them standing in front of you. If you could tell them anything or ask them anything about how you felt or what happened between you, what would it be? Imagine yourself doing that – what feelings come up? Anger – hurt – fear?

This is what gets in the way of setting the boundary and where tapping comes in. Tap through all of the feelings that come up, allowing yourself time to imagine their reaction and then notice the next set of feelings that rise to the surface.

Ask yourself, Where else have I felt this way? What does this feeling remind me of?

Tap on those other events as they present themselves. If nothing comes up, that’s okay as well, just continue tapping for the feelings that were coming up when you were expressing your thoughts and feelings to the person you imagined.

Check in with that image again. When you see yourself in front of that person, how does you feel now?

Continue to tap around the remaining feelings that might come up in that conversation. Imagine how they might react to your request – notice if there are feelings coming up for you. When you find them, tap on those feelings. This step could take just a few minutes, or it could take a while.

Remember, you are doing this for yourself. If it takes some time to complete the process, it’s worth it because YOU are worth it! The more time you spend working through the different scenarios, the more natural it will feel when you do ask for what you need or want.

Once you’ve gone through this process for your first imaginary person, use it for the next person on your list. Notice if the next person was easier, or if different feelings came up. You might find that the process moves quickly with some, and more slowly with others.

After a while, setting boundaries and speaking up for what you want will feel more natural. You’ll still encounter people who present a challenge, and when that happens, remember to return to this exercise.

Boundaries are one of the core foundations of emotional health and well-being, as well as good relationships. Once you get comfortable setting healthy ones, you’ll find it’s much easier to transform your relationship with yourself and others in the best possible ways.  🙂

If you had a shift or breakthrough in doing this process, large or small, share it below!


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25 Comments on this post

  1. Sarah says:

    Thank you so much.while tapping il felt a huge shift.i now understand myself and my reactions a lot better and i feel so much compassion in my heart!!! The main motive for allowin others to cross my bounderies was in hope that they would love i understand that love also includes respecting one anothers bounderies.

  2. Jacqui says:

    Brilliant article, freezing incidents have bothered me in my past and although I’ve worked through them with my therapist it was still so very helpful reading this. The article confirmed how natural/normal it is to freeze and I liked how it reflected on the feelings that come up afterwards, I would like it even more if there was a script I could follow, even though scripts are just a guide that I often throw my own personal touchs to, they are incredibly helpful.
    Thank you kindly

  3. Mei says:

    After tapping through my own issue as usual the resentment gone, and I was at ease again not only that I also found out how tense my friend was, that was the reason she step on my boundary ,this is a wonderful shift.

  4. Scarlet says:

    Thank you, Nick, for explaining why I was unable to defend myself when my former husband would cross my boundaries. (Sometimes just a half hour after he had told me how much he loved me. It was insanity – and debilitating.) I have been beating myself up for just standing there like a deer in the headlights. (Until our kids went to college and I threw him out.) I didn’t know I was reacting in a typical, normal human way. Seriously, Thank You!

    It would be cool, and most welcome, if you could pass along some script suggestions for the type of PTSD (called Complex PTSD in other countries) that can manifest after living with someone who has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. i have been working on my own tapping scripts, but input from pros is always helpful. Thanks.

  5. theresa says:

    I need help trying to tap away these freeze and resentment feelings when dealing with son(border-line personality disorder.) He manipulates me through his feelings of entitlement and blame. I have given in to his constant requests for money until I am out and he still is asking. i am stressed and dejected that I give in. He isn’t well but could try harder to keep jobs–or maybe not. I don’t know.

  6. Elsie says:

    Marvelous article. So much is said about setting boundaries and forgiving others and working through past situations but little is written to understand exactly what is happening when a boundary is crossed. Also, the learned habit, over years, to deal only one way…..or not to deal with at all…freezing! Tapping creates a space, a safe space, in which to replay situations and to release anger, resentment etc. When you rework the situations, you learn a more healthy way to respond to the next time a boundary is crossed. A healthy response rather than an unhealthy reaction builds health for you and for the other person. Thank you for this deeply meaningful article!

  7. J Sche says:

    Teaching 8-9 year olds and this boundary setting article was perfect, just what I needed. Thank you, Love Forever, J.

  8. Susan B says:

    Boundaries…..phew, not an easy one for most of us.
    I would greatly appreciate a guided EFT audio for just this issue. I am one who really needs the structure of being guided through the tapping.
    Grateful for all you do!!!

  9. marianeI says:

    Thank you. This was a great help for me dealing with past and recent attacks, or rather I considered it as an attack. ery recently a woman made a remark and looked at me in a way that meant “poor old woman how can she imagine she could be compared to me, a.s.o.” I have difficulty accepting my age
    mentally I am more than fit, but physically I have problems with mobility. I have Lissa’s book Mind over Medicine, and other similar so called psychological “aids”and I DO TAPPING , but sorry to disappoint you it does not always help.Believe me I wish i should. As you see I live in Europe though it’s nice to advertise your no doubt very interesting workshops, but traveling to the USA an d/or Peru is
    not practically and financially possible.

