Dushka Zapata is one of the most popular and influential writers in the world. Her brilliant essays have been viewed over 200 million times on Quora and through her social media, and have been compiled into 14 amazing books, including her newest work releasing May 2022. Dushka was born in Mexico and has lived in multiple countries, through which she has developed an appreciation for, and deep understanding of, other people. She has an incredible knack for taking complex subjects and perpetual life dilemmas and breaking them down into simple, easy-to-understand and grasp ideas and concepts. What she offers the world is truly life-changing. In this conversation, we talk about the subject of “boundaries” and we dive into essays from Dushka’s book “How To Set Your Boundaries And Why No One Else Can Save You.”


OPENING ESSAY:  Truth & Misconception

“Truth” and “misconception” can look nearly identical. It’s no wonder I often cannot tell them apart, in particular if a misconception has been presented as truth by people who themselves cannot tell them apart.

The difference between truth and a misconception is that the misconception cannot sustain itself. Sooner or later it runs out. I realize it’s no longer working for me to believe it, and that I need to unlearn it.

I can’t do this anymore.

A good example of this is the concept of boundaries. True love, true dedication, true loyalty means no boundaries, right? Why would I need them, if I want to love completely?

So then why do I feel overextended from attempting to always be available? Why do I often feel pushed into doing things I don’t want to do? Why do I often feel furiously resentful? Why do I often feel taken advantage of? Why do I feel silenced and like I don’t matter? Why am I always burned out?

Why do I feel like my only recourse is to lie?

And, why do boundaries feel so counterintuitive?

One day I put it together: I feel this way because I don’t know how to say no. I feel silenced because I’m silencing myself.

As I learned about boundaries, things got better. I had to unlearn what I knew about loving, about being a good friend, even about being a good person.

I cannot ignore my limits. I cannot ignore my needs. Good people take care of themselves. Good people say no, and that’s how we love better.


Why is Boundaries such an important subject for you?

• The meaning of life is connection.

• Connection with yourself and others can’t be healthy without boundaries.

In the opening essay, you used a phrase “Why do I feel like my only recourse is to lie?” These are the little white lies we tell people to avoid hurting them with the truth.

• The sense that I don’t want to hurt you, and so I have to lie to you, means I’m trying to manage your reality. 

• Me telling myself that it’s a white lie is a cop out.

• Dushka gives an example based on her being both very social and very introverted.

• When you give a white lie, you’re not letting people see who you really are.  Then boundary setting becomes more difficult.

• The more I tell the truth, the more I surround myself with people who understand me.

Most people seem to have a very hard time receiving candid communication without getting offended or upset. How do you navigate that?

• My job is to articulate and communicate my boundaries as clearly as possible.

• What others do with that is up to them.

• I need to make peace with the fact that I may disappoint others.

When you communicate directly with regard to your boundaries, you are letting people see who you really are.  To have real connection, we have to be presenting who we really are vs. a half-truth about ourselves.

• If I don’t show you who I am, you cannot see me. If you cannot see me, intimacy cannot exist.

• If we are not clear about our limits, we become the worst version of ourselves. 


ESSAY: How Do I Become Emotionally Independent?  (Page 5)

In the quest for happiness and emotional independence, the single most important thing you can do is learn to love yourself. 

How are you feel about yourself is a lens that has an impact over how you perceive everything. 

Loving yourself is the dedicated practice of two steps: setting boundaries and spending time alone. 

Boundaries are about being clear with where your limits are, and time alone turns the volume down on the world so you can hear yourself. This is how you get to know what you want, what you need, and how you make space to express yourself through creating something. 

Emotional independence does not mean you don’t need anyone else. It means you create inter-dependent rather than codependent relationships. 

The difference is that in a codependent relationship, you expect the other person to do what you should be doing for yourself. In an inter-dependent relationship, you support each other. You witness each other’s emotional evolution. You share your lives without panic, without despair, without neediness, without clinging. You never put each other down. 

