There was a time when I didn't know what "having healthy boundaries" meant, nor did I know that I didn't have any.
When a therapist pointed this out several years ago, I wondered how it was possible that a person could be more than four decades into life and not have learned this skill that sounded essential.
I began to realize that this actually explained a lot. Like why I frequently let myself be talked into going to things that weren’t my idea of fun.
Or why I wasn't really aligned with some of my friends but didn't know how to extricate myself from the relationship.
Or why I’d let my kids do something that really annoyed me, quietly seething to myself, until I couldn’t take it anymore and lashed out. (Setting a boundary, to be sure, but not in a healthy way.)
When I saw that this was really true, I was totally overwhelmed. I panicked and my stomach lurched wondering how I would ever catch up.
It seemed there were situations and people all around me that needed boundaries now that I was aware. It was like the floor of my emotional house had just dropped out.
In order to set boundaries I had to know what I wanted, so I found I had to pay attention to my needs and wants much more closely.
Really, in a nutshell, that’s all boundaries are: defining what you’re willing to do and what you’re not willing to do.
I also had to work on actually saying what I wanted instead of hoping others would read my mind.
I remember the first times I went against the proposed plan. I said, I'd rather not to go to a movie tonight. I just want to stay home and read. (Classic introvert move, right?)
I held my breath and waited. They said, "Sure, let's make a fire and and read. Sounds good."
The sky didn’t fall. Lightning did not strike me. The other person didn’t get angry. I did not die.
I let my breath out slowly. So this is what it’s like to set a boundary? I might be able to get the hang of this.
It’s gotten so much easier to know what I want and express it that most of the time I don’t even think about it anymore. There’s no, OMG I have to set a boundary! It’s just stating what works for me or doesn’t and figuring out an agreement with the other person.
Knowing I can handle whatever comes up and comfortably say what I'm willing to do has been incredibly freeing. I even forget that it was once so foreign and hard.
But every once in a while I see it so clearly and I’m reminded of how important this skill is and how I used to be clueless. I had one of these reminders this week.
I was talking to a friend on the phone and three times in our 20 minute conversation she stopped talking and moaned with discomfort as her not-at-all-small dog jumped on or off her lap.
The third time it happened I said, You know, you don't have to endure this, there is a solution. You say, No, Fido! Down. And then don't let him jump up again.
“I knowwwww,” she said. “But he likes to sit on my lap.”
Suddenly I had a flash of understanding. This person complains about how work takes over her life, how her kids never clean up after themselves, and how she never has enough time to get things done, meanwhile she’s devoted to being all over social media.
I understood then that the untrained dog is just one of a host of places where my friend has not set boundaries.
I love to help my clients master this one. It’s like a muscle that starts out pretty weak, but gets stronger with continued use, until you don’t even think about the work it’s doing.
What would your life be like if you could set effortless boundaries around what you’re good with and what you’re not? Most of us highly sensitive introverts really struggle with that for a bunch of reasons.
We don’t want to seem selfish. We don’t want to inconvenience anyone. We don’t want people to think critically of us. We don’t feel we are worthy. We never learned how. We don’t want to feel any more awkward than we already do.
So we stay quiet and we suck it up, give away our energy, and end up exhausted and not very content. Then we tell ourselves, well, this is just what life is like.
Uh, no. No it’s not. Life can be really magnificent and we all deserve to experience that.
If you're ready to learn how give me a shout on the contact page.
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