“The more severe the dysfunction you experienced growing up, the more difficult boundaries are for you”. ~ David Earle
Setting boundaries is not something I am good at. I was reminded earlier this week just how much I struggle to speak up for myself and draw lines to keep myself sane, safe, and healthy. If you didn’t grow up in a home where you were allowed to set and keep your own boundaries, if you instead learned that you have no right to express your wishes because other people are barely tolerating your existence so you shouldn’t push your luck, speaking up for yourself goes against everything you know. This makes boundary setting as an adult difficult. While I’ve made enough progress with my mental health to recognize I have a right to advocate for myself, I haven’t found the best way to do this. When I set a boundary, it either comes across mealy-mouthed, as if I am asking for permission to do it, or it comes across as an apology, as if I am asking the other person to forgive me for being such a bother. Neither of these approaches is working for me.
“Stop asking why they keep doing it and start asking why you keep allowing it.” ~Anonymous
There are multitudinous quotes out there about the need to set boundaries, but there are few that offer succinct advice about how to do it. It seems I have two modes around boundaries. The first is simply not to ask for any. This has been my lifelong modus operandi, and it is negatively impacting in my life. I can’t grow if I am not willing to make space for that to happen. Period. The second, not knowing the best way to talk about boundaries, is to go all in and sound defiant and belligerent about it. “I’m doing this and you can’t stop me and I don’t care what you think about it.” This method indeed sets a boundary, but it also alienates people. While sometimes alienating someone is precisely what you need to carve out your space, especially if the person in question has been tearing down your boundaries as you are building them, going through life burning all your bridges doesn’t allow for much connection with others. Even introverts need other people.
“The only people who get upset about you setting boundaries are the ones who were benefitting from you having none.”
I suspect my road into boundary setting must begin by choosing who I want in my inner circle and then building a safe place by surrounding myself with those people who love and respect me enough to accept my boundaries and take me where I am. That means I will have to put some people outside my circle of trust. Identifying who should be left out, if only temporarily, is easy. They are the people who push back against the boundaries I wish to set, who make me feel ashamed and unworthy of setting them. They ask me to be small, quiet, and compliant, accepting and living within their boundaries but not permitting me to set any of my own.
“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others.” ~Brene Brown
Once I have established my safe community of people who are aligned with my core values, then I can move on to setting other boundaries. Then I can work on standing up for myself when someone says something hurtful. Then I can learn to tell someone “no” without offering an apology or explanation where none is needed. Then I can practice getting bigger and taking up more space in my own life. First you plant your garden. Then you tend it.
“Staying silent is like a slow growing cancer to the soul. There is nothing intelligent about not standing up for yourself. You may not win every battle. However, everyone will at least know what you stood for: You.” ~Shannon L. Alder