The Wonderful World of Boundaries


The Wonderful World of Boundaries

By Laura McMullin

Lately I’ve been practicing to establish and maintain boundaries, and I’m amazed at how supportive this practice is for my sense of self-worth and overall wellbeing. For as long as I can remember I have been a “good girl” and a people pleaser. I value peace and harmony so much, it’s a core value in my life. In the past this value has caused me to override my own needs in order to please others. I simply wanted for them to be happy and for us to be in harmony with each other. Here’s what ends up happening, as any “recovering people pleaser” knows: if we give too much to others without taking into account our own very legitimate needs, we can end up betraying ourselves in very subtle and ongoing ways that can erode our sense of self, our confidence, and our inner strength.  

For as long as I can remember, other people’s needs came first, and I somehow believed I was responsible for the happiness and wellbeing of others. Can anyone relate to this? That faulty belief had me ignoring my personal needs while bending over backwards to please everyone at any given moment… the result was always the same. At some point in the people pleasing process, I’d be overcome with frustration, resentment and anger which would brew under the surface as my life force energy became depleted. Attempting to meet other people’s needs at the expense of my own has taken a toll on me over the years, which is why I am so so happy that I’ve “discovered” the wonderful world of boundaries!

It’s only been in this last year that I have consciously been practicing the art of establishing and maintaining boundaries—and this practice is truly transformative.

Here’s what my experience has been so far: the more I practice setting boundaries, the more confident and self-assured I feel.

The more confident I feel, the more power I generate from within.

The more empowered I feel inside, the easier it is to know my inherent value.

The more I know my inherent value, the easier it is to take care of myself.

The more I take care of myself, the easier it is to set boundaries because I can feel when my wellbeing is being affected and when a boundary might be in order.

The more I establish a boundary, the more I contain my power and honor myself.

The more I honor myself, the more others honor me.

These states are cyclical, reciprocal and strengthen one another. I’m now understanding that my core value of peace and harmony is fulfilled within myself first as I care for myself. As that happens, others respond in kind manner. It’s amazing!

Boundaries can be so supportive and empowering…

Here’s the thing: it can be so hard and awkward and messy to set a boundary… especially if we’re not used to it. Here are three tips that can help:

1. Start small:

choose small moments in which you can set a boundary and feel good about it. For example, a small boundary could be asking your child to wait until you’re done talking with your spouse before you can give them your attention. Or perhaps you run into a neighbor that you typically try to avoid and they engage you in conversation. Early in the interaction you can mention that you have about 5 minutes before you need to make a call or go run an errand, this “limited time” strategy helps you limit your interaction time and gives you an out.

2. Give yourself “think time”:

Sometimes we’re in a situation where a request or invitation is made and we feel the need to respond to it right away even though we’re not sure how we feel about it. Remember that you can always give yourself the gift of “think time”… it’s a wonderful way to pause and reflect to ensure that whatever decision you make is coming from a place of clarity around what feels good and right for you. Think time can be a few minutes or even days. For example, if a coworker requests something from you and you’re not sure you want to do it, simply pause and say, “Can I think about and let you know tomorrow?” or “Let me check my schedule and get back to you.” Given yourself think time is a way to pause in order to tune in and mindfully proceed.

3. Tune into how you feel:

Our emotions are incredibly intelligent and they communicate with us all the time. The more we can tune into how we feel, the easier it is to detect when a boundary is necessary… if you feel uncomfortable or you have a pit in your stomach, chances are something is not in alignment with your needs, values, expectations or desires. Check in with yourself to see if you can identify why you feel uncomfortable about the situation; it might be helpful to talk it through with a trusted friend who can help you gain clarity. As you understand what you are feeling and what would be better for you, it becomes easier to see what boundary might need to be established in order for you to feel more at ease about the situation.

Setting and maintaining boundaries is definitely a skill that can be learned. As with all skills, the more we practice, the better we get. Boundaries allow us to move through life on our own terms, which is why they are so empowering. It’s not always easy or comfortable to set a boundary, but what we experience on the other side of it is truly worth it. Happy Boundaries mama!