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Day 3. Lessons You Learned

When I talk to people who are reluctant to embrace healthy boundaries, it’s not because they have an overriding desire to cross other people’s lines or to have their own crossed. The idea of doing things differently, however, not just to how they’ve always done it but also to what they’ve been taught, observed and experienced, just feels so wrong even though the issue of not having boundaries is evidenced by the chaos that results both inwardly and outwardly.

Whatever your relationship with boundaries, it exists because it’s familiar

You will find it hard to be boundaried in certain areas because it’s what you know and it, in essence, feels like home. As a child, you picked up messages both direct and inferred about how things are and how things ‘should’ be. These are what you have used to make sense of the world. When things have gone wrong, when you haven’t liked what you’re experiencing, you’ve also looked around for reasons that ‘make sense’ to you. After that, all it’s taken for that explanation to become a reasoning habit is for you to use it a couple of times. Then, it’s been applied by default to a host of experiences including what you’re feeling at a particular time even though that original reasoning doesn’t actually make sense or is just flat-out untrue.

The go-to reasoning habit of many millions of people around the world is ‘I’m not good enough’, and this is used to explain a multitude of things with none of them actually bearing any relation to our worth, and yet we keep using it to bludgeon ourselves with but to also explain other people’s behaviour. Mindset affects behaviour and what we don’t recognise are the conscious and unconscious ways in which we adjust our behaviour and thinking around others as well as our treatment of ourselves to support the reasoning. 

Whether you have little no boundaries in a particular area or you’ve had them in theory but not in practice, the way you feel about and treat boundaries is related to your childhood experiences of them. Whatever the length and breadth of your struggle with boundaries, it exists in part because you have a negative association with them. 

You’ve learned lessons such as:

  • Boundaries are wrong.
  • Boundaries are selfish.
  • If you always do what people want, then you will and ‘should’ be OK. 
  • Only certain types of people deserve boundaries. 
  • Saying no is wrong. 
  • All no is rejection. 
  • If people don’t want to hear you or amend their behaviour, it means that your boundaries are incorrect. 
  • Boundaries are about trying to control other people’s behaviour.
  • People only respect the boundaries of people who are “worthwhile”.

You’ve assumed that significant people in your life, past and present, are modelling how the world works and you’ve inferred messages that have become part of your beliefs, values and habits.

Recognising the influence of your early years as well as some of your adult experiences isn’t about looking for someone to blame. It’s to open up your awareness and understanding because people who have fuzzy or absent boundaries typically feel bad about themselves and don’t understand why doing right by them feels so hard. They wonder if there’s something wrong with them or assume that they’re “weak” or “stupid”, and sometimes even feel as if they’re going crazy. They often feel powerless and at the mercy of others.

Getting even a little insight into why you don’t have boundaries is liberating. 

You’re not a “faulty” person; this has been about habit, conditioning and survival. We survive in the best way we can with the knowledge that we have at the time. You have gone through things that were downright confusing, stressful or traumatic. We can find it tricky enough as adults to figure out stuff so it’s too much for you to expect that your younger self ‘should’ have known certain things or reacted differently. 

You have got into some of these habits as coping mechanisms, and they served you for a time but are keeping you small now that you’re out in the big wide world that isn’t a giant-sized replica of your childhood. With increased awareness about the past and your present, inserting some much-needed self-compassion to gradually shift your mindset with new habits, you can teach you a new way and break old patterns. Being boundaried makes you more conscious, aware and present and helps to distinguish between the past and the present so that you are in a space of love instead of one of fear.

 

The TAKEAWAY

 

  • Boundaries are vital to healthy, loving relationships and vital to the survival of the human race. To be treated with dignity and respect is a fundamental human right. 
  • Boundaries are anything but selfish. Busting people’s boundaries is a very selfish act and denying you boundaries isn’t self-sacrificing; it’s a massacre that erodes your sense of self and creates imbalanced, destructive relationships. 
  • What other people want is not always going to be OK for you. What other people want is about their needs, desires, expectations, opinions and feelings – no person has the right to define your comfort levels or to impose themselves upon you. People don’t reward you for doing what they want no matter what; they lose respect for you. 
  • We all deserve boundaries. Your life has value, and you are a worthwhile and valuable person. You came into the world this way and will exit it this way. What changed after your arrival is your perception of your worth, and that can be changed. 
  • Saying no is necessary. If you don’t make it part of your vocabulary, your yes has no real value. It’s inauthentic. A yes because you genuinely want to feels and looks very different to a yes stemming from duress and fear of displeasing. 
  • No is not the same as rejection. No is no. Not everything works for you and when we truly care about, love, trust and respect people, saying no at times and being boundaried, is our way of expressing and honouring that. No is a way of letting you and others know what is possible.
  • People who are OK with behaviour that doesn’t work for you represent a different values system. Respect the differences instead of judging you for who they’re not. Their behaviour and willingness to recognise how it affects others is about their comfort zone as well as their own experiences, beliefs, opinions, fears and motivations. Basically, it’s not about you. The fact that they don’t want to change or hear you doesn’t invalidate your own boundaries. 
  • If someone is trying to influence and control your behaviour, they are not setting boundaries because they’re not taking ownership of their end of things. Equally, if you try to control others, you’re trying to control the uncontrollable, which is a distraction from you. 
  • Someone who doesn’t respect boundaries doesn’t respect boundaries. They don’t. What they know how to do is play the game and be a chameleon. 

JOURNALING: What are the rules that aren’t actually rules that have governed your boundaries or lack of them? Where or who did you learn the rule from? How is this rule functioning for you? Can you see how it’s holding you back?

TASK: Look out for ‘should’ in your mental and verbal vocabulary as well as what you ‘must’ and ‘mustn’t’ do. These are very strong indicators of where you are not acting in your best interests and being too rigid, possibly doing things for the wrong reasons.

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