Emotional independence is never about needing no one. It’s about the knowledge that true, healthy connection is the meaning of life.

So boundaries are about being clear with where your limits are. 

And this enables you to have healthier, interdependent relationships? 

• Yes, by identifying for yourself what your limits are, other people can see this clearly, and can then learn to operate with knowledge of those boundaries. 

Dan reads from the book, “I have the discipline, the rigor, to put myself first, not because it’s selfish, but because I can’t love you well if along the way I forget who I am.  – (page 89)

• Boundaries are the expression of your limits. I have limits not because I am selfish, but because I’m human. I’m trying to communicate sheer mortal limitation. 


ESSAY: Why Is It Hard To Set Up Boundaries? (Not in the book)

We learn how to do this thing we call “life” when we are children.

When we are children, what we are taught is to be polite, to comply, even “to be seen and not heard.” Well-raised kids are kids who say “yes Sir.”

We learn to not argue, to take up as little space as possible. We learn to not be a burden, in particular if we see that our parents are dominating, overwhelmed or irate.

So we learn to disregard ourselves.

As we get older we begin to feel the consequences. We feel unheard. Unseen. We feel angry, ignored, even resentful and exhausted.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s terribly hard to be a parent. Imagine a kid saying “no”. A kid prone to disobeying or disregarding what adults say. A kid saying “I need a few hours to myself.” Parents do the best they can.

Still, as adults, it’s no wonder it takes time to get comfortable with having needs. With taking up space. With having opinions. With saying no.

To get what we want, what we need, we were taught that what worked was precisely the opposite.

Saying “no” will get people angry with us, in particular if all they’ve ever heard from us is “yes, Sir.”

It takes years to learn it’s OK – necessary – to disappoint. It’s OK for other people to regard us with a lack of approval. It’s OK for others to not be comfortable with the choices we make for ourselves.

It’s hard to set boundaries because it’s hard to undo what we were taught classifies us as “good”.

Let’s talk about the concept of “what classifies us as good.” There are 7 billion people in the world, and just about as many different agendas.
In order to get along with others, don’t we have to sometimes be flexible with what we want? 

• Absolutely, but at what cost? 

• Dushka offers an example about eating tomato, which makes her sick. 

• Who has the measure of how selfish it is to decline what you are offering me? 

• The ONLY measure of whether a boundary is selfish is set by the person actually setting the boundary. 

• For people to judge another person for setting boundaries is ACTUALLY selfish. 

***** The insights get REALLY powerful here. *****

• How someone responds to my boundaries tells me a lot about them.

• I need to think very carefully about keeping in my life someone willing to get what they want from me at my expense. 

• Boundary-setting is a filter that shows me who I want close in my life and who I don’t. 

• True friends — people who truly love you — even if they experience difficulty respecting your boundaries, will ultimately understand your boundaries. 

• Dushka offers several profound examples in this section. 

• Family is no exception. 

• Boundaries are how you claim your life. The only person who can decide how you want to be is you. 


You have a great essay about setting healthy boundaries and what they might sound like … 

ESSAY: Were You Born Knowing How To Set Boundaries? (Page 217)

Nobody is born knowing how to set boundaries. 

As babies we depended on others to remain alive. Getting others to like us and approve of us is related to survival and runs contrary to learning how to assert our sovereignty.

As we get older, the absence of boundaries means bitterness,  disrespect and resentment. It means the erasing of our outlines. We begin to disappear.

Clear boundaries mean clarity on where others end and I begin. They mean healthy relationships. Boundaries are how we love and stand up for ourselves but also how we give to others the best of us: the part that feels safe and happy rather than overextended.

Boundaries are a practice, not something you learn one time and then just “get right.” 

It’s normal for others to not like our boundaries, in particular when boundary-setting changes the rules of the existing dynamic. For this reason we don’t just need to set them, we also need to defend them. 

