Once again you find yourself wondering, “How did I let myself get sucked into this?”
There you are spending another day off volunteering your time and energy when you’d rather be spending this time taking care of yourself and your family.
Do you have trouble saying no? When you say no, do you feel guilty about letting people down? Perhaps, you’re afraid of what others will think of you if you don’t get involved.
These are all indicators of weak or nonexistent boundaries.
Does the word ‘boundaries’ make you want to turn around and walk away?
I wouldn’t be surprised! The word ‘boundaries’ comes with preconceived misconceptions. The biggest misconception is that it means walls, lines or a fence — anything to keep others out.
Not so! I tend to view boundaries as a swinging door, you let somethings in and somethings out. You also have the option of shutting doors and not letting anything in. You decide what can enter and what must stay out.
It’s a way of setting your limits and letting others know about them.
Another misconception is that there is a one-size-fits-all set of rules. Not so!
Boundaries are individual. What’s acceptable for one person might not be for another. For example, I don’t like large noise crowds so I stay away from them. Another person might enjoy the energy of these gatherings. I know my limit as to which group events I want to go to; this is my boundary. Finding your boundaries often means experimenting and feeling things out for yourself.
With this in mind I have listed below 4 ways that you can establish some healthy boundaries.
When you make your boundaries known your relationship (and life itself) take on a more positive tone.
Clearly identify your limits.
If you are not clear about your limits your boundaries will eventually crumble.
Take time to name your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual limits. Identify what you are willing to tolerate and accept. Also name everything that makes you feel uncomfortable or stressed.
When you are feeling uncomfortable, it’s a cue that someone has stepped through the door without you welcoming them in. This is your limit.
Resentment is at the high end of uncomfortable and it often results from feelings taken advantage of or not being appreciated. In these circumstances there are often feelings of guilt (guilt for not being a good wife/daughter/son). You might worry about what others think and even experience guilt for feeling guilty. Identify these situations and feeling for these will guide you to your limits.
Remember, you get to choose who and what comes in through the door.
Pay attention to your words.
How often do you find yourselves with obligations and commitments that you really wish you didn’t have? When this happens you tend to say, “I have to do X”. “I should go to Z.” or “I wish I could get out of Y.”
You chose to take on these commitments.
If you had a choice would you have chosen to do this? If you didn’t feel guilty would you have chosen to do it? Does this activity match your priorities and values?
Take all the “I should, I need to, I have to, I feel I should” statements and rephrase them. Rephrase them in this way, “I choose to do X.” How does it feel? If it feels exciting, empowering or great, go for it. If it feels like lead in your stomach, dread, or energy sapping, don’t do it. Let your feelings show you your boundaries.
Give yourself permission to say no.
Do fear, guilt and self-doubt stop you from saying no?
Are you afraid of what someone will think if you say no? Do you feel guilty that you’re not being a loving, caring family member when you say no? Is self-doubt entering your thoughts with, “Should I even have a boundary in this situation”.
Giving yourself permission to say no is as much about self-respect as it is about relationships. Having respect for yourself and for others is recognizing that all adults are capable of living their own lives, taking care of themselves and empowering them to do that.
Too often we get caught up in taking care of someone rather than caring for them. Ask yourself, “Am I empowering them or disempowering them?”
Saying a gentle, “No, I don’t want to” may raise some eyebrows in the beginning. But, before long you will gain both self-respect and the respect of others.
Are you the person who drops hints when you want something rather than asking directly?
When you feel hurt or annoyed do you become standoffish or aloof?
When you’re angry do you vent to any available ear?
Do you demand to be heard when you feel wronged?
When you establish healthy boundaries through clear communication you regain control of your swinging door. You are deciding how you want to feel and what you want to do. You become empowered.
Clearly communicating your thoughts and feelings doesn’t necessarily mean that that others are going to agree with you. It does mean that you respect yourself enough to request that others honor your boundaries.
When you’re clear about your boundaries it makes it easier to ask others to respect them. Once you’ve made your request and set your boundary you put the ball in their court. They will choose what is right for them. You can’t make anyone do anything that they don’t want to do. You can only decide for yourself.
You have a choice to continue to be sucked into doing all those things that you don’t want to do….to continue feeling guilty or resentful or unheard. Or you can set boundaries that are empowering and healthy by clearing stating what you will and will not allow to come through your door.
What will you choose?