“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” ~Brené Brown
Do you have the courage to love yourself and set the boundaries you need?
For years I didn’t, and wondered why my life didn’t work. I didn’t really understand what boundaries were or why I needed them.
My severe lack of boundaries allowed me to give away my energy, time, power, and love to others, leaving virtually nothing for myself.
For years I lived in a perpetual state of lack, feeling like I wasn’t enough. Looking back, it makes sense that I didn’t feel like I was enough; I was giving everything I had to everyone else.
Unsurprisingly, things eventually reached a breaking point, and at the age of thirty-six it all came crashing down on me.
Living without boundaries, overworking myself to the point of burnout, trying to please everyone, battling with money, having an emergency operation, and leaving a toxic relationship had left me almost broken. I finally surrendered and realized something had to give, before I did completely. My lack of boundaries was costing me too much.
At the time I didn’t realize that an issue with boundaries was the root cause to the problems I was facing, but I could no longer deny, avoid, or ignore that something had to change. I had spent too long focused on how I could look after and help others, and simply wasn’t taking care of myself.
Boundaries help us to recognize our own needs. They show us it is perfectly acceptable to have needs and to take care of them. Always.
Not having healthy boundaries allows you to deny your needs through numbing behavior, such as: addiction, overworking, overspending, overdrinking, procrastination, people-pleasing, and unhealthy relationships. Whatever your personal preference, all of these behaviors allow you to disconnect from who you really are and how you really feel.
The more you deny your needs, the louder they shout to try and get your attention, so you have to keep numbing away to quiet them down, and that’s no way to live.
We must establish boundaries to promote and protect our self-care, self-worth, and self-love. It is only from that place that we can look after ourselves, which allows us to truly be there for others.
Creating healthy boundaries means that you take responsibility for yourself, your time, your feelings, and your energy instead of allowing yourself to be buffeted around by everyone else’s.
Boundaries allow you to take control rather than allowing others to control you, and conversely allow you to give more to others because you come from a place of abundance rather than lack.
To create boundaries for yourself you have to tune in to your personal needs and your true feelings.
In essence, it’s understanding what feels good for you, and what doesn’t. As you work on your boundaries, start to notice where you may be blocking your true feelings. If you are perpetually busy or distracted, leaving no time to connect to yourself and how you really feel, then you need to make time to reflect, recharge, and listen to what your body, mind, and soul are trying to tell you.
There are two sets of boundaries you need to work on, which I refer to as your internal and external boundaries. Both require you to take notice of yourself, which may be a new experience if you’ve spent a long time focusing on others.
You can see your internal boundaries as those that you have some control over. They dictate how you treat yourself. Do you sleep to fully recharge your system, eat a healthy diet, think and say kind things to yourself, and make time for the activities that light up your soul?
During my twenties there were times when I hardly seemed to have slept at all. I was at University and worked in a credit control office, which I loathed, and also did bar shifts most nights. I’d spend the day studying, then go to the office and then straight to the bar, working until late. I had youth on my side and all the fire to keep going, but my energy wasn’t really channelled, I was exhausted a lot of the time, and I missed a lot of experiences because I was always working.
I needed to set internal boundaries, even though my life was busy, as my choices were a recipe for burnout.
Life will always get in the way, but do you consistently take care of yourself? If you listen to your heart you’ll know if you don’t. And odds are, you can feel if you don’t.
If you consistently ignore your health and well-being, believe every negative thought you have about yourself, and treat yourself like you’re not a priority, you likely feel both physically and emotionally drained.
Make looking after yourself a priority and notice how quickly you start to feel different. Notice how you feel when you allow yourself to sleep enough, eat well, support yourself, care about yourself, and ultimately, love yourself. All the time.
Looking after your internal boundaries is the foundation for your external boundaries, how other people treat you, and how they and external situations affect you.
The more you can understand your true feelings and attune to yourself, the easier it becomes to set and maintain your personal boundaries, in any situation,
Boundaries are a work in progress; they cannot be a one-and-done exercise. Life and the people around you are constantly changing, so you will need to keep managing your boundaries as those changes happen.
Look at any issue you are facing—perhaps you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed, for example—and notice if there is a boundary that has fallen away or may have never even existed. Often when we feel overwhelmed it’s because we haven’t taken the time for self-care so we can be in the best place to find the answers we need.
Once you’ve developed boundaries for yourself, it’s time to apply that philosophy to everything and everyone else. These are your external boundaries, protecting yourself from the outside forces that can potentially throw you off balance.
I have found it useful to think of our boundaries with other people as energy exchanges. If there are people in your life who regularly leave you feeling drained, then it’s probably time to look at your boundaries with that person to see what might need to change.
You don’t have to give your time to people who leave you feeling depleted. If they request more than you can reasonably give, you can say no. If they are vocally unsupportive of your choices, you can choose to speak about other topics when you’re with them. If you don’t like how they speak about other people, or they have values you don’t agree with, you can choose to spend less time with them, if any time at all.
I found that working on my boundaries made me reassess a lot of friendships and who I trust and want to be in my inner circle.
If there are people who drain your energy, and you feel worse for being around them, then it may be better for you to remove that person from your life.
If that’s not possible, you can always alter how you interact with them. If face-to-face time becomes too challenging you can use another method, such as a short call, brief email, or social media.
Ultimately it’s about finding what works for you and focusing on the people who protect your energy.
If this is a new concept you can, like I did, feel that boundaries have to be big and solid, like a steel wall, so that nothing can ever get past them.
When I left a very painful relationship my first thought was that trust was always going to be an issue for me, so it would be near impossible to have another relationship again. So I closed that avenue in my mind and focused elsewhere.
Maintaining a steel wall like this is exhausting. It shuts out the good as well as the bad, and we risk becoming closed to life. It also means we don’t move forward in life either, as we’re busy using all of our energy to hold up the wall.
Over time I realized that it was most important that I learned to trust myself again, and could start to build trust with other people at my own pace.
As I continued to work on my boundaries I realized that I didn’t need to use so much energy to keep everything out. I just needed to focus on living my life, how I wanted, and to move away, in whatever way I needed to, from what didn’t serve me. Like water.
For example, when a discussion became an argument that I could never win, going round and round in circles, I realized I could just remove myself from the debate. I didn’t have to prove my point to someone who didn’t want a resolution and was only looking to create drama, I could simply go and do something else.
“Water is the softest thing, yet it can penetrate mountains and earth. This shows clearly the principle of softness overcoming hardness.” ~Lao Tzu
My boundaries didn’t need to be fixed and rigid to work. They, and I, could be like water simply moving through life. Flowing with ease this way and that, toward what served me and away from anything that didn’t. No apology.
This approach kept me open and moving instead of shut-off and stuck, able to adapt to all of life around me.
Even when you are really attuned to yourself and have set healthy boundaries, they can still falter. You can still find yourself giving too much of your time, energy, and power, trying to please everyone else, and losing sight of what you need for yourself.
If you find yourself falling back into old habits, recognize that it happened and start to take care of yourself to recover, in a way that works for you.
When you’ve centered yourself, look for the lesson. There is no failing, only learning. Stay like water and choose to be light rather than becoming heavy and weighed down by the situation.
Recognize your humanity and don’t forget your humility as well. Just as there is something to learn, there will be always be a reason to laugh, which helps you let go and move forward.