Relationship Boundaries: What I Learned the Hard Way
I’ve had a not-so great week. A week where I’ve been pushed and pulled in every direction but the one in which I should have been heading. A week where I’m certain I’ve had ‘SUCKER’ planted firmly and boldly across my forehead. A week that’s been so busy I’ve been forgetting to eat, sleep and breathe.
And it hasn’t been ‘good’ busy – the kind of busy where I’m being great and productive and getting lots of awesome stuff done. No. It’s been ‘bad’ busy - the busy where I feel I’m completely at the mercy of everything and everyone around me, and I start to get pains in the chest from forgetting to pause and breathe.
Relationship Boundaries: What I Learned the Hard Way
Sitting alone in my bedroom with my laptop I’m now taking the time to reflect on what’s gone wrong these past few days – why I feel so tired, drained, used up and (dare I say) resentful. The answer? I’ve let my boundaries slip. I’ve been letting just about every Tom, Jane and Harry take a piece of me, resulting in me laying in the fetal position at the end of each day silently pleading for it all to go away.
I never used to have boundaries. I don’t think I knew they existed. I thought that my main job was to make sure everybody else was doing OK. If that meant that my needs were pushed aside a little (or a LOT) or that I collapsed in an exhausted heap at the end of every.single.day, then so be it. That was life.
Then that life was swiftly and suddenly upended with an unexpected divorce and I was forced - literally for the sake of my sanity – to reassess what was going on. After a lot of soul-searching I decided that certain habits and certain people were just not healthy for me.
So I slowly yet surely learned how to say no. I learned how to give myself some of the love I was so freely doling out to everybody else. And I learned how to live a life that was authentic to me.
I sometimes stuff up, as I did this week. At these times of stuff ups, I eventually remind myself of what I need to do to get back on track. I remind myself of the importance of being true to my boundaries.
Here’s what I’ve learned the hard way, and what YOU can do if you feel that your personal boundaries are lacking (or non-existent):
How to Create and Maintain Relationship Boundaries:
1. Know your limits
We all have limits. My limits may not be the same as yours, and your limits are probably not the same as your next-door neighbours. This is OK – what is important is that we each know OUR OWN limits, especially when it comes to how much we can give of ourselves to others. This applies both physically and emotionally.
I have limits to how much time I spend with certain family members. I know that for the sake of my wellbeing it is important to:
Not answer every single call/text/email
Pause before agreeing to things that I know will stretch and exhaust me physically, emotionally or both
Think twice before automatically responding to cries for help, particularly when I know that the one calling is capable of providing that help for themselves
I love helping people, but I don't love being taken advantage of. I have come to realise that my boundaries are my friends. I don't need to fear them, hide them or be ashamed of them. They help me to stay healthy - physically AND emotionally.
2. Communicate your needs
This is something that you may have to do over and over and over. And over. AND learn not to feel bad for doing so.
If we remember that our boundaries form a (very important) part of our core values, we begin to realise just how important it is to not only communicate what we can and can’t do, but to demonstrate it by following through on our words.
I may say that I don’t want to go to a certain event which I have zero interest in and which will put me substantially out of pocket, but if I ‘give in’ at the last moment and agree to go (purely to please the other person), I have very swiftly and very effectively lost some massive ground.
It is easy to feel that it is noble, and somehow more important to please others at the sake of our own needs, because it is true that giving can be more rewarding than receiving. But think of it this way:
If the other person willingly and very deliberately tries to coerce you into something that quite clearly makes you uncomfortable, do they truly have your best interests and wellbeing at heart? I somehow doubt it.
3. Check in with yourself. Identify how you're feeling
When I’m not in tune with myself, I’m at the complete mercy of everything and everyone around me. I’m more or less in a constant state of fight-or-flight, just waiting for the next drama to unfold. In a nutshell, I am completely out of balance.
It is in THIS state that we are most at risk of letting our boundaries slip. We may have them, but we’re not in a fit enough state to enforce them. We are just doing all that we can to get through each day, not even realising the irony: that if we stuck to our boundaries we would likely not be in this sorry state in the first place.
So, what to do? Stop, pause, breathe. Ask yourself how you’re feeling. What it is that you need to get back on track. Maybe you need to turn your phone off for a day. Or a day AND a night. Maybe you need a mental health day. Maybe you need a good uninterrupted sleep.
Our emotions never lie to us. They are the gateway, the portal, to ourselves. Our REAL selves – not the selves that we project to the world each day. So, listen to them. And respect them. Do what you need to do to get back to YOU. The YOU that has a healthy set of values and boundaries.
You deserve nothing less.
How are you with relationship boundaries? Are they on track, or could they use some work? Please, let me know in the comments!
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