by Ana Coffey
What are Boundaries?
I consider boundaries to be a set of rules that we create that dictate how we interact with ourselves and others. They are the lines that we draw in the sand concerning what we believe is acceptable and unacceptable in our lives. By setting boundaries, we actively choose to step into our power by choosing to take care of ourselves and prioritize our own well-being.
Boundaries are based on love! Love for yourself and love for other people.
Boundaries are NEVER based in fear!
Boundaries are based on love and truth. They are created with the purpose of loving yourself so that you can maximize your ability to genuinely extend love to others.
Even so, many people find boundary setting difficult because you simply cannot set effective boundaries if you are afraid or if you feel unworthy of setting boundaries for yourself or if you feel like you do not deserve the loving kind treatment from yourself or others.
How do you set boundaries?
Step 1: Commit to Loving Yourself!
Self-love is the foundation for all personal growth and setting boundaries is no exception. I am not saying that you have to be a full-blown self-love master right now, far from it! What I am saying is that you have to be willing to work on making self-love top priority in your life. The desire to learn to love yourself MUST be there because…
There will be times when you will have to fight to stand by and protect your boundaries and human beings do not fight for what they do not love!
Step 2: Determine how you want to feel and who you want to be!
This step is all about establishing WHY you are setting boundaries in the first place. How do boundaries further your goals around who you want to be and how you want to feel from now on?
For this step you need to set aside fear for a moment and use your imagination. Pretend that you live in a world where only positivity exists. There are no negative consequences for how you want to feel or who you want to be (you cannot hurt anyone’s feelings, you cannot lose your job, etc). If you lived in this magical world, how would you like to feel and what would need to happen in your life to allow you to feel this way? This includes all changes to your internal environment (how you think about and treat yourself) and your external environment (everything else).
To give you an example, below are the answers that I came up with when I did this exercise. I love a good outline, so I outlined my answer with how I want to feel first and then the actions I can take in bullet points underneath. You can organize however you would like, whether it’s an outline or a free write or a vision board or any other way you can think of that resonates with you!
How do I want to be treated? How do I want to feel?
I feel like this is an exercise I could repeat over and over again. I find myself wanting to change things from my list and add new things. So feel free to do this periodically (I am thinking about revisiting this monthly).
Step 3: Start small: Practice setting boundaries with yourself!
Believe me I get it, setting boundaries can be super scary. If this is the case for you, it is likely that prioritizing yourself and creating healthy boundaries goes against a whole lifetime, if not generations, of social / emotional conditioning.
For me, the scariest part of setting boundaries was the idea of having to confront other people. I hated the idea of disappointing someone or making someone upset (and we will get to that later). However, I felt like I could make internal changes without rocking the boat too much. I could change the way I thought about myself and the way I scheduled my free time.
Take a look at the results of the last exercise, what are the actions that you can take right now that do not involve confronting anyone else just yet? I bet that there are quite a few. If not, think again. What can you do right now to commit to prioritizing your well-being? Maybe it is getting up 15 minutes earlier so that you are not rushing in the morning. Or maybe it is actually committing to that dietary change or that exercise regime or your meditation practice, etc. I promise that there are things you can do that do not involve giant confrontations, scary conversations or pivotal life choices.
These changes are super important in and of themselves, but they also teach you to develop a base level of discipline and integrity. Through these personal changes, you are challenged to stick to it and DO WHAT YOU SAY YOU ARE GOING TO DO. This will make it easier to commit to setting boundaries in other areas of your life later.
Step 4: Change your perception of how your boundaries affect other people.
This is where things got really tricky for me. I wanted to set boundaries, but I thought that setting boundaries meant making things more difficult for other people so that I could be more at ease. It took a lot of meditation and contemplation and journaling before I realized that this limited and shortsighted mindset could not be further from the truth. Here are a couple of concepts that helped me shift my perception of how boundaries affect others.
1. People should not be expected to read your mind or automatically know the exact details about how you want to be treated. You need to communicate your needs and desires. You need to teach others how to treat you.
