Boundaries! OMG. Boundaries!

Photo credit: Drew Hays

How good are you at setting healthy boundaries? I think I’m actually starting to learn something about that. Because life lately has forced me to dig deep into my mental health warrior self, to step up, to stand up … and to claim the power of boundaries.

I was really never the one in the room who could set boundaries. Not until it was way too late and I was pushed too far and my inner Boadicea would swoop in and burn all bridges … and the surrounding towns and villages too. And yeah, it may have been an effective strategy in a last-minute self-preservation kind of way, but it was also a very destructive strategy. And then suddenly life happened and I had a crash course in learning to handle boundaries in a very different way.

What are boundaries to you?

I like this simple definition from PsychCentral: “Boundaries differentiate me from you.” But however you choose to define boundaries, for me personally, boundaries are the zone of limits. No more. Stop here. Go no further. Enough is enough. That’s it! (and in some cases an unapologetic fuck off!)

Boundaries, somehow, have become a repetitive theme in every sphere of my life this year. From physical boundaries to emotional and mental boundaries, time boundaries, material boundaries, even property boundaries. As an FYI, other boundaries include sexual boundaries, spiritual boundaries, financial boundaries, and whatever other personal boundaries you feel you need to add to your list (because if you’re thinking it, it’s valid).

Why is it so hard to set boundaries?

This is a question I’ve asked myself a lot lately. Especially when so many strong, amazing, talented people in my life started admitting the same. And there are many answers to that. Fear (of so many things), low self-esteem, being overly attuned to other people’s needs, society’s conditioning, and being a human with a history of trauma are just some of the reasons why so many of us find it difficult to set boundaries.

But I also realised that the difficulty rests within the fact that these kinds of boundaries are neither tangible nor visible. They’re not physical walls, they’re not something we only ever need to build once. They’re ephemeral veils that drift between worlds and winds and storms, ever calling us to pin them back into place again. It’s constant work, constant vigilance, upkeep, tending, nurturing, shifting, and so we should forgive ourselves when we let it some of it slip because our eyes are elsewhere or we’re just too weary to move.

Where do we find the courage and the strength to set boundaries, to say no?

We find courage in different places at different times, but lately I found courage in Kasia Urbaniak’s short video on the alchemy of anger. She says, ‘You do not get angry over the things you do not care about’ and talks about that moment ‘when you stop seeing the thing you’re fighting against, and you start seeing the thing you’re fighting for’. She says, ‘We don’t feel resistance when there isn’t something precious inside of us to protect.’

And I realised that I was actually ready to fight for me. For that something precious within. It was an incredible motivator for me in that moment. But it also has a lot to do with the fact that living with bipolar disorder has made me so sharply aware that my mental health can make or break me. And boundaries play a huge role in that. So I somehow have to gather enough strength and courage to fix that little snag in my boundary before the hole is ripped too wide and too ragged.

Does it feel good to stand up for yourself?

Oh God, yes! So good. It’s like a day at the spa for the inner self. You’ve just created a safe space for yourself, you just stood up for yourself, you just put loving action behind loving intention, and that just stirs all the warm fuzzies. It’s the ultimate act of self-kindness.

In fact, standing up for yourself and setting boundaries in a calm, clear, kind of way can become pretty addictive. All you need to do is set one small boundary for yourself and suddenly the others become a little easier. And it honestly feels so much more fulfilling to set boundaries with quiet strength and peace without having to rely on the last-minute ferocity of an inner archetype that might just destroy what could have been amazing relationships or possibilities of future opportunities and collaborations.

So how do you set boundaries in a healthy way?

Firstly, if you’re angry in the moment your boundary is challenged, wait long enough to really listen to where the anger is directing you, and then create a clear and calm expression of that truth. But don’t wait until it’s too late either. Don’t hold your silence until your boundary is so ravaged that you’re suffocating and shattered and filled with vengeance. You know yourself … you will find your best moment.

These are the lessons I’ve learnt this year …

  • Do it as soon as you’re ready
  • Do it when you’re in a calm space
  • Do it with love for yourself and respect for the other person
  • Do it in a way you’re comfortable with (even if it’s a text or an email)
  • Don’t over explain (in fact, sometimes you don’t need explain at all)
  • If it’s a work issue, think about offering other solutions
  • Say thank you when they acknowledge your boundary
  • Know when to make exceptions to your established boundaries and when to stand firm
  • Be prepared to walk away if you have to

This last one can be hard, but we have to honour our own self-worth, right? I keep reminding myself that ‘The only people who get upset about you setting boundaries are the ones who were benefiting from you having none.’ – Unknown

When we aren’t warriors for our own boundaries, we only hurt ourselves. We would be the tired, frazzled heaps, feeling resentful and worn out, while the other party would be blissfully unaware of all that, knowing only that they got what they wanted.

I’ll leave you with this thought … Brené Brown says that daring to set boundaries is about ‘having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others’.

Go be that beautiful warrior for yourself.

Read more about dealing with change.