Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. A hot topic. A buzzword. Something your therapist, mom or coach throws around in your face like you're supposed to know what to do with it. To be honest, I had no idea what boundaries really were until recent years. No one ever broke it down for me. I'm going to break down how to set them and what they actually mean.
Therapist Dr. Tracy Hutchinson says, "Personal Boundaries are important because they set the basic guidelines of how you want to be treated. Boundaries are basic guidelines that people create to establish how others are able to behave around them." Boundaries are the ultimate form of self-respect.
I'm not going to sugarcoat this one: setting boundaries is hard. Why? Because one of our most innate fears as humans is being rejected and boundaries are quite oftentimes non-conforming. Boundaries are your needs, not anyone else's. What no one tells you is that boundaries aren't just something to consider - they are essential to your wellbeing. Think: increased self-awareness, less stress, better communication, increased happiness, increased sense of trust and higher levels of compassion, according to the Huffington Post" study, "10 Great Things That Happen When You Set Boundaries."
1. Know yourself.
If you don't know who you are, how could you possibly cater to your own needs? So often, women especially tend to overload themselves with the needs, thoughts and desires of others. We ask for advice, we read the beauty blogs, we make sure the kids are okay with it, we check in with our significant others, we compare ourselves to our friends, family, society, etc. How the heck are we supposed to know us? Start now. Get to know yourself. Who are you?
Tip: try meditating. Listening to yourself if a great place to start and meditation is the place to do it - or should I say, "be it."
Tip: try journaling. Why? Journaling is a safe space to let your thoughts and feelings flow. Some prompts to explore:
- What makes me feel safe?
- What makes me feel uncomfortable?
- Where do I thrive?
- What kind of life do I want to live?
- What are my triggers?
- If I were creating a "how-to" manual on my life, what would be on the guidelines list? Example: do not unexpectedly throw this person into a public speaking scenario. Allow for prep time.
Tip: Read my article on 6 Tools to Know Yourself. My best advice for feeling happy, free, and at peace is to know yourself. In yoga, this is the practice of Svādhyāya (self-study). Discover what you love, what you feel, what you desire, how you think, and what inspires you. Astrology, meditation, Myers Briggs, travel, Human Design, therapy, Erotic Blueprints, journaling, numerology, psychology, whatever! Explore you so you can choose what’s best for you. Only you know what’s best for you.
2. Get over people pleasing.
Be kind, but put your heart first. One of my favorite authors of all time said something that rocked my world: "I’ll disappoint everyone else before I’ll disappoint myself." - Glennon Doyle, Untamed.
She even goes as far as saying, when push comes to shove, "never disappoint yourself. Always disappoint others." Oof, that's called freedom, my friends.
Disappointing yourself is self-rejection. It's disrespect. It sounds harsh, but beautiful human, you are your only critic and you deserve what your heart desires - not what makes other people happy. Ever.
Tip: Take a pause and reflect. Don't be afraid to take a moment to think something over before acting on or agreeing to something that doesn't totally sit right. Start by saying, "give me a moment to consider that." Then ask yourself, "what do I really want?" Or, "Is this okay with me?"
3. Vow to stand by your own side.
Life can be finicky. In a reality where seasons change, plans fall through and people ditch, the last thing you want to abandon is yourself. This lesson was a hard pill for me to swallow, but it is absolutely necessary for self-acceptance, self-respect and ultimately, self-love. Boundaries cannot be made if you're going to dip out on your own needs. This self-perpetuating pattern actually destroys trust, not only in yourself, but in others too.
Tip: Make a vow to yourself to stick by thick and thin. Make a supportive mantra. Mine is: "I am here. I will always be here. I love you. I will never abandon you."
Listen to your needs and trust they are there for a reason. Listen. Honor. Act.
4. Push yourself to comfort.
I almost called this point, "get comfortable being uncomfortable," but realized we already know how to do that. So many of us are so willing to make other people comfortable that we live in discomfort, ourselves. You'd think comfort and ease would be easy, but it takes work - especially at first. Push yourself to speak up. Use the kind of encouragement you'd give a child who feels too shy to approach the kids on the playground; Be kind, be strong, be empowering, take no shit. From here, you can walk away from any situation (or prevented situation) knowing you've spoken your truth and laid it down - and that is pure bliss.
Tip: Try speaking up and setting boundaries for small things. Even voicing dietary needs at a friend's house can feel challenging and cringe-y for some. Try it with loved ones and on little things until the big things feel less daunting.
5. Cover all dimensions.
According to the Crisis & Trauma Resource Institute, there are four key dimensions of self-care: mental, emotional, physical and spiritual. With self-care being defined as, “all the things you do to take care of your well-being,” and “essential for managing stress, preventing burnout, and mitigating compassion fatigue,” it’s fair to say setting boundaries is a key subcomponent of self-care itself.
Mental boundaries can look a lot like you vs. your mind. Don’t get it twisted, though: your mind is not your enemy. The mind is your tool and ally when you learn to work with it. This means training your thoughts to not be critical, pessimistic, negative and attacking. This means breaking this wild horse into a champion stallion. Don’t let it kick you in the face.
Tips: practice daily meditation, try talk therapy and/or journal out your thoughts to get ahold of that mind. Be the bouncer of your own club (brain): no negativity allowed up in this B.
Setting emotional boundaries looks like clearly defining your time and energy limits. It also looks like selective social surroundings and choosing to spend time with people who are supportive, positive, and inspiring. Setting emotional boundaries does not mean cutting off feelings. Feelings are meant to be felt, so setting emotional boundaries around emotions themselves looks like creating space to feel and experience.
Tips: make a list of the people who make you feel good after you leave, start saying no, and consider cutting out the people who don’t fit the above criteria.
Physical boundaries may be the easiest to comprehend. Setting a physical boundary can be as literal as closing the door to asking someone to take five steps back to creating time to do a workout. Setting a physical boundary is about honoring and protecting your body on the levels of safety, health and your personal morals.
Tips: check in with yourself about what physical safety and wellbeing look like for you. Write it down if it helps you stay clear and stay true.
Setting spiritual boundaries varies from person to person, but it’s one of the most important forms of self-protection. Setting spiritual boundaries is a very energetic practice beyond the physical, emotional and even mental realm. It can be as tangible as letting someone know you don’t discuss your spiritual or religious practices in public to creating time to practice your faith to stating a protection prayer or doing energy clearing on yourself. We don’t want to pick up any bad vibes in the aura, you feel?
Tips: Set the intention to live in love and light wherever you go. You can ask for guidance from the higher power you believe in for assistance. You can also clear your energy at the end of each day by hovering and swiping the hands intentionally over the torso from collar bones to hips three times, down each arm from shoulder to hand three times, and from each wrist to finger tips, three times. Clear it out, honey.