Survivor to Thriver
Boundaries are an important part of life. They help us see where we end and others begin. They define and protect us. They let good things in and keep trouble away. In a way, they are like a fence around someone’s house or property. Sound pretty good, don’t they? Think about every person you care about. Would you want them to have boundaries and to keep them safe?
What about you?
Many people struggle with their own boundaries. In fact, as you read the first sentence of this article, you may have noticed a knot forming in your stomach at the very thought. Were you tempted to stop and read something else “more pleasant”? If so, it is understandable. Boundaries require us to say, “No” and to ask for things we want and even need. This means we may sometimes need to subject at least an aspect of our hopes and expectations to others. People can say no or push back. This is a scary thought. To protect ourselves from the potential pain of establishing boundaries, the idea can become twisted in our minds. Suddenly, it becomes a question of being nice. Laying a boundary begins to feel akin to an act of mutiny or arrogance.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The following are other common thoughts that get in the way of laying boundaries:
I Don't Want to Hurt Anyone
This is a frequent and understandable concern. Most of us have had the experience of saying no and seeing the other person react in a negative manner. Imagine you decide to tell your sibling you will not lend them money anymore. This may truly cause them discomfort – they will have to do the work to figure things out another way. If they are intolerant of our boundaries, our “no” may result in a broken relationship. In such a case, it is easy to believe it was the “no” itself that caused the breach. However, the truth is the person took it as a rejection rather than a boundary. In such cases, it was not the “no” but the other person’s understanding of it that was the issue. Remember, most people you draw boundaries with will see you again in multiple situations. If they choose to be patient and accepting of our limits, they will learn that we do not say no to everything. This will help them learn to tolerate our “no” better over time. Learning to draw the line may be difficult for others or cause inconvenience, but healthy boundaries are not harmful.
Drawing Boundaries is Selfish
This is another commonly held belief about boundaries. Many messages in our world indicate that we must “pour ourselves out for others” and to do anything for ourselves is wrong. A different way to look at this is to think of “selfish” as “me first” and “self-centered” as “me only”. It may not be Webster’s definition, but it proves a point. There are plenty of times we need to focus on ourselves (when we are sick, on our birthday, when we win a prize, for example), but as a general rule, “Me only” is destructive to relationships. However, “me first” is necessary. Think about how you are feeling right now. What are you thinking about? Are you sad? Lonely? Angry? Hungry? Bored? Have you ever said, “I’m fine!” when asked how you feel, but truthfully, you felt terrible? Do you see? Whatever state you are in is only known by you. Therefore, boundaries and self-care must start with you!
I Don’t Have Boundaries Because There Is No Real Me (I Don’t Know Who I Am)
Some people have grown up with others who have strong personalities. Many of us have been subject to constant, external messages that cause us to feel bad or unsure about our own likes, dislikes, wishes, and needs. When this is not addressed, a person can lose a sense of themselves. They never say no to anything, and they do not really learn who they are. People who feel this way often feel a great deal of sadness or resentment. If this resonates with you, then know that it is important to go on the quest it will take to find yourself so you can see and learn that your unique take on life is a blessing to others.
Implementing and enforcing boundaries when we have not had them previously is tricky. It takes time, support, and exploration – but it is worth the effort. Next time you struggle with boundaries, remember they are not selfish, mean, or weak. If you do not know what you want or what you like or do not like, then pursuing that knowledge is a worthy endeavor.
Boundaries help us know where it is safe to tread. Imagine streets with no lines, zoos with no cages, and houses with no doors. Drawing the lines we need to define ourselves and keep ourselves safe brings freedom both to ourselves and others. Boundaries are a gift.