Personal Boundaries

Inspired by this post on Writing the Fire, I began to think about my own boundaries, as well as my own experiences in allowing people to push past them. Much like the writer of that post, I didn’t really think about my own, personal boundaries when I was younger. I suppose I never felt that I had a right to say no. I always assumed I was in the wrong if it came to someone wanting me to do something and me not wanting to.

Perhaps that was due to the nature of my upbringing – I was an only child raised by a number of adults. What they said went and I never really had another child to push me so that I had to push back.

Then, I went to school and of course, the teachers set the boundaries, which I knew to follow or suffer the consequences.

At some point, I learned that establishing and protecting personal boundaries is perceived as being selfish and that it is, therefore, unacceptable and distasteful. People will not like, or love, you. Instead, to be a likeable, “good” person, one must be compliant and easy-going.

Now, saying that, it is important to point out that I have lived a very lucky life in which I have never been put in a position where I have felt I had to say yes to something truly egregious. Once, a friend of the family tried to push himself on me and I had no trouble saying no to him.

But there have been smaller, less serious examples of me allowing boundaries I should have held firm to crumble away.

In elementary school, for example, I had a friend who would make me run from her to the school wall and back again. She would time me. And if I didn’t do it in a specific amount of time, she would threaten not to be my friend. What kind of a person does that? What kind of a person lets them?

Right there, I should have known that that was crossing a boundary I should have protected.

Even recently, I allowed my neighbor to come to my door, pull me away from time with my family to get angry with something our landscapers had done, by law, on the path through his garden to ours. I spoke about that previously here.

Somewhere in there are boundaries – physical, emotional and social – that definitely should not have been crossed.

So, I felt it was very timely last night when I came across prompt relating to boundaries. And I began to think about my own, the ones that I have been living by without really thinking about them, and the ones that I need to consciously construct and hold firm.

I was looking online for some understanding about how I have interacted with my boundaries until now, and I came across this succinct explanation of the importance of personal boundaries and the reasons we sacrifice them:

Without healthy boundaries or with very weak boundaries, you simply cannot have healthy relationships. You give up a part of yourself to be available or accommodating. Or you become so entangled with another person and their needs (co-dependent behaviour) that you lose your own identity.

At the root of personal boundary issues is fear. (Isn’t that the root of most issues?) It’s the fear we won’t be loved, that we aren’t good enough or deserving enough just as we are.

People with weak personal boundaries tend to attract controlling, disrespectful, or needy people into their lives. Or they simply train others to take advantage of them because they so willingly allow themselves to be used.

This describes some of what I have been working through lately, so this exercise definitely came at the right time. This site also provides a list of weak personal boundaries which hit closer to home than I expected. Some of the boundaries in the list below have been inspired by them.

The following is my first run at setting my boundaries.

  1. I have a right to take as much me time as I need. I need time to myself daily to clear my mind and gather my strength. When I feel that I need that time, I will protect it and insist upon it. I will not feel guilty or intimidated about making this clear.
  2. Our house is our domain. No one comes into it or gets me out of it against our wishes. We make the rules in our house, not the neighbours.
  3. I am an adult, I am not a child and I will not let anyone treat me otherwise.
  4. I have a reverse gear as well as a forward gear and I can back away from someone who invades my personal (physical or emotional) space.
  5. I must live by my own expectations, not by the expectations of others, no matter how hard that might be.
  6. I will listen to that feeling in the pit of my stomach that tells me whatever I am being told by someone else is wrong, is against my morals and values, or is simply not what I am comfortable with.
  7. I will say no when I mean no, and yes when I mean yes. And I will not feel guilty or doubt my decision.
  8. I will no longer second guess my parenting.
  9. I will no longer give too much just to be perceived as useful.
  10. To protect my time and energy, it is ok to cancel or change plans.
  11. To protect my time and energy, it is ok to take time to do nothing.
  12. I will listen more closely to what my inner voice tells me I need.
  13. I will not let someone guilt me into doing something I don’t want to do.

That’s all for now but I’m sure this list will grow as I become more aware and practiced at setting boundaries.

What are some of the boundaries you have set? Have you held firm on them? Do you find it difficult to set boundaries?

Motivated and Inspired

Journaling today, I think…

A longtime friend sent me the following quotation yesterday and I have since read it several times, trying to apply it to myself, to put it into practice:

“The bigness of the world is redemption. Despair compresses you into a small space, and depression is literally a hollow in the ground.  To dig deeper into the self, to go underground, is sometimes necessary, but so is the other route of getting out of yourself, into the larger world, into the openness in which you need not clutch your story and your troubles so tightly to your chest.”

Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

Yes, I have been working through some difficult thought patterns, issues, internal struggles. But I am not defined by these and, moreover, the point of taking this time off work, this time to myself, is to move beyond them.

And so, last night my last thought as I went to sleep was that I will try to look at life a bit differently. I am tired right now of focusing on the negative, the darkness, the draping chains of iron binding me. I have been lucky to have been handed this opportunity to take time off, to write, to walk outside, to spend my time with relatively few external constraints. It only makes sense that rejoicing in this will bring me joy, will lift me up.

And this morning, I woke with this perspective: I will try to get out of myself, out of my head, to open up like a flower facing into the sun and, today, to clutch my story and my troubles a little less tightly to my chest.

Yes, there will be bad days, dark days, but I need to stop waking up each morning, bracing myself in case this is one of them. It sets me up for a difficult day. Perhaps it seems obvious to others, and some days it may seem impossible, but I can see right now that it would be more helpful to wake up and run through all the positive things in my life, all the good of a fresh day I have to look forward to, rather than to become immediately overwhelmed by worries that may never come true and tasks I can never hope to complete. To at least start out that way, and then take things, the good and the bad, as they come.

It does help my outlook that I have recently been assured by my doctor and my work that I will be supported to continue with my time off. This is a huge relief. How lucky am I that I can continue this journey of healing and growing!?

It also helps that, after 12 days away, my son returns from camp today. I am nervous and excited. The camp has assured me that he is happy, comfortable, has lots of friends, and that it seems as if he has been there for years. The next camp Director. But in the pictures posted online, he never actually looks happy. Nor does he look like he has slept…or washed for that matter, though I’m sure the latter doesn’t bother him in the least!

I have spent these 12 days getting on with my own stuff, aware of his absence but making the most of having time to myself. I have wondered from a distance how he has been doing, knowing I am during this time a passive non-observer, that I have taken a step back in his life and can’t be there to lift him up when he falls, that this is his first foray into the wonderful world of independence. And it is a reminder of the importance of independence for me as well.

But enough is enough and I am now really keen to see him, to hear from him how he made out, to quiet that seed of doubt in my mind, to welcome him home where I know he is secure and rested – and clean. And, a bit vicariously, I am also excited to hear about his adventures, his first canoe trip, his new friends.

So, today I am counting my blessings. I have the time to write and to contemplate, to water the plants, to visit with a friend, and then, I will go and collect my son. I can’t know what else will come to shape my day, but this is a pretty good start.