“Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom.” ~Henry Cloud
Late last night, I once again found myself unable to sleep, and boy was I angry. So, in order not to disturb my other half, who is always asleep the moment his head touches the pillow, I dragged myself off to the sofa. Once there, sat seething in the dark, I listened to my emotion and asked it to speak to me, and guess what it screamed?! Boundaries!
Now please bear in mind that I have been on this journey for a while and had also been discussing boundaries earlier in the day, so my inner knowing came out loud and clear. For you this may not be the case, and that’s okay.
Practical Tip 1: When you feel angry, take yourself away and write down all those racing thoughts. No judgment, just get pen to scrap piece of paper and write it all down. Do not, I repeat DO NOT, take it out on the person you feel has caused this anger.
So, where was I? Oh yes, boundaries! Those joyful and challenging rules. That is what they are after all, rules.
If you think back to being a child, when you broke a rule, an adult got cross. Therefore, it’s hardly surprising that anger is a messenger for when you have overstepped your boundaries, or you have let someone else break a boundary you consciously or unconsciously set.
This is probably where I should explain the difference between internal and external boundaries.
Internal boundaries are the rules and limits that you set for yourself. They don’t have to be shared with anyone else, but they are for you to follow. They may sound like:
- When I finish work for the day I will take ten minutes to meditate/for myself.
- I respect my body, so today is a non-chocolate or non-alcohol day.
- To protect my time and mental health, I will limit time scrolling through social media to one hour a day.
- Because I value my family, I will not take on any projects that require me to work nights or weekends.
- To help myself let go and move on, I will do something healthy for myself every time I start dwelling on my ex and our breakup.
External boundaries are the ones you set with the outside world. These do need to be shared, unfortunately, and can be challenging in that respect. They outline how you will allow others to treat you. They may sound like:
- I would love to help you with this project; however, I can only give you one hour a week.
- Please give me ten minutes when I get in from work for me to settle before we start chatting or planning dinner.
- I enjoy seeing you, but it’s important to me that you call before coming over.
- This topic is upsetting to me, so I would rather not discuss it with you.
- I hate to see you two fighting, but I can no longer be the middleman in your arguments.
Practical Tip 2: Take that page of anger thoughts and identify any boundaries, internal or external, that have been messed with.
Have you let yourself down in some way? Or did you let someone break a boundary without gently reminding them it was there?
Strong boundaries help us protect our time, our energy, and our physical and mental health, so it makes sense we’d feel angry when they’re violated. But oftentimes our boundaries are unclear or fuzzy, or we negotiate them without conscious awareness because we’re tempted to give in to our impulses or we don’t want to make other people feel uncomfortable.
This is why we need to practice self-awareness and recognize which boundaries we’ve allowed to be crossed and why.
Seething on the sofa, there I was, scolding myself for breaking a boundary that I have set and reset many times over the past few years—allowing myself at least thirty minutes of quiet wind down time before bed, with no distractions, no talk of work or anything that might get my highly sensitive nature all stimulated, making it hard to sleep.
Practical Tip 3: Once you understand the boundaries that were crossed, the first step is forgiveness. You are a human being doing the best you can right now, and it’s okay that at times you forget to uphold boundaries with others or yourself.
Thank the anger for drawing it to your attention, forgive yourself and resolve to do a little better each time. If you are alone, I recommend doing this out loud a few times.
This first stage is powerful and really calmed me down, enough that I could crawl back into bed with a snoring partner and finally drift off. However, that is not the end of this lesson, dear reader. In the morning light, sat at my desk, I reviewed the boundary I’d crossed and asked myself a few questions, just like the ones in the next tip.
Practical Tip 4: Time to review your boundaries and ask yourself:
- Is this an internal or external boundary? Did I let myself down, or did I not uphold a boundary with someone else?
- Why did I not maintain this boundary? How did neglecting it negatively impact me?
- Is this a boundary I want to have? Is it time to set a different boundary? Or is there something I need to change or address to better maintain this boundary?
- If internal, what is the purpose for this boundary? Is it in alignment with who I want to be?
- If external, have I communicated my boundaries clearly to this person? What kind things can I say to remind them of my boundaries when they start to cross the line?
The results of my review were that I want a balance around this boundary, as I love staying up late into the night chatting with my partner or watching TV, yet sleep is crucial to my well-being. Therefore, I have resolved that Monday to Thursday I will uphold my boundary, and the weekend is the time to relax the boundary a little.
Over dinner I will discuss this with my partner and get his buy-in and most importantly ask for his support in helping me to uphold the boundary during the week, just until it becomes a new habit!
Boundaries are just rules we set ourselves.
Boundaries are yours to uphold regardless of if they are external or internal.
Anger is a great messenger for boundaries you have allowed to be crossed.
Communicate why you have a boundary with others and ask for their support.
It is all within your control.