Remember those growing pains that we used to get - somewhere between the ages of 8 - 12, those times when our muscles and ligaments really stretched and expanded and started to transform into the bodies we now have? Well, growth hurts. It aches to outgrow what we once knew - but imagine trying to continue to wear the clothes and shoes that fit us before that growth spurt? It would continue to be painful - it would restrict our movement - it would be nonsensical - exactly like putting the work into ourselves as individuals and refusing to unapologetically set and maintain boundaries to defend what we have discovered about ourselves. I personally have done this - and I wouldn't recommend it!
Boundaries are critical.
I'll say it again. Boundaries are critical. Boundaries are also hard...hard to develop, to write, to accept, to establish to maintain and to alter when needed. After giving this a lot of thought - I have broken this constant practice into 5 steps. I hope you can use these as a guide when you feel like you are unsure of where to begin and a reminder of your worth and why it's essential that you see it and claim it.
Step 1: Work the Mindset
Okay - raise your hand if, when you were younger, you were given the subliminal or very literal message that we should smile and be accommodating, helpful and kind individuals.
Keep your hand up if you allowed this message to infiltrate every area of your life and it has caused you to be smiley, accommodating, helpful and kind to a fault - to your own detriment.
If your hand is still up - lower it, and use both arms to hug yourself.
This is not your fault - it is a result of our conditioning and we can retrain ourselves!
Being a good person doesn't require everyone to like everything we say or do. Being a good person merely requires you to live with intentional respect for yourself and others. That's the part of the lesson "they" (society!) left out over all of these years.
We also need to work to understand why boundaries are important, what they mean and why it affects our self-worth to refuse to set them.
Here is an example:
A toddler asks for a cookie. The adult says no. The toddler screams and cries and rolls on the floor. The adult is tired. The adult gives the child a cookie.
Listen - I'm not accusing the adult of anything - someone should give that adult a hug, a glass of wine or a cup of tea and the opportunity for a nap - but the lesson the child learned is cause and effect. I guarantee they will try it again, and again, and again...because it worked that one time.
Cause and effect is real: What we accept from others, sends them the message that it is acceptable and effective.
It's like we are saying, not only is this okay - you now get whatever it was that you were seeking - so go ahead - keep using this method.
The message we then receive on a regular basis could be something like, this is what I am deserving of, this is normal or this is because I am not (good, strong, pretty, smart or capable) enough.
Here is the mindset to work on.
You are so worthy of defending exactly as you are right this second.
What is on your heart, your mind and the needs of your physical body and space are real and true and important.
It is not selfish to assert your needs. It is not selfless to put others needs above your own.
Your feelings and goals are not wrong because they do not align with what someone else wants of you.
Step 2: Decipher Your Needs
I have found that one of the best ways to do this is to check in with yourself to see what throughout your day feels uncomfortable and unnatural vs. what you decide would alternately feel real and true and beautiful. Taking the time to know yourself is not a quick journey - and there is no final destination because you are constantly evolving and changing. You can begin this work, only when you accept that.
Needs can be tricky because it is so easy to confuse them with wants, but by needs we mean what we consider to be basic humanity like respect, intimacy, space, interaction, solitude, healthy communication and to be valued. If we focus on these core themes, and are presented with an inquiry - we can better decide if we should say yes because we want to be involved, or no because maybe we are already over-committed or are disinterested. Our reaction to the needs of another should not be confused with the existence or absence of love and kindness. It's not that we won't say yes ever again, to something that we don't want to do, but it's learning to look inside, find what need you are experiencing and deciding what to do with it.
If you decide to temporarily ignore your need for the sake of another, you have some questions to ask yourself....1. How will I fill this need I have in another way? 2. Am I getting out (of this relationship) what I am putting in? 3. Why am I choosing to forego my needs and can I proceed without regret and bitterness?
Learn about yourself - honor yourself.
Step 3: Communicate Clearly
My training as a student of English has allowed me to believe that I am quite capable of intelligently communicating feelings, ideas and concepts with others. This is a fact. What is also a fact is that this was one of my weakest areas in some of my relationships over the years.
I was too scared to speak my mind and viewed it as selfish to put my needs before another's needs, so I very often waved the surrender flag and accommodated everyone else. In addition, I wanted to be perceived as helpful and capable and strong, I assumed I would ruin others impression of me if I wasn't able to do it all.
This led me to feel unseen, unheard, disrespected and bitter - but I have to take ownership of the fact that things may have been different if I had spoken up about what was and was not acceptable (like the toddler). This has been my cause and effect.
I have gotten much better with this.
I have seen what communicating clearly is not...it is not over-explaining, justifying or seeking approval for what we need.
Clear, concise and confident statements can still be kind - but are unmoving when faced with backlash and is as much in what is not said, as in what is said.
Step 4: Acclimate to Discomfort
The feelings I had trouble moving past, became easier over time because I had caused myself to become bitter, exhausted and desperate for the fulfillment of needs I had long ignored. If you can avoid getting to this point...avoid it! The discomfort comes in the same form as growing pains. You may find that some people are unable or unwilling to adjust to the boundaries you have set, and it may alter your relationship forever. That is okay. If someone in your life is unwilling to hear you or see you as you really are, that is exactly the reason for the boundaries to exist in the first place - to protect yourself. You should not be putting more energy into fiercely protecting a fraudulent relationship with someone who is unable to accept you and what you need.
This is not to say that you won't gain more respect and love from those around you, and some surprise others over time, because they have watched you honor yourself.
Here is the takeaway - if you had to choose temporary discomfort in the shifting of your relationship with someone else, or lifelong discomfort in your relationship with yourself as you deny your needs forever, which would you choose?
Step 5: Release Guilt and Embrace Peace
Ahhh....the guilt that lingers from speaking up, out or against the whims of another...let that go. I know it's easier said than done, but choosing to hold on to it is just as toxic as accepting the behavior that required the boundary.
You are not wrong for taking a stand. You are not wrong for saying no.
Speaking your mind and heart is essential. Silently acting in accordance with your heart and mind is essential.
I grew up in a home, as do many children, where "talking back" was punished, corrected and frowned upon. This meant if I disagreed, the respectful thing was to keep it to myself. A different opinion was unwelcome.
I carried this into adulthood in a major way. This is a regret I carry - that needs to be released.
What I am seeking, is peace; Not the peace that comes from keeping peace with others, but the peace that comes from within when I know I acted in alignment with my soul.
Food for Thought:
1. Which of the 5 steps proves most challenging for you?
2. What is your experience in boundary setting over the years?