Perspectives: Boundaries
Line(s) in the Sand

May 8, 2013 Print version       Other articles by this author

What do you want?
What are your limitations are in any given situation?
What's your "end game"?

Those are a few questions I've had to ask myself a lot lately...Writing about this topic has been of of the most difficult tasks I've ever attempted to complete and I haven't been able to put my finger on why that is..until recently.. I'm a recovering people pleaser. I don't want people to be angry with, or disappointed in me and as a result I've found myself in some pretty uncomfortable situations. Evidently, the reason why the notion of writing about boundaries came up for me is because it's an area where I still have a lot of work to do. I'm always amazed at how these topics end up circling right back around to me and something that I need to deal with in my life (whether personally or professionally).

Very rarely does anyone teach us about the importance of establishing healthy boundaries. This is one of those "trial by fire" life lessons that I've had to learn the hard way. It's taken me until age 38 to grasp that it's OK to say "NO". It's one simple word, with one syllable. As children, this is one of the first words we learn how to say, yet as adults some of us (such as myself) have a hard time saying it without feeling guilty. It's one of those words, which on its own, can sometimes cause a great deal of confusion, misunderstanding, and upset but is still necessary.

As of late, I've had to deal with the difficult task of establishing boundaries in various aspects of my life. There have been plenty of times I've attempted to avoid having uncomfortable conversations about how I want to be treated - It's shown up in the workplace, in situations with my family, friends, most importantly in my personal/romantic relationships. Sometimes it's easier than others to speak my piece and just be done with it. Whatever the case, I know now that it has to be done because whenever I don't "get in front of what's happening" and handle it, the fallout is usually worse in the long run. What I've come to realize is that I'm a LOT happier when I speak my mind and "lay down the law" without concern for how it will be received. Of course this isn't to say I'm mean, rude, or cold to others when set out to establish some "ground rules", but such an outcome is sometimes unavoidable. The main thing I have to focus on is my intent.

One thing I'm very clear about is that establishing boundaries has EVERYTHING to do with how well (& how often) I take care of myself - which as an ever evolving "work in progress" I'm still learning how to do on more consistent basis. I'm a nurturer. I'm known to be an excellent caregiver, supporter, friend to practically everyone in my life...but many times I neglect my own needs and then when they aren't met, I end up feeling hurt, angry, and confused (among other things). Looking at all of this openly and honestly has enabled me to see how often and how freely I give my love, my time, and my energy away without placing just as much attention on nurturing and taking care of my needs. When I fail to take care of my mental/emotional needs...any and everyone I come in contact with usually follows suit. And so it goes - we teach people how to treat us.

Establishing boundaries isn't something that most of us are taught or encouraged to do. Even still, the fact remains that each of us are responsible for our own lives and ultimately for our own happiness. As easy as it is to point the finger at someone else and say that "they did this to me", "they made me feel this way or that way", it's a lot more challenging to assume responsibility, to look at what part we play(ed) in any given situation and then to make another choice. When we don't have clear, concise boundaries in life, things tend to become very murky and result in chaos.

There isn't much more I can say about this right now because as I mentioned earlier, I'm currently knee deep in the middle of several situations that require my care and attention. What I can do however, is sum up what I've gathered thus far based on where I've been & where I am.

Sometimes, establishing healthy boundaries is a gamble. I have to be mindful of all of the things that are at stake. It can be downright uncomfortable because it's unfamiliar, which means change, which might just mean letting some people and some things go. Some may be unhappy with me, my decisions & my choices. I have to remind myself that taking care of ME and my needs has to come first. I used to view that as an act of selfishness but what life has shown me time and time again is that it's just the opposite. It's more about self preservation and ensuring that I'm in the driver's seat of my life - ALWAYS, and IN ALL WAYS. The more I keep trying, the better and more skilled I become at it. Now that "letting go" thing is something else altogether, but I'm constantly being reminded that I must tackle one thing at a time. Trying to do more than that is an exercise in futility.

In closing, I also realize that the act of nurturing and taking care of myself also means that I have to set some healthy boundaries for myself as well. The whole "people pleaser" thing has infected more areas of my life than I care to admit but with each day, each experience I'm learning that regardless of whether I'm dealing with others or my SELF, all of this is only as complicated as I make it.