  10. manisha says:

    Wonderful Insight! havent We all been through! Why i just Froze! How could i freeze ! encounters…?Am goin to try out..Thank u Bless u…Be Blessed…

  11. Avatar says:

    I sustained a sudden strange paralysis as i was walking briskly in a UK city centre at exactly noon
    about two years ago. ‘frozen’, like a statue , I was completely cognitive, perceptive, etc, but a
    passing WPC who knows my adult daughter stopped and asked why I was ‘standing like a statue’
    I replied I did not know, so she called in the paramedics, and I was hospitalized. Just two days
    before my 14-yr old grandson had uttered a strange curse which I will not repeat….. Before that
    event I had always been very fit, a fast walker, non-smoker, and totally independent. Sadly, the
    NHS major hospital through a series of incidents after an initial effective injection procedure
    seemed unable to provide further vital , but logical and inexpensive procedures which would surely
    enabled my rapid recovery had they been permitted. A physio team had determined that because
    my ‘mobility’ recovery showed excellent signs of total recovery if given next day treatment, this was prevented by the hospital management as it had determined that the replacement of the
    suspended ceiling in in the physio gym should be given priority over any required scheduled physio treatments, so when wheeled in by the physios, scaffolding had been erected, cables were everywhere and the cutting of plastic panels which filled the air with plastic dust was under
    way. The physios tried, but they and I were forced to withdraw as breathing was difficult. That
    same morning there was a quarantine alarm which shut down the hospital for eight days, and I was transferred to a ‘re-hab’ hospital where I sustained an inguinal hernia due to my being
    locked into a bed, despite my request to leave it unlocked so that I could get access to the
    toilet during the night.

    After three hours of non-response to the call button I had forced the steel bars apart so that I could reach the toilet, sustaining that injury. Proper remedial physio was still not given although the physio team had insisted on this.

    As the result of all this total negativity in the UK I seem to have become a prisoner in my my own body, subject to moods of depression and despond which trigger loss of confidence, sense of failure, and other degrading symptoms which block my ability to recover my work as an aviation consultant and my returning to my young family overseas who need me there to assist them.?

    A tall order, but may, and can Tapping assist ?

  12. Diane says:

    I absolutely relate to your comments. I suppose that we all have an innate need to be needed and wanted. Our parents/family play such a critical role in our perception of how important and valued our individual existence is. As adults we try to rationalize that our parents were only human. That they simply were never taught how to nurture and to give us that acceptance and unconditional love which we all need. Like you, I believed that everyone was so much better than me. That if they needed something from me it was their right. I was somehow lesser than everyone else and my needs were unimportant. Logically we know this is nonsense. Emotionally we are still that small child begging for acceptance and love.
    Intellectually we understand that those who devalue us are simply trying to find some value in themselves by convincing us that we are lesser people. A poor and destructive path to take.
    Like a comforting fire, we stay close to what is familiar. But like the fire we sometimes have to back away to avoid being burned up to feed the fire which has crossed it’s boundaries.

  13. Janette says:

    a tapping sequence would have been really nice here.

  14. Pam says:

    I needed to read this today, I have been very generous in so many ways, especially when it comes to money, I tend to over do it and help the same ones over and over….I am going to follow this article and apply it to my self

  15. Destiny says:

    Thank you!
    I was about to move out of my home because of the possum effect! I tapped and tapped until I realized ” Hey wait a minute, this isn’t right, someone in my home is breaking a commitment and I’m taking the fall for it because I went into shock. Still need to do a lot of tapping on this, but i sure am glad your email came just in time to wake me up. I think my totem has been possum, gonna work on that.

  16. Azaima says:

    This has been a key issue for me this year. I realize that annoying people is the price of self care. As I stick to my boundaries, people will not be happy about not getting their way. But I’d rather lose their esteem than my own.

  17. WOW says:

    WOW! I’ve tried tapping before but didn’t really get it. I was SO inclined to tap for an on going issue i’ve had for awhile now and within minutes, I was able to release the emotion that was attached to this particular individual. The lightness I now feel. Thank you so much for what you do Nick! Lot of love and peace man!! Stay Blessed.

  18. Nina says:

    Nick this is what ineed now..setting boundaries.. Lately what happen is exactly what you presented on the email. I frooze up and did not give me a chance to speak,. This person let me think alot and. i feel overwheelmed, and pressure myself thinking What i have done wrong?? I’ve been depressed so much that my family get stressed too..pls help on how i will start my tapping… More power to you!!

  19. Rich F says:

    I have done what some may know as the Personal Peace Procedure, tapping on every unpleasant experience I can think of whenever I think of it. It has very effectively reduced my freeze response, which used to be quite frustrating. Now I can stay clear and even calm while trying to keep better boundaries.

  20. Alexia says:

    Freezing is EXACTLY what I do, 95% of the time. And then later I can get passive-aggressive witht the person, or about the issue. Ewwww. Will start working on this!

  21. Annette says:

    This helped a lot, I am going through such a tough time yet unable to confront the person who is passive aggressive. When I physically talk to them they act like they have no clue what I am talking about. Yet I end up frustrated with no way to release my anger. This has helped immensely to release my frustration and anger which hurts me.

  22. Genevieve says:

    Always so relevant in your articles Nick ! I always feel better after reading it each time. Thanks for everything you do to help people around you and even people you don’t even know personaly through this blog by sharing your thoughts, experiences and yes, your wisdom ! We don’t need to be old to be wise ! And we can feel that you give all that just because you love helping people, that’s what I feel ! Thanks again and keep doing what you do best !!

  23. Majah says:

    Appreciated this article as healthy boundaries are a strong part of my intentions to balance. You offer great information on how to tap & what to focus on mentally….but WHERE do you tap during this process?
    Happy to begin once I know that!
    Thanks Nick!
    Blessings Be:)

  24. Majah says:

    Appreciated this article as healthy boundaries are a strong part of my intentions to balance. You offer great information on how to tap & what to focus on mentally….but WHERE do you tap during this process?
    Happy to begin nice I know that!
    Thanks Nick!
    Blessings Be:)

  25. Shadi says:

    Just to say thank you for acknowledging the negative impact of disrespect of emotional boundaries. My experience has been closely entertained with manipulative behaviours. So I guess any change should be reported much later. Thanks for all the incredible insights you and your sister share.

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