Having and enforcing healthy boundaries has become the topic of many conversations in my world lately. It seems like we’re all trying to get a handle on what is or isn’t okay with us and how to communicate that to other people. It’s a bit ironic that we’re more comfortable with letting strangers know when to back off than we are with letting our own friends and family know when they’ve crossed a line (or ten). We don’t worry as much about how strangers are going to feel or how the dynamics might change, because odds are high that we’ll never see them again. Our interpersonal relationships demand a lot more of us, however.
I now have an even deeper understanding of why Robert Frost wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Fences show you exactly where a boundary lies. There is no mistaking when and how it has been crossed. It’s frustrating sometimes that our emotional boundaries aren’t always so visible or accessible.
When people come to me because they feel like others are taking advantage of them in some way, I’ve noticed that they often haven’t looked within to really identify their own boundaries. They’re too busy people pleasing and trying to manage how others feel. Women fall prey to this a lot, because we’re socially conditioned to be caretakers and to put others’ needs well above our own.
Expressing what we need out loud can be difficult, because we don’t want to be accused of being selfish. (Oh, that nasty little word!) What we usually fail to recognize is that others fire the “selfish” missile at us out of co-dependency. They fear the possibility that their needs might not get met by us, so they use “selfish” to churn up guilt. If we bite the hook and give into the guilt trip, then we’ve collapsed a boundary. We’ve said Yes when we really felt No. Is that what a Goddess would do? I think not.
Friends have referred to me as “The Queen of No” and “The Boundary Queen” before, and I wear both titles with pride. It took a long time to love myself enough to stop being a doormat, so I will share my tactics for maintaining my sanity and sanctity.
Do a Gut Check
Step One in healthy boundary setting is checking in with how you feel. When somebody asks you to do something, stop and take a deep breath. How does their request sit with you? If you sense hesitation inside, heaviness, or anxiousness, that means you’d rather not do it. Your body will give you signals, but you have to recognize them and honor the message. If you feel like you should say yes, consider the motivation. Are you just worried about being liked?
Be Honest and Speak Up
Step Two is being honest about where you feel compromised. Women have to learn how to be outspoken, even though that goes against the way we’re socially conditioned. We’re taught to be nice, to acquiesce, and to accommodate. Outspokenness is a skill we have to master, nonetheless, if we’re ever going to reclaim our lives. Say it out loud, and stand firm, even if you’re shaking. It does get easier with practice!
Release the Guilt
Step Three is letting go of the guilt that will surface once you learn how to say no. People are rarely going to let you off easy, because they have their own agendas and issues. Feeling the guilt is completely normal, so it’s important not to be hard on yourself when it comes up. It’s equally important to push through it and realize that a more balanced, positively-engaged life awaits on the other side of that guilt.
Be Ready for the Fallout
Step Four is allowing toxic relationships to die, and this may be the hardest part of setting and enforcing boundaries, particularly with relatives. A balanced person who truly loves you will honor and respect your limits. Period. An unbalanced person will argue, give you the silent treatment, try to coerce you into saying yes to their demands, play the victim, or heap on the guilt—maybe all of these things. If they can’t learn to accept your new assertion of power, it’s time to limit your association with them or cut ties completely.
Rock Your Goddess Power
The goddess I think of most when it comes to setting boundaries is Durga. She’s a badass multi-limbed warrior and protector of the universe who rides a tiger or a lion. Her very name means “fort” or “a place that is difficult to overrun.” I like chanting her mantra when I need an extra shot of fortitude, but I encourage you to do whatever ignites your own Divine Feminine fire.
Remember that even if our parents didn’t teach us about healthy boundaries as children, it’s something we can learn. It’s a practice, and it’s something that we have to keep practicing in all of our interactions.
Decide. Begin. Make your life brilliant.
Copyright © 2018 Jennifer R. Miller. All rights reserved.