For many people, particularly women who’ve been raised to be polite and amiable, boundaries are a huge issue!
I invite you to grab a cup of tea or coffee and sit down for ten minutes and get to know the most important person in your life: YOU.
For most people with boundary problems, the things that crop up are the inability to say “no” to other people, or feeling guilty if you do so; always trying to anticipate other people’s needs; a feeling of having to put your own plans and dreams on the back burner while Other People take priority; and an overriding tolerance when others are rude or mean to you because you have an inner conviction that you don’t have the right to speak up.
People with poor boundaries take things personally — their feelings get hurt all the time because every remark, every “look” or imagined intention goes right through their weak defenses or boundary and hits hard in the heart (and ego). Are you someone with a very weak “wall” around you? Do all the arrows in life, even the small ones other people shrug off, wound you deeply?
Now, let’s be really clear about something. You can have poor boundaries and still be successful at work, a dynamo on committees, a warm and wonderful person. But you are also like an amoeba of some kind, where your sense of self shifts and flows depending on who is making demands of you. You don’t have a firm idea of “you” as a separate being from significant people in your life (and many times, even from strangers such as ones who cut you off in a line or in traffic, etc. and you feel outraged but guilty about the feeling).
We can’t instantly change a lifelong habit of poor or nonexistent boundaries, but here are 3 steps to get you started toward having a healthier identity:
- practice saying “no” — as I explain in my book “Forget Your Troubles” start with unimportant things and build up. Don’t expect that you’ll instantly be able to say “No” without learning what it feels like first in low-level situations. It can be really empowering to listen to what you want and then act on it by, for example, turning down an invitation to an event you really don’t want to attend! Go ahead and try it. Be polite, keep things nice, don’t apologize, simply say, “Oh I wish I could go to that with you, but I have to say no.” Smile. And don’t get into excusing yourself. If the person presses for a reason, say you have other plans that day, or “Frankly, I’m so crushed for time and I have to choose carefully how I spend it, and that event sounds like it’s not for me, so let’s plan something else for another time.” Yes, it’s brave! But you are worth it — so learn to be true to yourself.
- Pick a new hobby or interest that you’ve always had a wistful dream of pursuing — and DO IT. Too many times, people with soft boundaries simply embrace the interests of the people around them because it seems like the “nice” thing to do. It’s scary to risk being laughed at if no one understands or “approves” the hobby you like — but so what? If you want to collect stamps, go to the post office and get a kit and get started! It’s your life. No do-overs.
- Begin stating your opinion. Instead of simply agreeing with the choice of movie or restaurant or TV show the other person suggests, in order to avoid a disagreement or any kind of confrontation, learn to speak up and say, “Actually, I’d rather watch this other show…” or “We went to that place last time, I’d love to go to this new cafe if you’re up for an adventure.” Again, keep it light and polite.
You’re not drawing battle lines. What you’re doing is drawing a line around YOU and embracing the things and ideas and dreams and goals that are all wrapped up in the being that comprises you and makes you a wonderful and unique individual.
Try it, and let me know how it goes!
your happiness guru,