As a highly sensitive person (HSP), you might wonder how to set boundaries that will protect your sanity and well-being.
Empaths and HSPs have particular – and different – needs from people who are not as sensitive. (And please note there’s no value judgment in this. Some people are more sensitive than others; this doesn’t make anyone better or worse.)
This includes the need for silence, downtime, solitude, and a calm environment to rest and recharge. It’s really important to acknowledge these needs and speak up as an advocate for yourself.
But, of course, as an HSP you’re also highly conscientious. You want to make sure everyone around you is happy. You want to be helpful and give friends and family your full attention.
While these are some of the most wonderful traits of empaths and HSPs, they can also get you in trouble.
Being conscientious and caring, taken to the extreme, can turn into putting everyone else ahead of yourself and neglecting the needs of your body, mind, and soul.
Wanting to be helpful, taken to the extreme, can become a compulsive need to “rescue” or “save” everyone.
This is where setting firm and healthy boundaries can really help.
How to Set Boundaries as a Highly Sensitive Person
Energetically, you can think of your boundaries as the contours of your physical body and energy field.
Your boundaries are also the perimeter around your physical space, including your house, car, office, bedroom, and any other space you inhabit. In our modern times, these boundaries are also the perimeter around the online spaces you inhabit – including your email inbox, social media accounts, and website (if you have one).
The first and most important point: you have the divine right to safeguard and curate every space you inhabit. You have the divine right to decide what enters and what doesn’t enter those spaces, as well as what’s allowed and what’s not allowed in them.
Read the words above one more time. Allow them to really sink in. Do you believe in your divine right to safeguard your spaces and protect your peace and sanity?
Really believing that you matter – that your well-being, inner peace, comfort, and sanity matter – is the first step to setting and enforcing firm boundaries.
Let’s walk through some specific scenarios where you might need to set boundaries, with suggested scripts for each situation.
Scenario #1: someone asks you for help but you’re already swamped with your own stuff
“I’d love to help, but I’ve got my plate full at this time.”
[To buy yourself time instead of saying YES automatically.] “Can I check my calendar and get back to you? I’m not sure if I’ll be able to help with this.”
“This is a super busy time for me. I apologize but I won’t be able to help.”
Scenario #2: someone violates a time boundary (e.g., they’re late to an appointment or meeting with you)
[If you choose to leave because they’re too late.] “I will have to reschedule this as I have other commitments/obligations/appointments coming up now.”
“I waited as long as I could but I have to get going now.”
“I can stay this time, but I really need you to be on time moving forward. I want both of our time and energy to be respected/honored.”
[If you choose to make the person aware of their behavior because they’re habitually late.] “When you keep me waiting, it feels like you don’t appreciate me or respect my time. I feel hurt by this. If this doesn’t change, I don’t know if we’ll be able to keep meeting.”
Scenario #3: someone is dumping their emotional baggage on you
“It’s important to me to give you my full attention. I’m swamped right now but can we set a time to chat later?”
“I’m so sorry you’re experiencing this. I really hate to interrupt because I can feel how much this matters, but I have to get going/get to my next appointment/do some important errands.”
[To help them problem-solve or shift to a more positive mindset, if you want to go down that path.] “I really hear how much this is worrying/upsetting you. What could you do to support yourself in this situation?”
Scenario #4: someone asks you for money, time, or another resource that you can’t (or would prefer not to) give them
“I’m not available for that right now.”
“I won’t be able to give you that as I need it for myself and my family.”
[To buy yourself time.] “I’m not sure, but let me see if I can work that out. I can give you an answer in a few days.”
[Short & sweet boundary setting.] “I’m sorry, but no.”
Scenario #5: someone keeps prolonging a conversation and you really need to go
“I want to hear everything you have to say, but right now I have to get going. Can we continue this later on?”
“It was great chatting with you. I’m going to be late to my next thing/appointment/meeting, so I gotta go!”
“I hate to cut you off, but I’m late to my next thing/appointment. Let’s schedule another chat soon.”
“I’m gonna have to stop you there. I lost track of time and I have to run to my next thing/appointment!”
Scenario #6: someone invites you to dinner, a holiday gathering, or event and you really don’t want to go
[Blame it on your schedule.] “Oh, thank you for the invite but that day doesn’t work for me.”
“I’ve been really busy lately and I need a few days to rest. I won’t be able to make it.”
[If you want to preserve the friendship or relationship.] “Thank you for the invitation, I’m really touched. I have a prior obligation that day/time but maybe we can get together later on?”
[If the person asking is a persistent relative, and you’ve already decided not to celebrate this particular holiday – or that you want to celebrate in your own way with your own guests.] “I’ve decided, for personal reasons, not to celebrate Thanksgiving/Christmas/Easter/whatever other holiday this year. I hope you have a great time, though!”
Scenario #7: a friend suggests an activity that is too stimulating for you (i.e., spending a whole day shopping, going out to a loud or crowded place, going out late at night, etc)
“Thank you for inviting me to do this! I tend to do better one-on-one/in quieter settings/earlier in the day. Could we tweak things a bit to suit both of us?”
“I love the idea of getting together! I won’t be able to spend the whole day, though. Could we meet a bit earlier so I can be back home by XYZ time?”
[If this is a trusted person and you’re open to sharing.] “This is a good time to share that I’m a highly sensitive person, which means I get overstimulated and really drained doing certain things. For example, going to crowded places. Could we do something that works for me too?”
Scenario #8: someone you live with enters the room you’re in and starts talking to you, but you need alone time and silence
“My bad, I didn’t close the door! [If you forgot to close the door.] I was actually in here to get some rest and silence. Can we talk later?”
“Did you notice the door was closed? [If you closed the door but they opened it anyway.] I closed it so I could have some silence for a few minutes/hours. I really need that to rest and recharge and feel normal. I’ll be out at X time and we can be together then.”
“I really want to hear what you’re saying, but right now I need you to give me X minutes/hours of alone time and silence to recharge. After that, I really want to be with you and do XYZ together.”
“I’m sorry to interrupt but I was trying to be alone in here. Could you hold that thought for a while?”
Scenario #9: someone doesn’t understand your high sensitivity and keeps pushing you to give (or do) more than you can
[If it doesn’t make sense to try to explain your high sensitivity.] “I’m swamped right now and can’t help with this/do this.”
“I’m really busy so it’s just not an option for me to do this/help with this.”
[If it makes sense to explain your HSP nature.] “You might not know this about me, but I’m a highly sensitive person and tend to get easily overloaded. I don’t have the energy right now to do this/help with this.”
“I’ve already said no but it seems you’re not hearing me. I’m not available to help.” [At this point, be firm and stop giving any explanations. If they keep pushing, put off communication for a while if needed.]
I hope these examples and scripts will be helpful as you navigate the waters of setting healthy boundaries.
And, as I often remind my clients, the word no can be a full sentence.
Don’t twist or contort yourself trying to give explanations or making sure everyone understands exactly where you’re coming from. Sometimes they won’t fully get it. And that’s ok.
It’s still your divine right to set boundaries whenever needed to protect yourself, your space, and your energy.