“I would rather crawl over broken glass than risk creating conflict. I need better boundaries! Where do I start? ”
This was an exciting moment of self-recognition, solid evidence that the speaker is on the road to her own Becoming. She realized that setting self-nurturing personal boundaries and lovingly tending them is essential. She was ready to take action. Even more importantly, she was ready and willing to admit that she needed help and asked for it, knowing that what she needs to do will likely feel risky and unfamiliar.
This is a Pop the Champagne moment.
Our boundaries occupy a liminal space. We set them to help cure our relationship woes, including our relationship with Self. AND our ability to lovingly and firmly tend them is a result of our strengthening self-esteem. They are both starting point and barometer.
The women I work with (serve) often ask how to tell if they have boundary issues. If they are asking, they probably do, but here’s a handy checklist:
- Are you prone to people-pleasing?
- Do you ever feel like people take advantage of you? Does that happen more often than you would like?
- Do you sometimes feel like people use your emotions (kindness, compassion) against you for their own gain?
- Are there people you feel like you’re constantly having to “save” or fix their problems for them?
- Are you taking responsibility for their actions instead of letting them to take responsibility for themselves?
- Are they genuinely incapable of caring for themselves or would they rather avoid it if they can make you believe you are responsible?
- Do they threaten to harm themselves or you if you don’t comply with their wishes (demands)?
- Do you find yourself getting sucked into the same old arguments over and over?
- Are there people who consistently defy your house rules?
- Do you sometimes become too attached to people?
- Do you catch yourself saying he/she would be lost without me?
- Do you stay in relationships way past their expiration date out of concern for what the other person might do?
- Do you hate drama, but it seems to find you anyway?
- Are you frequently defending yourself and your choices instead of abiding by them? And feeling guilty about that, too?
- Do you find it hard to say no?
If you answered “yes” to even a few of these, then boundaries are likely a challenge.
A boundary is a safe space you create around you, a line where you begin and the other person ends. Or in the words of Dirty Dancing, “This is my dance space, that is your dance space.”
A healthy boundary defines what you are willing or not willing to do. They are not requests. They are not your wish list.
The first step in creating healthier boundaries is seeing them as something other than conflict or selfishness.
Here are a few examples snatched from the list above:
- I am not willing to talk with you if you yell at me.
- I am not willing to accept blame for problems you are causing for yourself.
- For my own health, I will not allow you to smoke in my home or car.
- I am not willing to listen to you complain if you are not willing to do anything about it.
- Though we are friends, do not call me after 8:00 pm unless it is an emergency. I will not answer.
- Just because we live together does not mean you can go through my personal things.
- “No” is a complete sentence.
Here’s what these would look like as requests or wishes:
- Please don’t yell at me.
- Please don’t smoke in my home or car.
- Please don’t blame me for your problems.
- Please stop complaining.
- Haven’t I asked you not to call so late (as you answer the phone and complain)?
- Please don’t go through my personal things.
- Anything followed by reasoning, excuses, or justifying.
While these may all sound like perfectly polite and reasonable requests, they also sound squishy, not solid. These requests leave it up to the other person to decide whether to comply…or not.
You have given away your autonomy. Actually, you are throwing it away with both hands.
The other person often won’t comply if they can see a way out (which you have created by phrasing it as a request) because it’s easier to keep on doing what they were doing. After all, respecting your boundary would cause them to have to change. So much easier to make YOU change instead.
Which is exactly what happens when your boundaries can be breached. You end up contorting yourself to match their demands and expectations instead of lovingly tending to your own needs. You end up shrinking instead of Becoming.
Boundaries as request don’t work.
Neither do boundaries as demands, expectations, threats, or criticisms. That attempt to dictate or manipulate someone else is stealing THEIR autonomy. You don’t like being treated that way, do you?
Here’s what our requests look like as demands, expectations, threats, or criticisms:
- You shouldn’t yell…it’s rude
- I can’t believe you still smoke…it’s so bad for you.
- Stop blaming me or else!
- If you don’t stop complaining, I’m going to _____________.
- Don’t you have any phone manners?
- If you go through my things one more time, I’m going to ____________.
- What part of “no” don’t you get?
Demands, expectations, accusations, threats, and criticisms mean one thing – you’re trying to impose your will on them. You are stealing their autonomy. When someone does that to us, our response is to shrink or rebel. Why would you think they would be any different?
Healthy self-nurturing boundaries rely on our own behavior instead of judging, controlling, or criticizing the behavior of someone else. That’s both the magic and the miracle.
If they want to cling to their behaviors that fall outside your boundaries, they can. Just not with you or in your space. They need to take it elsewhere.
After all, inside your boundary is YOUR safe and nurturing space.
Boundaries will be covered in depth in the Becoming Found course. Click HERE for more information.
Anne Wade is Teacher, Writer, Mentor, and Coach for courageous women in midlife and beyond who want to disrupt their own status quo and design life on their own terms, even in turbulent times. She has developed the Becoming Found process of going within to find and address the inner barriers we have all inadvertently built up against love, happiness, health, wealth and any other desires of our hearts. Teaching women to unapologetically shine like a superstar and live their legacy is Anne’s mission.
You can follow her on her Facebook page “Anne Wade – Becoming found” or join her “Becoming Found” Facebook group.