If you do not communicate your boundaries, desires and needs to other people, then you are forcing other people to make decisions about how to treat you based on extremely limited information. The best case scenario is that they are able to put themselves in your shoes and GUESS how you might like to be treated. But not everyone can tap into empathy easily so, worst case scenario they treat you based on how they were treated growing up, and do you really want to take that chance?
2. Communicating your personal boundaries is a GIFT to other people!
How many times have you stressed over conversations before they even happened? How many times have you thought to yourself, “I wish they would just tell me how they feel?” or “Why won’t they just tell me what they want?” Trying to guess how other people are going to react to a situation or conversation and then trying to adjust to accommodate them based on that guesswork can be really stressful because you are trying to take on responsibility for other people’s well-being in addition to the responsibility of your own happiness.
When you clearly communicate your boundaries, desires and needs, you are now taking responsibility for yourself and for your own needs in each situation and providing helpful information to the other people you are interacting with. This can eliminate a lot of potential stress and guesswork for the other person and pave the way for a much more enjoyable interaction.
In addition to this, when you stand firmly by your commitment to your boundaries you are showing other people how to set boundaries through your example. There are a great many people who want to set boundaries and don’t know how! When you set boundaries and keep them, you are demonstrating that setting boundaries is not only possible, but it is extremely helpful.
You are also freely offering information to other people about who you are and what your priorities are. When we freely offer up our truth to other people, instead of keeping ourselves closed off, we are giving them the freedom to share their truth with us. This freedom is a great gift!
3. You have no power or control over the way other people feel, think or behave.
You do have the power to choose how you allow other people to affect you. Setting and maintaining boundaries is made exponentially easier when you can release your attachment or fear around how other people think or feel about you.
This is something I am still working on, every single day. If the reason you are afraid of voicing your opinion or instructing people on how to better treat you is because you are afraid of how they will react, you need to work on releasing this fear because it is hindering your growth! (I can go on and on and on about this topic and I probably will in another blog post)
A great example of this is recently, I had to ask my employers to cut my hours on the farm from 6 days a week to 5 days a week. My body couldn’t handle that many hours of physical labor, I was in pain all the time and exhausted. I had committed to priotizing my health, but I will absolutely admit that setting boundaries is still somewhat new to me and I STRESSED out about asking for what I needed. I thought about how cutting my hours back would force them to pick up my slack and about how inconvenient that would be for them and about how they would probably hate and resent me forever more, blaa blaa blaa. BUT, I did it! I built up the courage to set that boundary, it ended up being no big deal at all.
Turns out that what my employers actually cared about was that I enjoyed working there and that I was able to stay healthy enough to continue working there sustainably for the whole summer without burning out. On top of that, because I was working less, I had more energy to give to them when I was there. This led to them giving me two separate raises and promoting me to farm manager within two months!
Hopefully this helps demonstrate that good things come when you set boundaries and prioritize your health and happiness! You benefit and so does everyone else! When I look back on all the times that I set firm boundaries for myself, I cannot remember one single time that it did not change my life for the better.
I will freely admit that I am still growing in this area. Even though everything always works out and people are never as upset as I think they are going to be, I still have to build up courage to confront people and ask for my needs and desires to be respected. I will say, however, that it is getting easier. Every time I set a boundary I get more practice and the next boundary is easier. The other super awesome thing is….
4. The more you practice setting personal boundaries, the more easily you can identify and appreciate when other people are setting boundaries.
When you begin to recognize people’s attempts at boundary setting, you stop taking things personally and start congratulating them on their personal growth success. This is just another way that setting boundaries eases communication and makes way for more peace and compassion in your life.
I hope that this post inspires you to take out that journal and brainstorm about who you want to be, how you want to feel and what boundaries you need to set in order to achieve your goals. As always, feedback is appreciated! Feel free to share with friends, family or anyone who might be having some trouble setting and keeping healthy boundaries.
All my love to you!
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