As I was reading my friend’s article about her new book, I had an aha moment concerning boundaries. It wasn’t anything she said specifically, it was simply being in that headspace.
This is a subject that has been on my mind for the past year or so. I was never taught boundaries growing up and haven’t developed many over the years. I started observing my friends who talked about struggling with them; a few who claimed they are now setting them.
I often remember a session with a therapist about 10 years ago. I was bragging that I set a boundary with this person and told her until she changes the unacceptable behavior, we needed to stop communicating. She was crushed but I held strong. My therapist said, “Often people think they are setting boundaries when they are simply building walls.” Whoops. That ended my self-congratulatory celebration! I had to own the fact I do that a lot. I set no boundaries, so there’s nothing to even cross. When someone becomes too anything for me (too needy, too controlling, too critical, too disrespectful, etc.), I cut them off and don’t talk anymore. After a while, most often, I feel guilty. Maybe I was too harsh? Maybe I should call and apologize? Maybe I should have handled it differently? Of course, sometimes when I apologize and don’t get an apology back for the part they played, that sets me off again and some bricks are laid again, and the relationship is never the same. Why can’t they just say they’re sorry, too? I can forgive that person and still choose not to put myself in the position to be hurt through their words or actions again. Sound like a boundary? And, of course, we have the right and responsibility to protect ourselves from people who physically or emotionally abuse us.
Now I know the real question should be, “Why do I have expectations of how someone should behave?” It’s not a surprise to me that I only have control over my own behavior, yet it seems to be a lesson I need to learn repeatedly.
Then I began observing some who labeled their controlling tendencies as boundaries: a call has to be at a time only convenient to them; we’ll tip toe around courageous discussions in exchange for the “everything is fine” dance; we’ll trade spiritual wisdom that we spout but don’t live, for example. Boundaries with no room for negotiation. Even more disturbing is when so-called boundaries hurt the other person. I know I’ve done this (even if I didn’t call it a boundary, the behavior was the same) when I’ve gotten to that point of, “I’m not going to take that anymore,” and instead of having a direct, adult conversation, I lash out, I “tell them like it is!” There, I said it, with no consideration of how that person received it. That’s a wall, whether you meant to build it or not. Maybe it’s not as high as when you intentionally shoved them away, but it’s wall. Boundaries don’t hurt others; they are about respect for you and for the other person. Brené Brown teaches that without boundaries, the healthy lines in a relationship will become blurred and you may begin taking responsibility for what someone else should be responsible for. And then…resentment ensues!
Now, back to my aha moment. Recently, I took a couple weeks to proactively concentrate on my health. I listened, I paid attention, I heeded expert advice. And I saw and felt an immediate—and so far, lasting—positive difference. Boundaries took on a new meaning for me. That word has always conjured up scenarios I shared above, like telling someone they could no longer disrespect me and be allowed in my life. During those health-centered weeks away, however, I started thinking of internal boundaries; boundaries that had nothing to do with others. Where is the boundary for what I put in my body? Where is the boundary for how long I allow myself to stay sedentary? Where is the boundary that allows me to crush the patterns that haven’t served me, like saying I don’t like to grocery shop, or I can’t cook, or I don’t have time for all that healthy living? Taking time to think of the subject differently, it expanded beyond physical health. Imagine what could happen if I told social media and all technology, “You’re disrespecting me, and you can’t come around after 7pm and disrupt my sleep!” I’m dreaming of the day I don’t feel obligated to respond to a text like it will prevent a death even though it’s only asking how I’m doing.
When I made the choice to be picky about what I put in my body, I started with food in mind, but the universe laughed and said, “Oh, we’re going bigger than that!” When I stopped ingesting what’s poison for my beloved heart, other organs, and my very soul, I effortlessly stopped digesting toxic energy, speech and actions…I spit them out immediately. Now I’m working on not ingesting any of it in the first place.
As I internalize boundaries, I notice the unhealthy relationships start morphing, minimizing, even disappearing, without me laying a single brick of a wall. Seems magical, doesn’t it?
Maybe my aha moment about the power of internalizing instead of externalizing our boundary setting, especially at first so we learn how to do it without leaving bodies in our wake, is something you already knew and exhibit in your life. If it isn’t, consider thinking about it before you build so many walls you’re holding yourself prisoner. Healthy boundaries can set you free!
President, The Zen Speaker
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