What does it mean to set boundaries? I see boundaries as an invisible demarcation that honors our wants, needs, and desires, and takes a stand for what we will not tolerate. Sometimes my coaching clients see boundaries as firm, harsh, and cold. We convey boundaries that way when we have resentment, anger, and frustration because we’ve waited too long to set a boundary.
Boundaries are an act of love: self-love, self-compassion, self-advocacy (and the opportunity to train others in how to treat us). When we set boundaries coming from this place, they feel and are received differently.
Self-awareness serves us in setting self-honoring boundaries:
Know what you want and need. Many of us pay so much attention to others’ needs and wants that we lose the capacity to tune into what we desire. When you want or need something, what is the physical experience of this in your body? Does your chest expand, does your belly feel warm and alive, do you feel rooted to the ground? If it’s challenging to tell, think of something you really want (e.g., a lovely vacation, a connecting conversation with a partner, a deep experience in nature, etc.) and notice the physical sensations that arise. This is the fingerprint of your sense of want. To go even further, what feels like a “Hell Yes” in you?
Know what you don’t want. Many of us know when we don’t want something, but we ignore these signs or rationalize why we should comply. “Want to work all weekend on this project?” No! “Want to clean the toilets?” No! What’s your FIRST response to the request? Listen to that.
Not: “Well, I think my boss would be upset…. “ or “Yes, but my mother would feel hurt,” or “I’ll be a bad friend, if don’t...”
Go back to what YOU want, and communicate it kindly and firmly.
Recognize that you are not responsible for others’ feelings. This is a doozy! Especially for many people socialized as women. People’s way of managing disappointment, frustration, or anger may come out directed toward you. However, people are responsible for their own self-regulation and self-awareness. This doesn’t mean, of course, that we should be unkind. We can assert our needs kindly and not be responsible for the other’s reactions. Have you ever said something completely innocuous, and another person gets upset? They may be hungry, tired, had something in their past that your comment reminded them of, had a fight with their partner. There are a million reasons for their reaction that have nothing to do with you.
Understand the Yes’s that you are honoring. Saying no to working all weekend means saying yes to your family. Saying no to another call from your friend means saying yes to time for restoration. Saying no to traveling for the holidays means saying yes to well-being. Saying no to taking on more work than you’re being paid for means saying yes to pay equity and not be exploited. What are your Yes’s (the values and priorities in your life)?
Many of my clients work on boundaries at work, and with friends, family, partners, and children. Often when we have a hard time setting boundaries in one area of life, it’s present in multiple areas because we haven’t built the self-awareness needed to draw life-giving boundaries. The good news is that practicing in any domain will make it easier in others.
What boundary-setting will you commit to now? And what are you honoring by doing so? Let me know how it goes!
P.S. Interested in getting more support with boundaries? Book a breakthrough coaching session here.