Some boundaries are set from the very beginning of a relationship (“if you’re going to be late, please just let me know”) and some come up when something hurts us or makes us uncomfortable (“I understand that you’re angry but please don’t slam the door”) 

Many, many times boundaries come up as we go, so we’re always new at setting them. Nobody is a boundary expert. Everyone is fumbling along.

Here a few examples of what boundaries might look like:

– “No.”

– “You making a joke at my expense hurts my feelings.” 

– “It’s OK for us to disagree but you can’t force me to think like you do.”

– “Your party sounds like so much fun! I am sorry I cannot make it .”

– “I just broke up with my boyfriend and I am not ready to talk about it.”

– “Please don’t touch me like that.”

If anything in a relationship makes you feel pushed, invaded, or resentful, observe it. What do you need? What would make you feel more comfortable? Your answer is your boundary. It belongs to you, so you don’t need to explain it or justify it. 

Finally, boundaries express your limits rather than control another person. “I want you to stop seeing other people” is control, not a boundary. A boundary is “I am monogamous and I am not interested in an open relationship.” 

The line in there that really struck me was “If anything in a relationship makes you feel pushed, invaded, or resentful, observe it …”. 

So we should all be more in tune with the feelings within us in order to recognize where we can set better boundaries? 

• Yes, and that’s why I also recommend spending time alone in order to have some time to process that. 

• Resentment disguises itself as “me being angry at you for doing something.”  Resentment is actually “me being angry at me for not being clear about what I want.”

• Resentment is a sign that your boundaries have been violated, or that you are not setting boundaries where you should.


ESSAY: How Do You Recognize Your Boundaries?  (Page 53)

Something makes me uncomfortable, drained, stressed, indignant, or resentful. 

Something makes me feel afraid, something makes me question myself, something makes me feel guilty or selfish. 

I noticed the feeling and – wait a minute, Dushka, what exactly is making you feel this way? Go back. What happened? Can you pinpoint it? Can you put it into words? 

Why did that hurt? Why am I so tired? Why do I feel taken advantage of? Why do I feel like I can’t say no? Why do I feel I deserve better? Why do I feel like I’m giving too much? 

And, so that we don’t feel this way again, what are we going to do to put this feeling where it belongs? 

What comes next is the boundary, and it might sound really complicated, like “I feel taken advantage of and I know it’s not your fault because I keep offering to help. I think I love you very much and overextend myself and it has nothing to do with you.” Or, it might sound simple, like “no”. “No, I won’t do that.” 

So it’s so important to be in tune with our own selves to be able to sense where we need to establish boundaries?

• Exactly, a boundary protects me. But it also protects you from the worst of me. 

Have you ever ignored this and then paid the consequence? 

• All the time … “Why did I say YES to that when I wanted to say NO?”

• The reason I wrote this book was the pandemic. The pandemic rewrote everything I ever knew about boundaries. 

• Dushka shares another story here about saying no to seeing a friend during the early days of the COVID pandemic. 

This has so many applications in our work lives.

• Here, Dan and Dushka discuss “professional boundaries.”

• The lack of professional boundaries is why there’s so much burnout.

• Set your boundaries clearly, and think about other people’s boundaries so that you can respect them. 

• We live in a culture of urgency. In reality, there is very little urgency. 


ESSAY: Nice (Page 151)

Imagine you don’t like pizza. The guy you are dating really likes it so you say you love pizza to make him like you. You don’t like pizza and end up eating pizza often rather than speaking up. 

You risk ending up angry at him for always picking pizza. Your anger builds up. You can’t see it now but you are not angry at him. You are angry at yourself.

This is people- pleasing.

Now imagine you don’t like pizza and all your friends like it. You say you don’t like pizza, but you like spending time with them so you decide that you can be flexible, that this time you can set your preferences aside to be accommodating.

That’s being nice.

I understand how this can be a fine line but the first will make you feel used and resentful and diminished, and the second will make you happy because you own where you stand and are being generous.

People-pleasing is not about making things easier for others but rather involves compromising who you are. It means trying to make everyone happy at your expense and realizing that despite your effort it cannot be done.

