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Don't confuse your Boundaries with Barriers


Boundaries and Barriers may sound like the same thing, as both are for your protection, but there is one key difference - Boundaries are how you choose to allow other people to interact with you, whereas Barriers are a simple blocking device.


When you've been hurt, it's common for the barriers to go up, preventing people from reaching you - even when you believe you want them to be able to. Often a reflex action, a way for your unconscious self to protect you from taking risks before your hurt has healed. As an emergency resource - it can be useful, but only in the short-term. In the long-term - Boundaries are better.


The problem with a Barrier is it will keep everyone out - up to and including people you'd like to let in, even those who would make a positive contribution to your life, whereas having Boundaries allows you to be selective.


I grew up without much in the way of Boundaries. I thought Boundaries were for people who were uptight, repressed and lacking in spontaneity, who were hidebound by rules, regulations, and societal mores. Whereas Boundaries are limits we put in place around our physical, emotional and mental wellbeing in our dealings with others. When someone crosses those limits, it is up to us to act - whether that is by withdrawing from the encounter, or by drawing a line in the sand. For when we allow someone to trample over our boundaries, to choose how they treat us - we're saying we don't matter as much as they do.


Some signs of having poor Boundaries are - when you tolerate unwelcome behaviour, notice you're avoiding conflict, when you find it hard to stand up for yourself, feel hard done by, overlooked, resentful, when you have low self-esteem, are a people pleaser - saying yes for fear of disappointing or letting others down, when you suffer with guilt and anxiety.


And the problem is, there will always be individuals who will take advantage. There will always be one-way streeters ready to take from you but giving nothing in return. There will always be those who expect full access to you, but have no problem in withholding their own time and attention. In order to get their own way, they may even identify your traits and use them against you. That may be by attempting to tease you into easing those boundaries, or by tapping into those feelings of guilt, or anxiety, or low self-esteem. It's easy to say "don't let them", but harder to do so - without doing the work ahead of time.


The marvellous people at Blurt suggest the following steps (which I've edited slightly for brevity):


STEP 1: BE AWARE OF YOUR BOUNDARIES

Just being aware of our boundaries (or lack thereof) and the need to tweak them can be helpful in itself. When we’re tuned into how our behaviour affects us, we often course-correct automatically. Notice how you relate with other people, and how people’s comments or actions make you feel. If you have a negative physiological or emotional response (like feeling icky, or uncomfortable, or panicked) it is likely your boundaries need bolstering.


STEP 2: DEFINE YOUR BOUNDARIES

The next step to building boundaries is to define what we want them to be. Getting reacquainted with ourselves – our true selves, rather than the adapted self we present to the world – can help us work out what we need. Although our brains might tell us we’re being self-obsessed or self-indulgent, allowing ourselves the time, space and tools we need to learn more about ourselves can help us define our boundaries. If you have access to them, talking therapies can be incredibly useful. Journalling, mindfulness and self-help books (like this one) can also really help.


STEP 3: ASSERT YOUR BOUNDARIES

Once we know what we want our boundaries to look like, we can begin to assert them. Again, there is no need to go all-in, you can work on one issue at a time. Here are some suggestions to get you started:

Refrain from the drains: notice the people and places and activities that drain you, or make you feel icky. Work out ways you can minimise your exposure to them (your mood will thank you for it).

Defer decision making: if you struggle to say ‘no’ to others, change your default response from ‘yes’ to ‘maybe’. Not committing to a request straight away allows you time to consider whether this is something you really want to help with.

Speak up: to protect our boundaries we need to challenge unacceptable behaviour. It’s scary and uncomfortable, yes – but if we never tell anyone how to treat us, they will treat us in whatever way they choose.

Challenge yourself: if you have thoughts or beliefs that compromise your boundaries, challenge them. If you are causing yourself unnecessary anxiety or guilt, kindly but firmly call yourself out .

Say yes to you: it’s so hard to put ourselves first, but when we give too much we get depleted, cranky and unhappy. Instead, try saying yes to you. Learn the difference between feelings of obligation and genuine enthusiasm and only say yes to the latter. Prioritise self-care and practise self-compassion. You really do deserve it.


Lastly, I recommend that you take the time out to listen to the following Podcasts from Christine Kane on this important subject:

When Boundaries Get Broken (Part 1)

When Boundaries Get Broken (Part 2)

Boundaries play such an important part in #SelfCare, and the benefits - especially for the people pleasers and nice people of the world - are simply immeasurable. I'm reminded of a wonderful from Blurt's Believe in Yourself pack - you are not required to set yourself on fire to keep others warm.

© 2021 Caring Coaching (for the image and the essay) © 2021 Blurt (for the steps)

© 2021 Christine Kane (for the podcasts)