Establishing and maintaining personal boundaries has been a very long and difficult journey for me. I was talking to a friend recently about some challenges she had with her daughter when her daughter was a young adult. I was in awe of her decisive and clear boundaries, and the ease at which she laid they down for her daughter. It came so naturally to her. It doesn’t come so natural for me… yet.
Personal boundaries are difficult for pleasers.
Then she said the result of her personal boundaries was that she didn’t talk to her daughter much for a few years. Ugh. Ah, yeah, the catch. As a big pleaser the greatest fear of laying down boundaries was that others wouldn’t like me, that that people would abandon me, that they’d think less of me, and on and on. How could I tell a friend that her words hurt me and not lose her? How could I stand up to a partner when I’m not happy with the way things are and give him ammunition to leave me? The perfect façade that I had worked so hard to show the world could be tarnished. Then who would I be??
I allowed others to define me.
What I’ve learned after years of therapy on these issues for myself is that my own lack of self-worth and identity led me to trust others view of me more than my own. I allowed others to define me, my worth and my own value. So, making sure that others saw me as valued was more than just a luxury, it was about my whole identity. Ensuring that others liked me and thought highly of me, to my own detriment, was my way of life and it was exhausting. I didn’t challenge people when I should have to avoid conflict. I didn’t stand up for myself when someone treated me poorly. I stayed too long in relationships that weren’t healthy. I didn’t go for my dreams because people might judge me.
Others’ needs became more important than my own.
How on earth could I have personal boundaries, let alone claim them, under these circumstances? I didn’t even know where my point of view started and another’s ended. I was out of touch with my feelings, what I wanted, and who I was. I also couldn’t tolerate the possibility of disappointing people, having them angry at me, or god-forbid lose them because of my own “selfish” needs. This led me to work very hard at controlling my external environment to make sure things stayed steady – which we all know is an exercise in futility and explains that constant, fatigue-inducing stress I put on myself for years.
To throw gasoline onto my boundary bonfire, I was also fixer and damn good one. When something would happen to make someone unhappy, I did everything I could to fix it even if that meant sacrificing my own needs. I couldn’t tolerate the unsettling feeling of having something in my sphere that was not okay, even if it was someone else’s stuff to deal with. So I swooped in to fix. I realize now that this robbed them, mostly my kids, of learning through failure and it certainly didn’t model healthy boundaries or emotional health. I’m not saying this to beat myself up. I’ve done that too much for years. I’m being vulnerable here to illustrate where I came from, and that I understand this cycle very well.
The first step to establishing personal boundaries is knowing thyself.
Realizing that I couldn’t have boundaries without knowing myself, the work self-awareness and self love journey began. I learned who I was and how to identify and value my own feelings and needs. I gained skills in having difficult conversations and learning to sit with discomfort. I am a work in progress and this still doesn’t come naturally to me but I am committed to the work, not only for myself but those around me.
I’ll cover more about my healing journey and personal boundary skills in future blogs. Watch for the upcoming FREE Boundary worksheet. Join the FREE Facebook group, Tide Pool Talks, where we explore a personal transformation topic each month.