How do we build healthy and sustainable boundaries?
In a double-edged society, how do we build healthy and sustainable boundaries in our lives?
For the last few weeks, I have been reflecting on this topic because of how many times it has shown up in my work with clients, in my conversations with friends, and with random people. The common denominator in each of these conversations was the struggle these people had
with creating boundaries in their lives. Although most of them knew how the lack of boundaries was affecting them, they all had a difficult time listening to their own needs.
Some lacked boundaries with their work, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic. The people who have worked from home found that they had a hard time drawing the line between work life and home life. While other people lacked boundaries with family and friends. They all expressed the same fear of being judged and disappointing others.
I felt that my blog was a great platform to discuss some of my thoughts and reflections on this topic. There are many reasons why it is so difficult to set boundaries. It can be connected to childhood trauma, behaviour that was taught at a young age, cultural conditioning, low self-esteem, perfectionism, a fear of rejection, and a fear of doing something different.
Now, when you say YES all the time to others, what are saying no to yourself? Boundaries are not connected to others, but they start with your inner connection—that is, what you value inside of you.
My personal example...
I suffer from a people-pleasing syndrome.
All my life, I worked so hard to fulfil the needs and wants of others in exchange for being loved, accepted, and seen. If children are not loved for who they are, then they will most likely grow up wanting to be accepted by others. They will make sure to say yes to the needs of others, they will avoid disappointing people, and they will take on the responsibility of other peoples’ emotions.
As a child, my father would repeatedly tell me that I had a “bad character,” and that no one would like me. Consequently, I learned to please people so I could be loved.
Being raised in a Portuguese household, I learned that the women in the family hierarchy fell in last place. For example, the mother and wife of a family would diligently take care of the house before even addressing their own needs. I was raised to believe that sacrificing myself and pleasing everyone else around me would make me a “good person.” Even though my gut feeling would tell me that at times, it was wrong to say yes when I meant no, I would have rather failed myself than fail others. This bleeding need for external recognition kept me in this dark spiral, even though feelings of bitterness would rise when I denied my own needs.
How do we start creating boundaries?
I believe that the first key to creating boundaries is self-awareness. You can’t change what you are not aware of. Self-discovery is learning to cultivate awareness and learning to connect with yourself. As we build a loving and caring relationship with ourselves, we start unveiling why we have a challenging time to set boundaries.
As we gain an understanding of our conditioning, core beliefs, patterns, and actions, we are then faced with a choice to walk the healing path. The healing path is an ongoing journey that is an incredible adventure with many challenges along the way, but at the same time, it is the most rewarding one. When you take on this important choice, I believe two very important pieces are needed.
Authenticity and Vulnerability
I believe these two pieces are vital in our journeys. Why is that, you may ask? I had to become vulnerable because vulnerability is “an invitation to healing.” As Dr. Gabor Mate explains, “Vulnerability itself is essential for growth”. To reconnect with ourselves and our true essence, we have to strip ourselves of all the comfortable layers, of our egoistic side that tells us we are right, and of all the protective walls we have built. As we learn discomfort, we learn to see ourselves for who we indeed are and connect with ourselves authentically. Accepting ourselves for who we are connects us with our values and with what makes us unique. This is nurturing our inner wealth.
Authenticity is not an abstract force or is something given to some and not others. American author and researcher Brené Brown explains, “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”
We are wholeness. That is who we are. We are whole and resourceful. When we tap into our inner wisdom and accept ourselves and all our parts, including the ones we dislike, there is an incredible shift that occurs. When we truly accept ourselves for who we are, we build the muscle for inner strength. External recognition and acceptance are no longer the driving force.
Living our truth…
Seeking my truth has been an ongoing journey, and I believe it will continue until I take my last breath.
To fully express your truth and stand for it, you need to dive into this quest of self-discovery. Personally, this dive has been getting real with myself, witnessing my ego, acknowledging all the stories in my head, letting go of my judgemental mind, and accepting myself. I believe we can fully live our truth when we learn to love and accept ourselves fully. When we are crystal clear in who we are, we see and embrace our strengths and weaknesses. We accept that we are constantly growing, shifting, and releasing, and we are continuously learning not to achieve perfection, but progress. That is inner freedom.
One of our basic needs as human beings is the sense of belonging, whether it is in family, friends, co-workers, religious organizations, etc.
The most important key that we all miss at times is that belonging to ourselves is the special ingredient in our lives.
We can’t fully connect with others when we are disconnected from ourselves. We can’t fully accept others when we don’t accept ourselves. As Brené Brown explains, “True belonging doesn't require you to change who you are, it requires you to be who you are. Speaking your truth, telling your story, and never betray yourself.”
Believe it or not, there is an incredible gift when you look at yourself with acceptance and kindness, as this recognition will pour towards the world around you. There is a connectedness to humanity, and you will start looking at others with the same lens, the lens of compassion.
Boundaries and Communication
I feel that our inner connection is stronger when we have clarity in our values and what we are willing to tolerate. When we know our needs and listen to them, setting our boundaries organically comes in the process.
I am not saying it is an easy process, but there is an urgent call in our lives that we must attend to because we know it is important.
Creating boundaries is not unkind, on the contrary. We are honestly and authentically drawing lines and teaching others how we want to be treated. At times, we are frustrated with others because of their demands and expectations put on us. But the reality is, if we have never defined or communicated any boundaries clearly, then we can’t expect others to know what we want for ourselves if we don’t communicate them.
Healthy boundaries are great for interacting with others in our personal and professional lives. Setting healthy boundaries is a great way to communicate our thoughts, feelings, and needs to others.
When you start saying no to others, start acknowledging that are you saying yes to yourself. At first, it will feel uncomfortable, but embrace the uneasiness with no shame or guilt. Creating healthy boundaries around you is a self-love and self-care practice. Notice all the gems that will start showing up for you.
Remember, in the beginning, some people may react when you start drawing the line, but most of the time, the clear communication of your healthy boundaries will guide others in how they need to proceed.
The only people who would criticize you or guilt you for having created any boundaries are the ones who greatly benefited from you not having any. Your cheerleaders and your unconditional supporters will be supporting you, as always. These are the people you need to surround yourself with.
I will leave you with this amazing quote from Brené Brown:
“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even though we risk disappointing others.”
Are you ready to love yourself?
Love and Light,