A boundary is how we define the limits of where I end and you begin.
Oftentimes when we have experienced childhood trauma, these lines are blurred or unclear. We feel responsible for others suffering, or guilty for asserting a sense of self. Or on the other end, we close ourselves off from others, we isolate or avoid to protect ourselves. We mask this as the socially acceptable veil of independence, because deep down we aren’t sure how to communicate what we need.
Boundaries are not just saying no when we don’t feel like accepting an invitation to go out, though that is a part of it.
Boundaries are about recognizing old patterns of how we continue to put ourselves in positions that aren’t good for us anymore. They are about naming what that means and what has happened, shedding light on it, for ourselves.
In this process we choose who has earned the right to hear us out and how much we want to explain why (if at all) we are setting that boundary.
Examples of boundary issues could be feeling responsible for another persons emotions, putting another’s needs before your own, agreeing to something you don’t want to do, people pleasing, enduring physical touch or conversations you don’t want to, don’t have the energy for or aren’t interested in. The list could go on, but you get the idea.
Commonly, the biggest issue we have with setting boundaries is our fear of upsetting another person. It can be very hard to sit with that discomfort and uphold the boundary without guilt.
And to that I’d say that guilt is perfectly natural if setting boundaries is new to us. Of course you feel guilty for telling your boss that you are unable to take on that extra assignment when you want to appear diligent and on top of it all. Of course you feel guilty for choosing not to attend your friends party because you are exhausted from all the social interaction you’ve had lately.
When it is new to us to let someone know our limits, or just say no, it could feel terrifying. It all depends on the story we were told about what that means when we were little. Get curious about what happened when you stood up for yourself, said no, said yes, let someone know what you were comfortable with. What were others responses to you?
When we first start to speak up, our reactions to others may start sounding abrupt, awkward or abrasive. We need to have compassion for ourselves in these moments, we are learning a new way of relating. We can practice these responses in safe spaces, be it in front of a mirror, with a therapist or trusted friend.
This is all normal. It’s all an experiment.
Why is this important? Because when we can practice honouring ourselves, really tuning in and listening and then acting accordingly, we can live more aligned and personally meaningful lives.
When we tune into what we want and start listening, we become more of ourselves. We gain a stronger sense of identity, more confidence, more self assuredness, and these can impact the course of our lives.
Boundaries are more than just saying no. They are about asserting and recognizing that you are your own and I am my own and I am not responsible for how you feel or what you think of me. They are drawing a line in the sand of what is acceptable for you. It’s not about controlling the other person, its about controlling the gates to who has access to you and how.
This blog post and blog are not a substitute for therapy or therapeutic intervention. Please see a therapist or mental health practitioner for personalized therapy.