If you are anything like me a few years back, I had no idea what a boundary was or why I’d need one.
What I did know was that I felt increasingly taken for granted, resentful, sad, angry, hurt and frustrated by the people around me.
Obviously I blamed them for those feelings, and felt pretty stuck and helpless too. I was exhausted, stressed and in the fast lane to burn out.
What I now know is that those feelings are your bodies alarm system warning you that something isn’t right, however back then I just stuffed them down and pushed on through.
I won’t go in to the details of how that ended but let’s just say that it wasn’t pretty!
So in this article I am going to cover some of the things I wish I knew back then in the hope I can prevent you from slipping down the self-sacrificing rabbit hole (or at least help you out of it) because I can assure you it’s not a fun place to be!
So let’s start with…
What is a boundary?
The Author Nancy Levin defines a boundary as:
“A limit that shows others what you will or won’t do or what you will or will not accept or tolerate from others. Boundaries are natural and automatic – when your heart or emotional system hits its limit, you feel emotions such as anger, sadness or hurt.”
So in essence, your emotions are your alarm system for when you have reached your limit, much like an alarm going off when an intruder breaks into your home.
The problem is that often we don’t pay attention to our emotions and the sensations in our body and end up going past our natural boundaries.
Boundaries are the invisible lines that depict where you end and another person begins. They are personal to you and communicate who you are and what you want and need.
Remember that scene in the iconic film Dirty Dancing where Johnny is teaching Baby how to dance?
He tells her to keep her head up and to lock her frame as she has ‘spaghetti arms’.
He tells her this is my dance space and this is your dance space. I don’t go in to yours, you don’t go in to mine. You’ve got to hold the frame.
This is a great analogy of a boundary. Her ‘spaghetti’ arms represent your weak or non-existent boundaries.
If you don’t hold your frame (set boundaries), other people are going to get too close, step on your toes and make the dance (your life) harder work than it needs to be!
Boundaries & Self Worth
Often your ability to know your boundaries comes from a healthy sense of self-worth, or valuing yourself in a way that is not reliant upon approval from others.
Self worth is an unshakeable belief that who you are (right now) is more than good enough and that you (and others) are entitled to –
- Your own thoughts and opinions
- Your own feelings and needs
- Your own space, time and privacy
- Your own friends and social activities
- Your own values and beliefs
- Your own money and property
However when you don’t value yourself and feel worthy, boundaries can create risk of losing what you have, no matter how awful it may be.
So even if you have an awareness that you may have reached a limit or boundary, you often won’t honour it.
When you have low self worth you don’t create boundaries because:
- You’re afraid you’re not worthy of what you want.
- You’re afraid of losing what you have (even if it’s terrible).
- You equate boundaries with selfishness.
Healthy boundaries are necessary, not selfish. They are the greatest form of self love and self care and they help you to feel and be your best.
If you think that self worth could be an issue for you check out my article ‘Self Worth – The Value Of You’.
Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.
The Consequences Of Not Setting Boundaries
Here are some signs that you may need to work on your self worth, get clearer about your boundaries or build the skills to start honouring them –
- You feel frustration and resentment towards a person or situation
- You feel exhausted by your challenges
- You feel like you have very little time and privacy in your life
- You often defer to others to make plans and decisions
- You don’t feel it’s safe to have a voice and say what you really think
- You feel virtuous when you put others needs above your own and mean, selfish and guilty when you try to assert your own desires
- You are overwhelmed with responsibility for others
- The people in your life regularly break their promises to you and take you for granted.
- You feel disrespected, criticised or unappreciated
- You feel let down or disappointed
- Your headspace is filled with replaying arguments and conversations and thinking about what you ‘should’ have said.
- You aren’t being honest about your thoughts and feelings because you’re afraid of the consequences
- You frequently say yes and then feel your heart sink
- Outwardly you pretend everything is ok but inside you feel miserable.
And let’s get real for a moment, you wouldn’t keep putting up with these feelings if you honestly thought you were completely worthy of rest, time to yourself, happiness, respect, healthy relationships, pleasure, fun and all the good things life has to offer.
In my experience people over-give and fail to set healthy boundaries because somewhere, deep inside, they believe that if they don’t sacrifice themselves to meet the needs and expectations of those around them, they will be shamed, blamed and alone.
So setting boundaries is as much about working on your beliefs, self worth and reconnecting with who you are, and what you want and need, as it is about the process of actually setting the boundaries.
Boundaries become the natural consequence of knowing who you are, knowing that who you are is more than enough and loving and accepting yourself.
But What Will Other People Think?
The hard truth is those people in your life that benefit from your lack of self worth and boundaries might not like it when you embark on this journey. It might be uncomfortable. You will find out who your people are. And that’s ok.
Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when you risk disappointing others
It is up to you to show others how to treat you, and setting and communicating your boundaries gives them a fighting chance of not encroaching on your dance space and stepping on your toes! And visa versa.
Boundaries help you to develop healthy, respectful relationships with others in both your personal and professional life so you don’t keep losing yourself in work and relationships.
And once you’ve communicated your boundaries, if they then disrespect or push you past your limits, it’s again down to you to uphold your boundaries to stop yourself spiralling down the self sacrificing rabbit hole I mentioned earlier.
If you don’t then it is you that is crossing your own boundaries and creating all those feelings we spoke about above…
Boundaries and self worth are the key to your freedom, happiness and the ease and peace you desire.
They are what creates real connection with others that is based on honesty and trust.
If you’d like to learn more about setting boundaries you can download my FREE guide, How To Say No & Be Ok With It
Or you can find out more about my 6 month coaching programme ‘Stop The World’.