Mastering Boundaries

The other day at the office, Stella asked if I wanted to go out for lunch at the nearby sushi restaurant. We managed to find a great little spot, referred to by my other colleague, Cat. For under $10, you get a bento box (comprising of high quality sushi, sushi and more sushi, a garden salad and teriyaki chicken) along with a miso soup on the side. And did I mention that the sushi chef sometimes throws in a freebie of one his own creations?

Yes, that’s right. All this for under $10…mmm.

Ok, in case you’re wondering, no I’m not writing to promote this place. You can follow my Yelp account if you’re interested to find out.


I’ve recently been trying to be more mindful of my spending. Disposable income’s a bit tight these days with some unforeseen expenses this month (ie. new eye-ware, new shoes and a heftier telephone bill cuz I was recently roaming in Portland.)


My arm was twisted like a pretzel to go out for some of that under $10 and tasty sushi box. Even though I had brought my own lunch. But, “No!” – I can’t…I won’t…

Stella continued to double-check with me just to be sure. She even tried to convince me with the clever and practical reasoning of, “well, you can always save the lunch you brought for tomorrow!”

I knew I was on a mission with my savings. I’ve even cut back on my routine breakfast from Starbucks just before going into work, and that was no easy task. But I was determined to maintain my discipline.

…did I mention the bento box also comes with tempura? For under $10! My home brought lunch probably cost more than that!

With a proud chest and deep breath, I replied to Stella again, “No (thanks)! It’s tempting but I’m trying to save $$$!”

And the line in the sand was drawn. I stood behind my boundaries.


I’ve crossed boundaries many times in my life: at home, at work and in my relationships. I’ve yelled, name-called, accused and guilted others in order to force them to agree with my perspective and to discount their own.

I’ve allowed others to cross my boundaries as well: name calling, yelling, accusations and guilting. Also to force me to agree with their perspectives and to discount my own.

When boundaries are crossed, there’s two ends of the spectrum. On one hand:

  • We become door mats for people.
  • We allow others to influence us.
  • We can’t say “No” to people.

On the other hand when we cross other people’s boundaries:

  • We become aggressive and overly assertive.
  • We argue until the cow’s come home.
  • We protect our ego from being wrong.
  • We try to control other people’s beliefs.

So why do we keep repeating the pattern of either crossing other people’s boundaries or allowing others to cross ours?

It boils down to our self-esteem.

When our self-esteem is crippled (from past trauma for example), we have a low sense of self-worth, self-acceptance and self-love. We need to seek approval from others to fill that empty vial of worth, acceptance and love. This explains why we can’t say “No” to people and become pushovers and are often taken for granted.

On the other end of the spectrum, our low self-esteem can also make us become aggressive to prove a point that we’re right (this was my case for many years). Because we lack self-worth, we need to aggressively convince others that our perspective is Gospel in order to force them to give us their approval.

I sometimes hear people say, “I’m no longer going to let others cross my boundaries!” – it’s a perfectly healthy belief to have, but it’s not as simple as just saying it. One needs to evaluate their self-esteem to be sure that everything is in check. With a healthy self-esteem, healthy boundaries are created. Crossing boundaries become less of an issue because quite frankly, we no longer need other people to approve of us – we can do that for ourselves.

self esteem

I was very sure of myself when Stella asked me a few times to go for sushi later that week, hence I felt strong enough to say “No thanks”. I realize Stella had no intention of crossing my boundaries, and the story of my sushi temptation is a light-hearted contrast to true altercations of boundaries (with family, friends, work or relationships).

But the next time your coworker asks you out for sushi even though you’d rather not for your own reasons, stand strong and honor your boundaries. Start small and practice acknowledging your self-esteem on sushi outings and slowly work your way into the heavier loaded boundaries, like in your relationships.

I’m proud of my self-esteem when it came to Stella and the sushi story. But if she asks me out for hot-dogs and poutine, all bets are off.

Jason Lee, Author of Living with the Dragon. Photo by Kristi MacFarlane Photography.


Published by Jason Lee, Author

There’s something greater to be learned in our journey otherwise life would just be too predictable and I’m not quite willing to accept that!

%d bloggers like this: