Like it has been and, probably still is, for many of you, life has felt full and occasionally overflowing. I keep having this image and dream pop up of a bath where the water is pouring over the top and I cannot turn the taps off. Jeez, it fires off my anxiety. I have needed to get clear on those things that I will say YES to and those that needed a NO.
A week or so ago, following an intensive 4 days on my Psychotherapy Training weekend, I posted some of my musings in my FB group – the focus was boundaries. During the weekend, we talked boundaries. I imagined it would be a relatively short part of the weekend and, as it happens, we could have spent an entire 4 days on it! Who knew that there was so much complexity, entanglement and unconscious loyalties in our boundaries. Our focus, of course, was how to maintain boundaries in a therapeutic relationship whilst also honouring the boundaries that our clients hold.
I have reflected a great deal since that weekend. What do safe boundaries mean to me? What happens when they are violated or I am left feeling betrayed? Where did I learn this? How were boundaries modelled to me as I grew up? Where am I strict on them now and where am I flaky? Why is that?! I am offering free holidays inside my head for those who fancy a little break away 🤪
I am acutely aware that if we truly want to have a better quality of health for ourselves; emotional, physical, psychological and spiritual, then we must consider the boundaries that we have in all of our relationships. And those boundaries that we don’t have. And those that are inconsistent and that we allow to be penetrable. Boundaries are your divine right. Fact.
During the weekend we heard some client stories of teenagers who were struggling with life – one 14 year old girl in particular noted how her mum had set so many strict boundaries….and yet failed to follow through on any of them. Her sense was that she’d wished her mum had followed through on adhering to the boundaries as that would have allowed her to feel safe. That’s quite an insight, huh? And touches the very heart of why boundaries matter. They create safety. For us and for others. Without them we are likely to swim around in a pool of ‘not knowing’ – consciously we may cope, unconsciously, it can be destabilising. Poor boundaries can create resentment, anger and burnout. Withholding your right to boundaries, costs you.
I know that establishing my own boundaries is a growing edge for me. It’s uncomfortable and is work in progress. I’m getting better. But the lack of boundaries, costs me. For many of us, we are facing our codependency conditioning. Codependency often leaves people lacking autonomy and agency. If we have been raised in a family system where codependency was the norm, we end up believing we are responsible for the emotional state of others. This is certainly true for me and has been a part of my battle around boundaries.
I am often asked, ‘How can I establish boundaries without upsetting people?’ The answer is, you can’t. You cannot ensure that someone else will not be upset by your boundary and the fact that you choose to honour it. If someone has not had boundaries modelled for them and does not set boundaries in their own life, they are likely to become highly activated when you place them. They might tell you that you are being selfish or choose to shame and guilt you for what you are doing. This perhaps gives you an insight as to their emotional maturity. How you respond, demonstrates your own emotional maturity.
I often chuckle to myself when I am setting boundaries as I become aware of the part of me who is deeply set on people pleasing, edging closer in the background. Starting to judge what I am about to do; ‘oooh, imagine what they’ll think of you when you say no, what a disappointment you’ll be, letting down another human in that way…I always thought you wanted to be a kind soul’ Sometimes, he wins. His script drowns me out. He’s a familiar character and I identify with him easily so, in a heartbeat, I waver and loosen the boundary. He fist pumps in the background. It’s daily practice for me. It will always require attention for me to hear him, include him and remind myself that whilst he is a part of me, I am more than that. Only then can I choose an alternative. I reckon it’s life work.
Some thoughts for you around boundaries:
- Boundaries are for YOU. They are for you to set some limits. They are NOT about you controlling or demanding that others behave in a certain way. That remains their choice.
- Setting boundaries can free you from feelings of resentment and being walked over.
- Those who attempt to demand from you or control you as you set a boundary are showing you their own wounding. Keep practicing ways that you can hold the boundary without the need to justify, over explain or argue why.
- We are often conditioned in childhood to ‘be polite’ and please our elders. This can make boundary setting a daunting idea. Experiencing this and making space to feel this way is a part of your repair and healing. You will, in time, move through this part of the adventure.
- You are not responsible for the emotional state of others. You are only in charge of your own responses and emotions.
I’m wondering what boundaries mean to you – what were you taught about boundaries as you grew up? Where do you have them? Where are they unstable? Where do people take advantage of them? What would support you to establish stronger boundaries in your life?
In reading this, some of you will nod and move on, believing that it doesn’t apply to you. Boundaries apply to us all. Not just in how you set them up for yourself, but how you work to understand and acknowledge the importance of them to others.
This global pandemic has tinkered around with our values, our stories, our relationships, our identities and our edges. This planet that we call home is begging us to look at boundaries and how we not only treat mother earth but how we treat ourselves and each other. I see organisations, teams and individuals where a lack of boundary setting and boundary honouring cost them their psychological and physical health. I see systems that are riddled with trauma. This has to change. We must each find the bravery to start wondering about this and considering different and radical choices.
With love, Richard x