Reframing Boundaries The HSP Way
It is so often said that Highly Sensitive People (HSP) struggle to maintain boundaries. But why?
I remember Rose’s words as we made our way through the streets of Seville. An outgoing HSP, Rose’s sense of adventure and uncanny ability to find the party were matched by a gift for deep conversation. So when I brought up my plan to visit the cathedral that afternoon, the talk turned easily to personal beliefs. She said:
“Connection is my religion.”
There it is: HSPs are master connectors. They are known for wonderful abilities to empathize, to hold space for others, and even, in moments of spiritual uplift, to feel that great, unifying force – the sense that we are but a drop in a vast ocean of universe. It does not necessarily mean that they seek the company of others – after all, most HSPs are introverts. But whether it be through a person, purpose or ideal, many highly sensitives are highly attuned to world around them.
The very word boundary signals that we are bound by our personal limits, physically or otherwise. When we think “boundary,” we may think of limitations, separations, withdrawal behind a wall or closed door.
HSPs, by contrast, instinctively crave the boundless energy of union. But though we are immersed in the ocean, the fact remains that whatever we do begins from within the drop.
What would boundaries look like if they were replaced by more HSP-friendly terms?
Some alternative names for boundary-setting:
Protection – of the self, our values, our bodies
Affirmation – of our uniqueness, our beliefs, our strivings
Balance – between what comes in and what goes out (recall the natural principle of homeostasis)
Humility – the admission that I am but one imperfect person, and can only do so much
Justice – never asking one person to be or do more than they can
Respect, honor, integrity – for the good that we know we can bring to the world, when we feel right
In this light, a multitude of possibilities emerge for setting boundaries that are much more in line with HSP nature. A boundary could involve shutting the door – part-way. It could mean no longer ruminating about a situation; deciding that some people cannot be trusted with certain information; asking for help; or rejecting a cultural ideal that doesn’t fit. It can even simply be identifying as an HSP, since this label marks us off as different from 80% of the population.
We may say that HSPs struggle to set boundaries, but the story is bigger than that. We struggle to match our needs for protection, balance, and self-care, with the profound desire to connect, serve, and reach the depths of a situation.
If you recognize yourself in that struggle, remember that boundary-setting is not merely disconnection and withdrawal. When combined with the HSP gift for connection, it can be so much more. Just as light needs dark, connection needs separation now and again, to do its very best work.
To keep our hearts open in the face of difficulty; to respect ourselves even when others don’t seem to; to seek connection from within the boundaries of our imperfect bodies and minds – no less than one of the great, enduring spiritual challenges. HSPs who want to remain physically and emotionally capable of committing to their guiding principles must see boundaries as a means to that end.
Wield them as a sacred tool. Use your boundaries for good.
-With thanks to Roos G. for the inspiration
Robyn Penney is a Meetup Leader in Montreal/QC, Canada, where she also works as an English language coach and editor. She is passionate about getting information and resources out to Highly Sensitive People, and connecting with like-minded others.