Walls keep everybody out. Boundaries teach people where the door is. — Mark Groves
In Are You Brave Enough to Feel Vulnerable? we learned that connection is the root of healing. However, what can we do to feel safe when interacting with others? Setting boundaries is fundamental. Let’s start with a definition.
Boundaries are our lists of what’s okay and what’s not okay. — Brené Brown
More precisely, according to Sharon Martin, LCSW, setting boundaries implies saying no without guilt, asking for what we want and need, saying yes because we want to and not out of obligation or to please others, behaving according to our own values and beliefs, feeling safe to express difficult emotions and have disagreements, taking responsibility for our own happiness and not feeling responsible for someone else’s happiness, being in tune with our own feelings, knowing who we are, what we believe, what we like.
Sounds pretty good, right? 🙂 Unfortunately most of the times it is difficult for us to set boundaries. Why? Because our focus is external: we are often afraid of disappointing others and of being rejected by them.
Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others. — Brené Brown
Boundaries are first of all internal: they are the foundation of self-trust. Every time you say no to something or someone hurtful or toxic you are actually saying yes to yourself. Doing so, little by little you internalize that you can always count on you and you start creating a safe space within you. From this place you can share your own story and be vulnerable with other people. Boundaries allow you to be seen for who you really are, so they foster authentic connections.
And then I learned the spiritual journey had nothing to do with being nice. It had to do with being real and authentic. Having boundaries. Honoring and respecting my space first, others second. And in this space of self-care, being nice just happened, it flowed… not motivated by fear, but by love. — Michelle Olak
When saying no, it is important to be kind and compassionate. This can be challenging, because most of the times we are caught up in anger. What can we do? First of all, always remember to pause before reacting. Do not act or say anything, just calm down. If necessary, go somewhere else. As soon as you have regained control of yourself and you feel more peaceful, do not wait long before saying kindly but firmly that something is not ok with you. Procrastination causes an escalation of anger. When resentment starts to build up, the situation becomes more difficult to handle.
If you are used to please other people, you might struggle a lot when you try to set a boundary. For example, quite likely you tend to feel guilty when you say no. What is the best thing to do in this case? Just feel the guilt and say no anyway 😉 Do not worry, it will get easier once you will earn more experience. What if you are so focused on other people that you do not even know exactly where your boundaries are? How can you detect them? Try pausing every time you are about to say yes to something, and ask yourself Do I really want to do it? Another strategy is noticing when you get angry. Anger normally tells you that a boundary has been crossed. Once you are aware of it, you can take action 🙂
Saying no is especially challenging with people we care about. In particular, if someone gets angry when you kindly say no, do not take responsibility for what they feel: it is about them, not you! If they love you, with time they are going to understand your reasons and accept your boundary. What if they don’t respect your no? It might be a signal that it is better for you to distance yourself emotionally from them. Always remember that your priority is to take care of yourself. Only from this place you can authentically take care of others. If you are very focused on pleasing other people holding on to a boundary once it is in place can be very hard for you. This happens for example when there is external resistance to your no and you want to avoid a conflict. If you find yourself in this situation, do not beat yourself up, learn from it and forgive yourself. You are going to do better next time. Setting boundaries requires experience, do not get discouraged 😉
Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries… don’t leave home without them. — Jeff Brown
Do you want to learn more about boundaries? Watch the TED talk Good Boundaries Free You, by Sarri Gilman 🙂
What is your experience with boundaries? Are you struggling to set them?
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