Everything You Need To Know About Setting Boundaries

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”Regardless of what you have been through or where you’re going, I hope you’re still able to soar to newer heights. I hope you find what you’re looking for whether it’s in faraway lands or at the base of your feet. I hope you find your joy again and laugh so hard your stomach muscles ache for days. I hope you keep the company of good friends and lovers who are worthy of your radiance. I hope you are finally able to reach that deep inner peace hidden within your bones. Most importantly, I hope you find yourself. And when you do, I hope you find that you were always a miraculous and spectacular being, worthy of the greatest love and the deepest peace. I honor you in hopes that you will one day learn to honor yourself.” ― Emily Maroutian

I was an adult when I discovered that I had no clear set boundaries. I allowed others to invade my physical and emotional space. I prioritized their needs and in turn, denied my own. I learned quite early on that life is unforgiving. What I didn’t yet realize, was that the person that needed the most forgiveness was myself. Instead, I turned outward and showered the world with the kindness I so desperately needed myself. This pattern served its purpose for the circumstances surrounding my childhood but afforded little utility to my adult life. The consequence of having no clear boundaries was that I became disconnected from myself. Piece by piece, I chipped away integrity and authenticity. After being so far removed for such a long time — I eventually lost myself along the way. Physically, emotionally and mentally I had reached my absolute limit.

At its core, boundary work involves self-care at the deepest level. Practicing healthy boundaries is a powerful way to practice self-love and acceptance, both inward and outward. I was able to finally put my foot down and say that “this is enough” when I realized that I am enough. Like any worthwhile endeavor, boundary setting is a necessary practice that requires commitment and cultivation. I imagine a boundary as thin, transparent, film that surrounds and keeps me safe. It ultimately allows for safe ways of interacting in the world.

Tips for practicing boundaries:

1. Learn to say no:

”One of the hardest and bravest things you will do is speak your truth when the voices around you demand agreement. They’ll judge you for it but you must speak anyway. They’ll criticize you; be yourself anyway. They’ll want you to change into something they can understand, something comfortable, easy to handle. Be yourself anyway.” ― Emily Maroutian 

I was plagued by the disease to please early on in my life. This stemmed from years of conditioning and an internal lack of self-worth. My default narrative is shame. The grand accumulation of which resulted in inefficient communication skills, self-doubt, resentment and ultimately, severe exhaustion. While it sounds quite obvious to me now — what I didn’t realize then, is that I deserve to exist under terms that do not harm me. Without giving it a second thought, I would automatically utter a “yes” to old thought patterns, self-defeating talk, and one-sided relationships that no longer served me. While every fiber of my being begged me to say no. All the while questioning ‘why on earth am I doing this to myself, again’. I quickly learned that the answer simply was ‘I didn’t yet love myself enough’.

Needless to say, the word “no” was never a commonly used descriptor in my lexicon. If it were to be placed on a pendulum — then I have swung back and forth between the extremes. On the left side, there are the silent and resentful door slams. On the right, the over-disclosure, justification and confessional diaries. And in the center, lies the beautiful equilibrium. It is clear, transparent and open communication. Graceful, firm and leads with love. Ideally, I aim to stay at the center. The key to which I found in Brené Brown’s method of ‘living BIG’. This requires asking: what boundaries do I need, to stay in my integrity and lead from a place of generosity?

Implementing this newly discovered word definitely required some trial and error. Eventually, I committed to ‘no’ on my own terms. This involved a softer, subtler approach, which is most aligned with my mode of being in the world. Granted, sometimes a firm and resounding NO! Maybe the most appropriate response. My self-doubt diminished with each utterance. I felt my body become less frigid. I willingly placed more trust in myself and others. And I became more skilled at navigating difficult and uncomfortable conversations. Now, I choose a moment of discomfort over a lifetime of resentment and judgment, as Brené would say.

2. Compile a self-awareness inventory

“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.— Brené Brown

Boundaries are a compassionate method of clearly identifying what I need and they create a space for others to meet these needs, if they choose to. A self-awareness inventory highlights the situations and outdated action patterns that will not be tolerated. It requires that I lean in and honor what I feel. It helps shed light on the awareness of situations that demand ‘more’ from me. More space, self-care or perhaps, even more personal power. This tool has been incredibly helpful in igniting a sense of agency and personal strength.

A few examples:

I deserve to: _____________________

I will not allow people to: ______________________

In order to protect my energy it is okay for me to: ______________________

It is okay for me to ask for: _______________________

I forgive { } for: { } _______________________

3. Additional questions:

This step builds upon the previous point and involves a close and careful exploration into unsettling relationships, toxic friendships and destructive actions patterns that no longer deserve to occupy a space on my path. Unpicking the inner workings of the mind, if you will.

Potential questions to be answered include:

What {behaviour, action, or situation} do I tolerate that drains me?

What would life look like if I blamed less and practiced cultivating healthy boundaries more?

What can I do to regain a sense of personal power?

Have I expressed myself and my needs truthfully and clearly?

4. Strengthen internal boundaries

“They tell you to develop a thick skin so things don’t get to you. What they don’t tell you is that your thick skin will keep everything from getting out, too. Love, intimacy, vulnerability. I don’t want that. Thick skin doesn’t work anymore. I want to be transparent and translucent. For that to work, I won’t own other people’s shortcomings and criticisms. I won’t put what you say about me on my load.“ — Viola Davis

A healthy internal boundary should not become a wall. The aim is not to harden and armor the heart. Instead, it should be thought of as a filter to check incoming information to determine whether it holds an element of truth. I may then choose to let some or all of it in. Alternatively, I have the option to discard it with little reactivity.

Questions to consider include:

How much of this is true of me?

This involves dissecting how much of the information is grounded in truth and how much of it is constructed from ‘the story I’m making up in my head’. Brené calls this the SFD (shitty first draft). This is the initial, emotionally charged reading of the situation. These five words allow me to check the narrative that’s been constructed in my head. The resulting account is honest, transparent, and most importantly, vulnerable. It facilitates communication and connection. And allows me to see another person’s perspective.

How much of this is true of the other person?

I try to remain cognizant that other people’s judgments of me have been filtered through years and years of accumulative life experiences, interlaced between patterns of traumas and defenses that were used to keep them safe. This makes it difficult to separate from their thoughts of me. Which are essentially, just reflections of themselves. The best I can do is stand in my truth, remain authentic and vulnerable — and lead with the love and kindness contained in my heart.

Cultivating healthy boundaries is one of the most, if not the most profound act of self-love. It is no easy task and requires courage in the face of uncertainty. This journey has sparked all kinds of emotionally charged reactions in other people. Not very many understand. But what I’ve realized, is that whether they understand it yet or not, boundaries are important and they deserve a wholehearted commitment. The light from my own healing journey will hopefully, one day, illuminate the darkest corners of the earth that need healing. Its acts such as these that will one day change the world. Should you have an experience that you wish to share, I would love for you to reach out and connect as we share our stories of feeling and healing.

As always, go easy, fill with light and lead with love. TC mark

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