Do you keep adapting your behavior to please others and to be what others expect you to be?

Do you worry about what people will think of you if you assert yourself or ask for what you need?

Do you fear letting others down or disappointing them by not doing what they want or saying no?

If you have answered yes to any of these questions, it is a sign you need to do some work to strengthen your Authentic Self. Not feeling entitled to express yourself or assert your position is a sign that the boundary between your Self-Protective Persona and Authentic Self has not been developed and that you are using adaptive, self-protective behaviors to cope. It’s time to actively take on the challenge of creating healthy boundaries and building tolerance to the discomfort you feel when you put your energy into supporting yourself instead of protecting yourself.

Boundaries are part of the psychological system of the brain. It is the boundary between our Authentic Self and our Self-Protective Persona. When we haven’t developed our Authentic Self and its boundaries, we are stuck in default mode, using the fight/flight mechanism of our Self-Protective System to keep others from hurting, shaming or abandoning us.  This automatic behavior will continue until we do something about it.

Understanding the Mechanics of the Mind

During our formative years, we first develop a Self-Protective Persona so that our Authentic Self is protected. It helps us adapt to our environment and the people in it so that we get our physical and emotional needs met. Our fight or flight mechanism is a part of the Self-Protective System and it allows us to easily adapt to perceived or real threats. Many people come out of childhood with an underlying fixed belief that not pleasing others is a threat to their survival and is an activator of self-protective behavior. This interferes with our ability to self-activate from our Authentic Self.

Strengthening our boundaries and developing our Authentic Self means taking responsibility for what we want and need and what we are willing to negotiate for.  We must decide our values, our guidelines, rules for safety, and permissible ways for others to behave around us. By defining and aligning our behavior behind our values, beliefs, and guidelines, we allow ourselves to be driven by our ambitions, appetites, and potential. We are self-motivated and self-directed. We do not seek approval or permission from others to affirm us, or to give us permission to continue, or tell us that what we are doing is okay.  We are confident and comfortable with setting relationship rules and being disciplined about holding them and not letting other people cross them. We are more concerned with aligning ourselves behind our own goals and our own values, and what feels right to us.

The Boundaries of the Authentic Self Do Not Develop Automatically

5 Key Skills to Developing and Maintaining Boundaries of the Authentic Self

1. Develop Self Awareness  

To create healthy boundaries, we must recognize the needs, desires, and appetites of our Authentic Self. We also must be honest with ourselves about when we are giving in because we are afraid to speak up or ask for what we need. Without an awareness of our needs and ambitions, we will continue to put the needs of others first, causing our boundaries to remain undeveloped. Our need to express ourselves authentically must become greater than the need to self-protect. We must recognize when we are driven by fear and shift from our fight/flight reaction to self-activation.

2. Set Limits & Expectations 

In all relationships, we have to set limits by first setting expectations and rules for what we will and will not do or tolerate from others. Unknowingly, we all form unconscious psychological contracts in our relationships, and we can avoid conflict and issues in relationships when we make them conscious. The first step for employees is affirming our right to do so and clarifying expectations and limits. In personal relationships, we need to create relationship rules and guidelines with partners, children, and friends.

3. Act with Assertiveness 

Being assertive involves expressing our thoughts, feelings and needs while respecting the person we are talking to. The assertiveness bill of rights highlights the freedoms we have to stand up for ourselves, while being clear about position without disrespecting others. Understanding what we are entitled to is the path to building healthy entitlement. We decide to disallow the behavior of those with an inflated sense of entitlement to steamroll us by calmly asserting our own needs and desires.

4. Develop Self Advocacy & Negotiating Skills 

These skills are critical to develop as it allows us to follow through in the face of opposition to what we want without becoming emotional. They also help us stay the course when others become emotional. These skills include interest-based negotiating, issue resolution and non-defensive communication. We are able to label and defuse aggression instead of feeling victimized by others because we chose to retreat.

5. Identify & Move Past Fears & Fixed Beliefs about Saying “No” 

When we don’t recognize our fears, we can revert to unconscious self-protective behaviours, causing us to compromise ourselves. System. Whether our fear is of a real or perceived threat, our physiology responds as though it is real. We find ourselves automatically saying “yes” when we want to say no. By identifying our fears and fixed beliefs, we can replace each one with a supportive, open belief about what we can and have the right to do.

Time to Develop Your Authentic Self

Now is the time to take responsibility for the nurturing and care of your own needs, interests, and unique abilities. To free yourself from the suffering caused by feeling you need to be in the service of the needs and interests of others. Take responsibility for your actions and stop placing blame or complaining about the situation or how you’re feeling. Think about the decisions you’ve made in your relationships and whether they may have contributed to the situation.

Our first step is to become aware of when we are operating from our authentic self and when we’re being self-protective. It’s easier for us to be self-protective because the brain is naturally wired that way. It takes time, effort, discipline and energy to strengthen our boundaries. If we don’t we remain reactive, impulsive, and other focused.

For more information about how you can develop as a leader through individual coaching or participating in a leadership coaching program, contact us at [email protected].


Anne and Heather are organizational and leadership development experts at Caliber Leadership Systems, a boutique consulting firm specializing in dismantling of dysfunction in organizations.  They are dedicated to empowering individuals, leaders, and organizations to achieve their potential by leveraging their expertise in the neurobiology of human development combined with system thinking approach. They wear many hats – Consultants, Executive Coaches, Trainers, Speakers and Authors – adapting their expertise and solutions to meet the needs of their clients. They bring a unique depth and breadth of knowledge and experience that gives clients the benefit of all of our disciplines to help them achieve their goals.

As experts in human development and behavioral change, leadership and organizational transformation, interpersonal dynamics and the achievement of potential, Anne and Heather have worked with thousands of leaders and individuals from around the world, been featured in dozens of publications, spoken at professional conferences, and written several series of books on personality type and the brain based on the Striving Styles® and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®.

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