Have you heard about the concept of boundaries and how to create more boundaries in your life lately? Whether this concept was introduced to you through self-help books, divorce groups, 12-step programs, therapty, parenting guides or just a good friend, you probably have tested this concept in some form or fashion.
Setting boundaries is not the same as simply saying “no” to behaviors or requests. Don’t get me wrong, setting limits on what you will tolerate or how involved you will get is certainly a component of setting boundaries, but it is not as black and white as just affirming your “no’s”. Boundaries are movable, adaptable means of protecting ourselves in order to maintain healthy and safe relationships.
You might think that the most difficult part of setting boundaries is actually verbalizing this to another person, but once you set yourself up to win, this will be a very easy and freeing part of the process. Here’s how to begin:
Step One: Believe in your rights. Believe you have a right to stand up for yourself. Let me express that again. First and foremost you must feel worthy of accepting good, healthy behaviors from others and in turn, rejecting those that compromise your self-worth. Think of it this way, if you say “yes” to a request or a behavior out of fear (hurting someone’s feelings, they might not like you, you are not good enough to say “no”) you are lacking enough self-worth to set healthy boundaries for yourself.
Have you ever been frustrated watching a family member, friend or colleague take too much grief or accept too much guilt? For a moment, let’s consider the possibility that someone in your life has had that same frustration because you were the one ‘taking it’. It is so much easier to see the good and worthiness in others and try to help them see it than it is for us to see it in ourselves. It is your responsibility to yourself to decide how you will be treated.
A simple trick for this is to remember you are not only doing yourself a favor but you are doing the other person a favor as well – they need their boundaries too. It’s healthy living and creates healthy relationships.
Next week we’ll focus on steps 2 and 3J
Step Two: Learn from past situations. Have you ever been in a situation when your feelings were hurt or you felt boxed in and it wasn’t until later that you knew what you would have liked to say in the moment? Silly question, right? Of course you have, we all have. The best thing to do in that situation is to think through or journal those responses. Really think about how they would be received, how your words could be adjusted so that your response would clearly state your feelings and limits while still showing compassion for the other person.
Consider starting your sentences with “I feel…” rather than “You hurt me…”. By owning the statement and stating how you feel with an ‘I’ statement you do not take on the identity of the anger nor do you blame the other person. Beginning a sentence with ‘you’ creates something for the person to defend, a small shift to using ‘I’ keeps the statement with you. Now that you have found healthy ways of reacting to that type of situation, the next time something similar occurs you will have your dialogue ready, stored in your mental filing cabinet. Your responses will be well thought out but also delivered in the moment. How powerful is that? If we don’t learn from the past we are doomed to repeat it – sound familiar?
Step Three: Letting go of the outcome. When you know you can and that you should be setting boundaries and you have worked out what to say to reaffirm those limits, you have set yourself up to win when the time comes to express your feelings. Now, the big reveal – and the most freeing part of this process – letting go of the outcome. What I mean by this is to try not to let how other people will respond or what they might think about you impact your desire to keep boundaries or affect your actions. I know it is hard to imagine, but can you feel how freeing it will be when someone else’s opinion of you does not influence your behavior or prevent you from speaking up for yourself? Wow, huh?
Please be assured that learning this might take some practice. I used every trick I could find to learn and be comfortable with this process, including writing out notes and statements before I would confront particularly difficult people.
There is a well-known saying “Your opinion of me is none of my business”. Seems a bit harsh when you first read it, but in essence, it is not saying “I don’t care what you think”, but instead says “I don’t own what you think”. Dr. Wayne Dwyer speaks of this issue quite extensively and to summarize, he believes that someone else’s opinion of us says more about them than it does about us. We tend to project onto others our own beliefs and insecurities so if someone does not like you for this or that reason, chances are they feel inadequate or threatened by that characteristic that you represent to them. A bit confusing, I know, but think of it this way, if you were to know what everyone was thinking about you and you tried to change their beliefs or please everyone, you would be running around in circles. What some people admire in you, others scorn. And it’s the same with you – you like some people and not others. That’s ok. So in the end, let go of how you think other people will respond to your boundaries. Let go of the fear of not pleasing everyone. Let go of the outcome.
I offer you the following blessing: May you feel a strong sense of self. May you know your acceptable limits. May you be comfortable expressing them. May you not own the feelings of others. May you simply and completely be you.