Boundaries. We hear advice all the time to "set boundaries" for ourselves with loved ones, with friends, with our work, basically with everything. And generally speaking, most people will nod in agreement at the importance of boundary setting. But do you truly understand what boundary setting means, and do you understand that it is the most loving thing you can do for yourself to set boundaries? And, do you understand the physical, emotional, spiritual, and often financial cost of not having clearly defined and enforced boundaries? And finally, are you grounded enough to be prepared to deal with any backlash over your boundary enforcement? Yes. Backlash. If you haven't been a strong boundary setter, you will face intense reactions from those who have been violating your boundaries for a long time.
In fact, even if you are a strong boundary setter, you will encounter people who live with a sense of entitlement. People who are annoyed at you for being strong, upset that you aren't doing what they want simply because they want it. Dealing with entitled people is a whole other topic for an entire blog, but suffice it to say, they are the most challenging to deal with if you are not prepared. Of course boundaries set by you will also absolutely enrage a narcissist, because according to them, everyone in their life should do what they want on their time schedule. For a truly powerful read on Narcissists, GO HERE.
So let's talk about what boundary setting actually is, who it applies to, and how it can affect the people in your life. First things first, boundary setting means creating space in your life for you to be the person the Divine sent you here to be. With women, this often gets sidetracked way before we even reach adulthood. Many families operate under the authoritarian style form of parenting which says "I'm the parent and this is why you need to do what I say". It is the a psychologically disempowering and damaging form of parenting, but because it is so widely practiced, most people believe they are "fine" as a result. But imagine today, being told how to eat, when to eat, what to eat, how to style your hair (in extreme homes), what to wear, when to speak and when not to speak, what time to go to sleep? That is domination and abuse but in our modern world we have become so detached from unconditional love and affection that we call it parenting. As a result, there is almost an entire lack of boundary setting that is taught to you as a child. So when you reach adulthood, you haven't had any real world practice at setting boundaries for yourself. And, even when you try, you may have difficulty enforcing them.
If you were blessed enough to have parents who taught you how to have boundaries ESPECIALLY WITH THEM, consider yourself possessing a gift that you can go out and teach others. If on the other hand, your parents "made you" share your things without asking your permission, "made you" eat things you thought tasted disgusting, "made you" hug your relatives even when you did not want to, you were directly and indirectly taught that you have no right to your own personal autonomy, no right to establish boundaries. I remember being at a funeral for my grandfather when I was seven, and some never-before-seen relative tried to pinch my cheeks as she was saying "what a cutie face". I backed up and said "please do not touch me". She was embarrassed, and a little annoyed. She looked to my dad with a nod as if to say, make her apologize. My dad responded with "I'm so proud of you honey, speaking up for yourself:" And we turned and walked away.
There were countless instances like that throughout my early childhood and teen years. Way more often than not, the response was not a happy one by the recipient of my autonomy. Often it was a response that it was disrespectful, inconsiderate, rude. In many of those situations if my dad was in earshot, the person got an earful as to what autonomy actually looks like. He would frequently find himself having to explain to someone that their reactions, their emotions, and their feelings were not my responsibility. I often heard him telling others that children are fully human, and you do not get to treat them as anything less than that. He also taught me that as long as I was coming from a place of self-love and self-respect, and spoke truthfully, however another person reacted is about themselves.
But without that kind of ongoing example of boundary setting and enforcement, most people believe that it is "polite" to let people overstep boundaries. When in actuality what poses as "polite" is often a mask, because underneath the polite exterior is repressed anger and rage. If you are consistently allowing others to violate your boundaries you are bound to build up anger. And if you have been doing it since childhood, that anger is now likely to be repressed rage. And, if you consistently allow others to violate your boundaries, there is a higher likelihood that you yourself may be violating the boundaries of others.
Of course boundaries come in many different ways. There are boundaries around our time, sexuality, and actual physical encounters of any kind including hugging. There are also boundaries around our personal life, family time, devotional or spiritual time, work time, and any other area of your life that you feel boundaries are important. In our family, we teach our kids about personal boundaries and we also have family boundaries. For example, we have Friday night "fun night" every Friday, and that is a boundary that is never crossed. It is the four of us spending the time connecting with game playing, movies, fun dinners and talking. We do the same on Sundays with devotional/spiritual/healing ceremony time on Sunday mornings followed by a full day of zero work, and all family. Nothing gets past those boundaries and they are vital to us because our family time is a priority. In fact, a lot of your boundaries will relate to what your priorities are. If exercise is a priority, then you will have boundaries around your workout time that you will not budge from. If creative time is a priority you will set time for that which cannot be disturbed.
Obviously boundaries are not the same for every person and it is important for you to create boundaries that give you the most peace in your life and that you feel the most comfortable with. Once you have your boundaries set, it is important to clearly communicate those boundaries WITHOUT APOLOGY to the people around you including your parents, spouse, children, friends, co-workers, clients or anyone else you deal with on a regular basis. I say without apology because I hear a lot of women say things like "Oh, I'm sorry I can't meet with you at three because that's my yoga time". No. You are not sorry. Why should you be sorry? A simple, "No I am not available then. Let's pick another time" is a clear way to set up your boundary. You do not owe anyone an explanation as to why.
Setting boundaries with parents, even as adults, can be very difficult for many people. The spillover from childhood where the parent never taught boundaries creates stress in the adult child who still has now idea how to set boundaries. I recently had a friend who had planned a two night getaway with her spouse and was so looking forward to it. Her mother phoned to let her know that she wanted to pay her a visit. Rather than simply tell her mother, "I cannot, I will be away" or "I have already made plans", she struggled with it for days, making herself stressed for no reason. She said "well I just can't tell my mother no". I explained to her that she must, if she wants to regain autonomy and control over her own life and emotions. Her mother and her have always had a very enmeshed relationship and there has never been a clear boundary in her mother's mind between her life and her daughter's. Something seemingly so simple became a huge ordeal. Eventually my friend was able to tell her mother that she was not available, but it came with a lot of apologizing and appeasing her mother as to the plans they could make for the following weekend. That approach, while it did allow my friend to get away for the weekend, resulted in a very negative response from her mother who used the tactic of trying to cause my friend to feel guilty.
There is nothing to be guilty about in having boundaries. It is kind, compassionate and loving to yourself and to others to carve space around the priorities in your life. Boundaries support you in being your best and most authentic self. Often, in your quest to accommodate others you are simultaneously eroding the foundation of your own life's purpose. I also recommend checking in with yourself to see if any lack of boundaries is related to avoidance. Sometimes when you consistently allow others to take up all of your time and energy, you are using it as a distraction to avoid clearly defined times to focus on what you need to be focusing on in your life. For example, if you are on a volunteer committee and you are consistently the go-to person who will do anything at anytime no matter what, or you get dressed for your workout but then answer 5 emails instead because people say they need you, or you go to create some art but instead get wrapped up in a lengthy phone conversation because you picked up the phone when it rang, or you just keep answering business questions beyond the time that you set for yourself to spend quality one on one time with your kids, take a close look at that. Inability to set boundaries is a learned behavior, and it can also be an easy distraction from looking at reality.
Ultimately you will be much happier, much more at peace, much more grounded, and have significantly more energy if you get to know what your priorities truly are, set firm boundaries around those priorities, and then unapologetically enforce them. <3 Liana