Monday, January 18, 2010

A Little Issue Called Boundaries

Boundaries are the invisible walls that we're supposed to communicate to the other halves of our existing relationships or to those individuals who we have the potential of developing one with. Boundaries are the limits that we've determined for ourselves. They're the point at which "yes" becomes "no." They comprise minimum standards, what types of behaviors we're willing to put up with, those behaviors that we won't accept, what we think we deserve, what we're willing to give, and what we think we're worthy of.

Learning how to set them requires a potpourri of self-knowledge, self-confidence, associating value with your needs and perspectives, and the ability to discern where "you" and "someone else" begin to separate into individuals. That's often a mixture that isn't hardwired into the make-up of sensitive people. Our natural responses of transcending, wanting to rescue others and focus on others' needs, combined with society's view and treatment of our natural responses to this world, makes it extremely difficult for us to set and adhere to those "no's."

The art of saying no is kind of a foreign concept to us. For many of us, it's a word that's not even in our vocabulary. We're the ones who feel obligated to make the world a better place, step up and help no matter how thin we're already stretched, do what someone else thinks is right because we don't want them to be angry with us, or follow someone else's direction because we couldn't possibly trust our own opinion of what's right for us. We're so caught up in making sure that we accommodate everyone else that we forget to take the time to take care of ourselves. Or examine ourselves to figure out just exactly what it is that we do want and need. Even if we do, we'll throw those needs and wants out the window if someone who we view as important wants us to go in a different direction.

As a result, we find can ourselves in relationships with individuals who are toxic. Even if the relationship is not initially toxic, we can find ourselves taking the blame for any wrong turns, the one doing most of the giving, the one whose needs have become buried. Or we can find ourselves wavering aimlessly, doing things we never thought were possible for our characters. Or we can find ourselves going along with decisions that bring us to situations that we didn't want to end up in.

Yes, I'm guilty of all the above and more. I can recount my experiments with danger that almost ended up in self-destruction, the times I've let others' opinions control my life decisions, the amount of times I've buried my voice so that someone else could have their way, the amount of times I've walked on eggshells to avoid upsetting anyone, the times I've felt guilty for someone else's actions, the times I've danced with potential relationships when I wasn't really interested, and the people I should've walked away from but hung on hoping that I could somehow change things.

The one thing I didn't do in each and every one of those situations was take the initiative to validate myself. I was communicating that "I" didn't matter, that "I" didn't exist, and that "I" was dispensable. Without self-valuation, you relinquish control. You lose the ability to have a two-way conversation. The other person stops meeting you halfway, because you've taught them that you'll always travel down their path. The play turns into a monologue that you're not on stage for. You're watching from the audience, expected to give your applause when it's done, whether you found it enjoyable or not. Shouldn't you at least give yourself the chance to star in your own show?


  1. This is so true..and eloquently written.

  2. Yes. I could check off each item you described as if I lived each of those experiences -- We think we're growing closer to someone, when actually we are losing ourselves.

  3. Wow! I can so totally relate to that. And particularly at the moment 'the times I've felt guilty for someone else's actions, the times I've danced with potential relationships when I wasn't really interested'... argh but it really does get to the point where I sometimes can't distinguish between what I really think, what others think, and what I think others think... all of which could be quite separate. I thought I was becoming more focussed on what I really wanted but I really have no idea right now. I'd quite like a desert island at the moment... just to recompose and rediscover myself haha...

  4. Maria, Maria....I think you hit it on the nail. Sometimes we do need to get away from everyone and everything to figure out what we really think and what we really want. Sometimes it is very difficult to distinguish our thoughts and feelings from someone else, especially when we're in the same room with them. We don't even have to be engaged in conversation with others to do this. One trick is to pretend you're just observing or noticing what's happening. Doesn't always work, but sometimes it does. But, don't feel guilty for needing that "alone time." It's the only way I truly sort things out and rid myself of everyone else's energy.