A Lesson on Boundaries

Cat Li Stevenson
3 min readNov 17, 2022

Your boundary need not be an angry electric fence that shocks those who touch it. It can be a consistent light around you that announces: I will be treated sacredly.
~Jaiya John

I’ve been thinking a lot, these days, on how to be more deeply attuned, listening to my own inner knowing, including the way I find and express my boundaries in relationship.

As part of my healing journey, I’ve been studying boundaries, and how to express them. The theme I notice is that when I would pick up a book about boundaries and read the material, I would often feel quite charged. It exasperated some wound(s) inside me that brought up anger, and I felt compelled to race out into the world, with my pain-activist-heart-on-FIRE, and a sharp sword in defense shouting “NO!!!”

I thought this is what boundaries were. A FIERCE NO to PROTECT myself — IN ALL CAPS.

I’ve tried on this version of boundaries, and it hasn’t served me or my relationships so well. I was left feeling angry, full of blame and making the other person bad and wrong. It’s confusing because I thought, “Aren’t boundaries supposed to bring peace?” I didn’t feel more peaceful.

In my own trial and error of boundaries, I’ve identified that there is one, key missing component to the way I have been interpreting what boundaries are. The missing link has been self-compassion. Without first tuning IN and soothing my own anger (and if I settle deeper into the layers, there is often a softer emotion of sadness and fear), I went OUT — ready to right and fight an injustice that had been done to me. It was like operating out of a victim mode, instead of from an empowered, anchored, and in-touch place. It’s been clarifying, recently, to see that while I thought I was practicing “boundaries,” I’ve actually been reacting without first giving myself the compassion that’s needed.

A few weeks ago, I had an opportunity to practice in a moment of intensity between me and my husband. When I paused after our disagreement and turned inward, I saw there was a deep sadness inside me. From there, I could be with myself, offer myself a moment of kindness, and then my boundary came from a softer place of inner-knowing, grounded in self-trust (versus that FIERCE PROTECT NO!)

Lea Seigen Shinraku, from The SF Center for Self-Compassion, defines boundaries as having three key components — they are (1) Functional (2) Relational and (3) Self-Compassionate. She states that “healthy boundaries express compassion inward and outward.”

I love this definition, as it lands empowering and centered. It means my heart can stay open and not condemn anyone.

Here’s a little poem that is one of my favorites — I hope it offers some nourishment and connection to your deep inner knowing as it relates to boundaries and beyond:

Start Close In
by David Whyte

Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way of starting
the conversation.

Start with your own
give up on other
people’s questions,
don’t let them
smother something

To find
another’s voice,
your own voice,
wait until
that voice
becomes a
private ear
to another.

Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own
don’t follow
someone else’s
heroics, be humble
and focused,
start close in,
don’t mistake
that other
for your own.



Cat Li Stevenson

SF via AZ. Explorer of the human journey, and waking up in Mamahood. I write about healing, mothering, grief, & love.✨