My growing-up experience was common in our society. I learned to put up walls as the only way to keep others from taking too much from me too often. The implication is that I can’t trust you, so I have to protect myself from you.

The downside is, walls keep everyone out all the time. The price I paid for walls was way too steep. I experienced only a limited connection with others. With walls up, I was never fully “seen” for who I was, nor could I deeply know my loved ones.

But when my self-confidence was weak, I didn’t think I had another option. Nor was I fully aware of what I was giving up. Indeed, my walls effectively prevented me from enjoying the richest of human experiences: true intimacy.

As opposed to impenetrable, titanium-clad walls, healthy boundaries are both flexible and permeable. They allow you to build deep, rich relationships at your own pace.

When you begin a new relationship, it’s natural to have lots of boundaries, and they’ll be firm. Over time, trust supplants the need for firm boundaries. As you slowly build trust, your boundaries will soften a bit.

Flexible boundaries make true intimacy possible. Without a process for easing ourselves into vulnerability, no one would be willing to risk it—no matter how cool it sounds.

You’re able to really open up and be deeply intimate only when you feel safe and trusting. So you can use healthy boundaries as a tool to build your capacity to embrace and enjoy ever-deepening levels of intimacy.

And the Walls Come A Tumblin’ Down

Let’s connect the dots between how you set boundaries and how you get your needs met. In other words, how you balance your needs with others’ needs.

If you don’t have healthy boundaries, you’ll allow others to take too much from you too often. You’ll also be clueless about when to stop giving to others, until you get that familiar feeling that it’s gone too far.

Feeling overcommitted is a signal that you have a weak (or nonexistent) boundary. Usually it’s because you don’t know how to say no, or you don’t feel strong enough to stick to your guns. If this is the case, eventually, you’ll put up walls to protect yourself.

And if you fear being seen as aggressive or selfish, you’ll hesitate to ask for what you want. Ironically, the walls that were built for protection can become a prison. No one gets in or out.

Your life will feel of balance. Instead, you’ll find yourself swinging back and forth between resentment (not getting enough) and guilt (not giving enough). But there’s a third, more powerful choice: set firmer boundaries.

You can learn how to set boundaries around what you can’t, don’t want to or aren’t willing to give.

The first step is to pinpoint what keeps you from saying no when you mean no. Perhaps you won’t say no because:

• You have a habit of agreeing immediately
• You like accommodating others
• You truly want to help those you care about.

The next step is to identify the fears that prevent you from saying no and sticking to your guns. Are you scared of rejection, either by being judged or abandoned?

If your deepest motivation is to avoid rejection, you’ll settle for safe, but superficial relationships. However, you’re not stuck with just two choices: avoid rejection or go all-in.

The profound joy of deep intimacy is the payoff for not ignoring, but learning how to manage the risk of being rejected. The most poignant, challenging aspect of relationships is developing the ability to be ever more vulnerable as intimacy deepens.

This leads to the process of calculating risk as opposed to taking a gamble. In a nutshell, you’ll look for ways to stack the “odds” in your favor. You’ll act in a trustworthy manner and you’ll learn how to spot trustworthy behavior in others.

With every risk you take, you’ll learn more ways to have the kind of relationships you want—thus skewing the odds more in your favor with each subsequent risk.

The more calculated risks you take, the more likely you are to get the outcome you want: the joy of deeper intimacy in all of your close relationships.

It Starts Inside You

When you practice setting a boundary with your loved ones, you’ll begin to balance giving to others with giving to yourself.

It follows that your own behavior will match the limits of the behavior you’re willing to tolerate from others. Setting boundaries starts inside.

I’m speaking here about integrity. In order to be in integrity, your external boundaries will correspond with your internal boundaries. The behavior you stand for—and won't stand for—in yourself and others matches.

But our society trains us to have a big blind spot here. It’s easier to judge the inappropriateness of others’ actions than to look closely at your own contradictions. The downside is, any time you don't take full responsibility for your actions, you lose integrity.

Here’s a common example. Let’s say you have a boundary that your partner can’t yell at you under any circumstances. But at the same time, you think it’s okay for you to yell at them, if you can justify it (well, you provoked me with your snide comment) or rationalize it (hey, I had a tough day).

The average person has at least a few incongruous boundaries. With some self-reflection, you’ll spot the inconsistencies between your internal and external boundaries. As I say over and over, awareness is 85% of the gig. It’s a pretty simple process to choose a more congruous action once you clearly see what you’re doing.

With time and a little practice, you’ll find your balance. You’ll learn how to say no and make it stick. You’ll master the skill of making a request without manipulating, demanding or coercing compliance—or feeling guilty, either.

And—bonus!—your confidence will grow every time you consciously choose to act in accordance with your integrity. Indeed, creating boundaries that maintain your integrity is the highest form of respect for yourself and others.

Author's Bio: 

Judy Widener is a Certified Life Coach and author of Power For A Lifetime: Tools You Customize to Build Your Personal Power Every Day Of Your Life. You can download two chapters of her book at no cost at http://www.myinnerfrontiers.com. Her passion is assisting her clients to discover what is most important to them, then to create more balance and satisfaction in their lives. Empowerment Life Coaching is a comprehensive program that teaches clients simple ways to build their personal power and overcome obstacles to achieving their dreams. Judy has coached more than 600 people over the past 12 years. Her website is http://www.myinnerfrontiers.com.