Boundaries are essential but generate a variety of different emotions.
Boundaries are something we all need, whether we’re planning for retirement, rebuilding an empty nest, or starting a new chapter. “I need to be clear about what I’m willing to do and not do,” we huff. Then later, we end up saying yes to something we don’t want to do, much less have the time. Why do we do it?!? Chances are good…
We have failed to determine ahead of time our priorities, time limitations, passions, or goals.
If we’re remiss in deciding ahead of time what we want to do with our time, we’ll get roped into doing many things that aren’t remotely appealing. And when that happens, resentment surely will creep in–eventually, if not sooner.
Boundaries are typically defined as “what’s OK and not OK,” according to Brené Brown, best-selling author and research professor at The University of Houston.* These unique, internal rules are defined by each of us and relate to how and when we spend our time, and how we talk with (and are talked to) by other people. And when these rules aren’t being honored by other people–whether the latter know it or not, a disconnect and mismatched expectations will emerge.
So, what do you do?
Ideally, you acknowledge that you have clear boundaries, you share those boundaries with others, and then (here comes the tough part!), YOU FOLLOW YOUR OWN RULES! Establishing boundaries will give you so much clarity. Just remember that they’ll be tested time and time again in your own mind, and most certainly by others who want something from you.
You’ll get an unexpected call from your boss who wants you to finish a project on the night of a family event. Your son or daughter will call and beg you to volunteer for your grandchild’s school bake sale when someone else has backed out. Or your mom will need “just a few minutes of your time” when you’ve set aside that time to take a leisurely walk, enjoy a good book, or simply unplug. Can you say no when someone else needs you? More importantly, should you say no to yourself and ignore your own boundaries? At the end of the day, the question remains: who and what will you be honoring by your decision?
WOW, this is hard! How can I stand up for my boundaries? And why do I have to?!?
Well, friends, if you fail to stand up for your own boundaries, who else will do so for you? The friend who needs “just one more favor”? The relative who urges you to organize an anniversary party? The acquaintance who pleads for your help moving to a new house yet again? That’s right – these folks aren’t going to enforce your boundaries. First, they probably don’t know your boundaries. Second, your boundaries don’t serve them at all. That’s why boundaries are such fun to create – you feel so empowered, so strong, so tough. However, your family, friends, and acquaintances aren’t used to seeing a YOU who says no. They like knowing that they can have last-minute emergencies or no cash on hand, and that you’re always there for them. Little Ms. Predictable, Mr. Perfectionist, the Team Player, the ‘Responsible’ Sibling will come to the rescue again.
So I said no, what’s next?
Saddle up, sister or brother, because this is when it gets real! As I shared with you earlier, this new you with a backbone is NO FUN for others. You’ll receive backlash and get it with both barrels. Maybe it will come in the form of statements like “You must not love me,” “A ‘good’ friend would do this for me,” or “How you could leave me alone like that?” And the backlash will be shame storming of epic proportions. For some of you, dear readers, you already see storm clouds on the horizon. Picture them now because preparing for a storm is half the battle.
Weather forecast – storms with a chance of hail and severe damage
As the inimitable Brené Brown also has noted, to weather shame storms, we must become shame resilient. We can put up our dukes and fight (move against), we can shrink (move away), or we can become a pleaser (move towards).*
Another option is to stand your ground. Doing so can be as simple as stating, ‘Yes, it makes sense, pseudo friend, that you want me to come to your dinner party tonight, help you host, bring a dessert, and make pleasant banter with your husband’s work colleagues, but I can’t do it. Yes, I understand I’ve done this before, but I’m unable to do so again. I hope you understand, but if you don’t, that’s OK. I can’t wait to hear how the party goes.” And that’s IT. Will you make scores of new friends with this approach? Maybe not. Will you win your own approval? Most certainly. Will you gain (and keep) true friends, family, and self-respect by standing your ground? Absolutely.
You’ve got this!!
This whole business of creating boundaries won’t be popular. However, what you’ll gain in time, honor, and self-esteem will be immeasurable. You’ll see yourself in a whole new way, and you’ll get to spend time doing things that fuel you rather than drain you. And you’ll cultivate new relationships with people with whom you have (or can have) mutual respect. It’s a bumpy road, but one well-worth taking.
*You can read more about Brené Brown’s background, research, books, and speaking gigs at https://brenebrown.com/.