Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others ~ Brene Brown
I’ve always been drawn to human social behaviour, to the ways in which we act and react in small groups, large groups and our most intimate relationships. One of the most memorable courses I took,many years ago, while studying at University the first time, made up part of my Sociology degree and was focused on small group dynamics. It was then that I first heard the term boundaries. I heard it, but I never grasped it.
Years later, in my own personal quest to be a better, kinder, wiser human, I ran up against this term again. I found it everywhere. The word started to stand out, as if in neon flashing lights. The word was accompanied with every known descriptor and definition, yet grasping this concept proved a challenge. The inability for me to grasp and hold onto this concept arose from three beliefs and factors that I had not yet fully identified: I believed that boundaries were the same as walls, I never made the correlation between boundaries and self-esteem, I saw them as separate entities, and, finally, my boundaries were not actually shitty and porous, they were entirely non-existent.
Very simply, boundaries are the line between what I determine to be acceptable and unacceptable. Although boundaries are vital in intimate relationships, they are also vital in all relationships, including friendships, family* and work relations. *These boundaries are incredibly hard to implement!
I held a false belief that having boundaries was the same as having walls. The same as being unavailable, closed off, and not open to being vulnerable, or able to show up in any healthy way for any type of relationship. I have always prided myself on remaining open to love and relationship, despite many unsuccessful attempts and false starts. However, boundaries are almost the complete opposite of being unavailable or walling myself off. Building walls and being unavailable is applied universally across the board, meaning no one has the luxury of getting close enough to cause harm or pain. Having boundaries, doesn’t protect me from hurt or pain, but rather ensures that the right people, those who respect me and the way I want to be treated, are able to get close, to see my vulnerabilities, to be in my sacred space. Boundaries teach people how to treat me, they don’t keep people out, or myself in.
Walls keep everybody out. Boundaries teach people where the door is ~ Mark Groves
Having boundaries is inextricably linked to having self-esteem. Having healthy boundaries not only means that I understand on some level that I am worthy of love and respect, but that I believe this to be true, that I believe and know that it’s not only okay to care about myself the most, but that it’s necessary. In the words of one of my favourite Marks, Mark Groves:
“You’re human, and you have the right to say ‘That was shitty of you’ You have the right to protest your own mistreatment and set boundaries for respectful interactions.”
I have not always had the self-esteem required to do this. As a people pleaser, a nurse, the ultimate care-giver, I was afraid of hurting people’s feelings, and would rather take the hurt myself. I was afraid of offending my “friends” and afraid of the potential of them leaving me for speaking up. What I failed to see was that these were not my friends. And I continue to learn this lesson even now. However, I am better able to stick up for myself, recognize shitty behaviour, establish and re-establish that boundary, and remove those from my life who fail to respect that.
Healthy Personal Boundaries = Taking responsibility for your own actions and emotions, while NOT taking responsibility for the actions or emotions of others ~ Mark Manson
I did not have shitty boundaries, I had zero boundaries. According to my other favorite Mark, Mark Manson:
“By ‘Boundaries’ I mean the delineation between two people’s responsibilities for their own problems. People in a healthy relationship with strong boundaries will take responsibility for their own values and problems and not take responsibility for their partner’s values and problems. People in a toxic relationship with poor or no boundaries will regularly avoid responsibility for their own problems and/or take responsibility for their partner’s problems.”
Slowly starting to establish boundaries has been empowering and frightening. Many of the people I chose to have in my life, I had chosen when my ‘picker’ was broken. I realize I had surrounded myself with people with shitty to no boundaries, just like me; those who balked at my establishment of boundaries, and relationships blew up all over the place. At the simple creation of boundaries that no longer allowed myself to be treated like shit, kindly called people out on their own shit, and made me take responsibility for the shit that was clearly mine, I cleaned up my house in a relatively short period of time.
This goes back to my second point, boundaries go hand in hand with self-esteem, and they feed off each other. The more boundaries I establish, and the more I, kindly and gently, reinforce those boundaries by saying “no”, by not taking responsibility for other people’s shit and for fully taking responsibility for my own, the more self-esteem and self-worth I have. The more self-esteem and self-worth I embody, the more willing I am to establish boundaries to teach others how to treat me.
And the easier it becomes to find the line, hold the line, and be willing to walk away when others want to not just step, but jump over, the line.