Boundaries – find your line and hold it

You teach people 
how to treat you. Maya Angelou
| 4 Minute Read |

Many people believe creating boundaries in life is about saying NO. For the average “people pleaser” like me, that can make my hair stand on end.

Can you set boundaries without feeling like a bitch?So, can you really set boundaries without feeling like a bitch?

When I learned to reframe the idea of boundaries to focus on what I wanted to say YES to, it opened up an entirely new perspective for me. Also, taking a more positive approach to asking for the behaviours I wanted, versus asking for something to stop, makes for more precise and more comfortable conversations. This didn’t happen overnight though, far from it, and it does take some deliberate focus, but the benefits are so worth it.

Let’s start with what you want to say YES to. This takes a bit of thought, especially if you’ve been in the habit of taking care of everyone else’s needs first. When I was in training several years ago for the significant physical challenge of climbing a mountain, it was the first time in years I’d put myself first. I’m not saying there wasn’t some guilt associated with it, but there were also incredible health benefits.

After the mountain climb was complete, I could sense my family hoped that “normal service” would then be resumed, but I now had a taste for focusing on myself, and so I continued carving out things I wanted to say YES to. I began small – going out for a coffee, time alone to read a magazine, getting the house (or even just the bathroom) to myself for a few hours. Over time I built towards a weekend away and eventually a week in the sun with my girlfriends. The overall health benefits were beyond what I could have imagined!

The other aspect of boundaries in relationships is stating them clearly. I found defining my YES a piece of cake compared to having to set boundaries and expectations. Over the years, I had made several “attempts” to express what I needed, and I deliberately use the word “attempt” because, in hindsight, I was very vague. There were also no consequences when my request wasn’t met – I don’t think my silent inner rage is any kind of consequence (unless we count the impact on my own health!).

Creating boundaries in a relationship

The key to creating boundaries in a relationship is the need for minimal explaining or justifying. If what you’re asking for is not clear, reasonable and straightforward – you need to rethink it. If you have to go into a big WHY story, your message will be lost.

I love that our dear Queen Elizabeth II is alleged to live by the ethos “don’t complain, don’t explain”. If it’s good enough for the Queen, it’s good enough for me.

What I have found interesting to reflect on is “Why were my own attempts at this so weak?”, given that anyone who knows me wouldn’t describe me as a shrinking violet. As I was preparing to write this article, I realised that at the heart of asking for what you need is the core belief “you deserve it”. For me it was the inverse “you don’t deserve it”, and that hesitation leaves you wide open to have your boundaries stomped all over.

I wish I could, but I don't want to - Pheobe from Friends

“Boundary breaches”, as I like to think of them, tend to come when the status quo is working well for others, and they don’t want things to change. You have to be prepared to unnervingly hold your ground – every YES you are forced into accepting, means saying NO to something you actually want to do. Believing you deserve what you’re asking for will make you far more convincing! Some inner work might be needed for this to come naturally.

Getting clear on boundaries. Finding your line and holding it. This could be a critical step in prioritising your self-care.

What’s the line you need to hold? What would you like to say YES to more often?  Let me know in the comments below.

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