I was reading through The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown today when I came upon this:
“The heart of compassion is really acceptance. The better we are at accepting ourselves and others, the more compassionate we become. Well, it’s difficult to accept people when they are hurting or taking advantage of us or walking all over us. This research has taught me that if we really want to practice compassion, we have to start by setting boundaries and holding people accountable for their behavior.”
This hit me hard because I have had a long-term struggle with boundaries. As a child, I learned that it was not okay for me to set them. So as an adult, to avoid conflict, I have continued to shift my boundaries to accommodate what someone else wanted or expected of me. Doing so made me bitter without any understanding that the bitterness was coming from my giving what I wanted and needed away to keep someone else comfortable. Giving others their peace took away my own. Not setting boundaries kept me stuck. Understanding that keeping boundaries is essential to being compassionate to myself and others empowers me to stand my ground, to make room for myself, and to find that peace I have been lacking.
Over the past year, I have been working a great deal on boundaries. I didn’t come at this through the knowledge that it would allow me to better practice compassion. I came at this because I finally got to a point in my life where I realized that not having any boundaries in place for myself was no longer a tenable situation. The pandemic, and lockdown particularly, taught me I need boundaries to stay sane and to be pleasant towards others. I learned that I need space. I need silence. I need peace. And I need to stand up for myself to have these things in my life. If I don’t set boundaries, if I am not willing to ask for (and demand, if necessary) what I need from others, then I will forever be a grumpy, negative person who feels powerless. I don’t like that. I don’t want that, and I don’t want to be that person. So, I am learning to set boundaries and to accept that those boundaries will piss some people off and completely alienate others and that is not my concern. My concern is keeping myself and my sense of self safe from those who would use my difficulty in advocating for myself against me.
“The only people who get upset about you setting boundaries are the ones who benefitted from you having none.” ~Unknown
“You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep others warm.” ~ Unknown
I might start saying no more firmly this year. You might hear me saying things like, “I understand that is what you want, but that doesn’t work for me.” I may full well make some people uncomfortable by refusing to do what they think is fair and right because I believe it doesn’t align with my core values and what I need. This will be hard for me because I was raised to believe people would only like me if I made myself likable by acquiescing to their whims. But I’m old enough now to understand that it’s not only acceptable but imperative that I set boundaries where I need them and tend to them to keep them secure and impenetrable. I will ruffle feathers and others may use my boundaries as talking points to turn others against me, but I no longer care about that. I’m exhausted from being the willow tree that bends. I’m ready to be the rock that the tree learns to grow around.