Sane in the Membrane: What Cell Biology Teaches Us About the Importance of Boundaries

Sane in the Membrane: What Cell Biology Teaches Us About the Importance of Boundaries

Life Lessons in Basic Biology

Think back to when you were an awkward 9th grader sitting in biology class learning about the biological foundations of life— specifically cells and their organelles, processes, and functions.

I hope you were paying attention then because we’re about to revisit a topic that you may have otherwise long forgotten.

But don’t fret.

It’s normal to be slightly more concerned with the minutiae of teen-aged life— hair, clothing, and where to sit for lunch—than the seemingly drab details of cell physiology.

Here's Your Refresher

Today, let’s focus on cell membranes and the concepts around permeability.

Permeability describes the state or quality of a material or membrane that causes it to allow liquids or gases to pass through it.

To demonstrate, think of a cell as a club and a cell’s level of permeability as its dress code and code of conduct—dictating not only who is (or is not) allowed in the club but also defining their purpose or role in the club and the rules to abide by while inside.

Levels of Cell Membrane Permeability

  1. Impermeable; Nothing allowed in or out

  2. Permeable; Solvents and solutes allowed in/out

  3. Semi-permeable; Solvents and some solutes allowed in/out (very general)

  4. Selectively-permeable; Select solvent and solutes allowed in/out

Let's get straight into the how these concepts can be applied to our everyday lives.

Read on, friend.

Before you get all “cool story, bro", let's check out the comparisons between the cell membrane types we just covered and how that applies to boundaries.

Levels of Permeability (Adapted for Human Boundaries)

  1. Impermeable: Lives in an echo chamber. Not open to new people, ideas, or experiences

  2. Permeable: New people, ideas, concepts, and experiences come and go unvetted. Lots of trial and (unnecessary) error.

  3. Semi-permeable: There is some level of filtering here, but it’s not purposeful or intentional. Can quickly become an echo chamber if you’re not careful.

  4. Selectively-permeable: Being open AND intentional about the people, ideas, experiences you allow into your life

Healthy Boundaries (or a lack of them) can have a significant impact on the quality of your life, work, and even mental and physical wellness. Furthermore, much of the angst and anxiety we face in our lives can be attributed to an absence of clear, healthy boundaries.

You read that right: We suffer because we aim to change/control everything around us as opposed to setting our expectations based on reality and dealing with our own insecurities. 

Let's be clear; weak boundaries don't make you a weak person. Be kind to yourself; we learn different lessons at different stages in life.

Perhaps it's just your time now. Address the issue straight-on so that you can move forward and help others that you may meet along your journey.


Here are 3 things you can do to help develop your boundaries:

1. Do the Internal Work

This may seem like the easy step, but it can often be the most intimidating. This is where you sit with yourself and process not only what your boundaries are but why you need them. When more concrete situations present themselves, this is the work you fall back on to keep moving forward.

2. Start Small

Creating your boundaries can be complicated, especially if you have a low sense of self. You may be tempted to think that your feelings are often irrational or unimportant. This is a lifelong battle for some people and can be symptoms of another issue.

If you are still feeling a little unsure about boundaries, how to set them, or if you should set them, then try starting off small.
A few ideas:
  • Establish a daily 30-minute window of “you-time” that no one can disturb
  • Use the “Do not disturb” feature on your phone to set the times you will or won’t accept calls, texts, or emails.
  • Not into work gossip? Don’t give it your time or attention. Excuse yourself from the conversation and do something more productive.

3. Ask for Help

It can help to consult with people whose opinions you trust and respect to figure out your abstract boundaries. Speak to some who can objectively help you figure out what you need to focus on. This can provide a starting point for you.



Human-ing is an art and a science. There isn't one right way. 

The goal here is to create a foundation upon which you can build your life, progress towards your goals, and build relationships that display the respect and love you have for yourself and the people in your life.

Fortunately for us, the sum total of what it means to be a human is more than chemistry and biology. There is nuance and beauty to this thing called life.

We cannot control for every possibility.

We can, however, prepare for and guard against common pitfalls that can block progress or success. This means establishing clear boundaries and knowing when and how to make adjustments.

After all, even the most basic of cells are mindful of the company they keep.

If you have a different perspective, we’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment.

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