It’s a losing battle to play against yourself. It’s sacrificing you to such an extent, you lose track of who you are.

That’s not nice. Nice begins by being nice to yourself.

So people-pleasing will make you feel used and resentful and diminished, but being nice will make you happy because you own where you stand and you’re being generous. 

• People-pleasing is disguised as generosity, but it’s actually manipulation.

• If I’m really doing something because I’m generous, I’m not doing it to please you, I’m doing it to please myself because it feels good. 


ESSAY:  How Do You Stop Pleasing People?  (Page 19)

Life is hard. Really hard. Finding my way takes great and mostly means two things:

– Making a distinction between what works for everyone and what works for me.

– Finding the presence of mind to disappoint others in the name of standing up for myself.

People-pleasing is disguised as generosity but really it’s avoidance. It’s the constant, relentless escape from doing the hard work of not compromising myself.

The price is to not clearly understand who I am, to let people walk all over me, to feel full of bitterness and resentment, and to wonder why I feel I am in the wrong life.

I am in the wrong life because if I people-please, I don’t understand how to set boundaries, and I constantly allow others to make decisions for me. 

Love yourself. Love yourself enough to know you are worth not betraying yourself in the name of getting others to approve of you.

Dan reads from “Proud of Me” (page 120)
In one of the great paradoxes of life, no matter what you do everyone will judge you and no one will care.  For both of those reasons what others think about your choices should not be given much consideration. 

This all sounds pretty rough, maybe even insensitive at times. But your overriding insight here is that having boundaries as we have described makes you a better you, and that the right people will be attracted to you, and will resonate with the real you in ways that others could never do, and that’s going to build the healthiest relationships in our lives.  

Does this sound like a good summary? 

• Having no boundaries leads to feeling overextended. This is treating myself with an absence of compassion. 

• Compassion does not exist if I don’t have compassion towards myself.

• I cannot be compassionate towards myself if I’m constantly putting myself in a place where I’m overextending myself to do right by everyone else but me.

Dushka, tell us about your new book coming out in May 2022.

• It’s called “For All I Know, A Shebang Of Checklists For Life”

• I write a lot of checklists and wanted to collect them all into this book.

• They are divided into 3 chapters … checklists for you, checklists for relationships, checklists on self-development. 

• Coming second week of May 2022!

• The book is filled with Dan Roam’s illustrations, which bring Dushka’s essays to life. 



• I hope this gives you a whole new perspective on this subject of boundaries.

• Boundaries are how we love ourselves.

• They are a way of letting people see who you really are.

• They are a filter that can enable you to establish and strengthen the right relationships in your life. 

• How people respond to your boundaries tells you a lot about them and the role that they should play in your life.

• Boundaries make you a better you.

• The right people will be attracted to you, and will resonate with you in ways that others would not.

Dan reads excerpts from Dushka’s essay “The Boss” (page 16)

One one of the biggest mind-shifts I’ve ever had to do was fully own the fact that I am the one who decides.

This agency is the main ingredient in becoming an adult. It’s not that you suddenly know more – we are all winging it – it’s that you come into the fact that you have both power and free will.

Often we ask for advice because we are hesitant to be fully responsible for the consequences. What should I do with my life? What should I study in college? Should I break up with him? Should I be angry? Do I stay or go?

The price to pay is that you are giving your life away to others. Your life is in effect the sum of the decisions that you make. Your decisions, however small, are too precious to relinquish to others.

Your life belongs to you. Become the sole owner of it.

Dan concludes with the last paragraph from Dushka’s essay “Self-Acceptance” (page 17)

Believe me when I tell you who you already are is perfect. Go find that. Accept that. Love that. Amplify it. Be proud of it. Hold it up so others like you can find you.

Dushka and Dan would both love to receive feedback on this episode. Feel free to post comments or questions below. Dushka may be willing to do an additional Q&A podcast at some time in the near future! 


To get access to all episodes and free resources, visit our podcast page!



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