Know Your Line
Photo Credit: Betty Nudler
Do you have good boundaries? Do you know how to set them, honor them and adjust them with the people and situations in your life? It seems to me that “boundary” has become a popular buzz word to describe what went wrong in certain situations, yet more definition, self-refection and responsibility might be needed.
I often hear the word “boundaries” come up in conversations as a way for individuals to explain a situation, exert power, make a strong point or justify why they are angry, confused or hurt when their lines have been crossed by certain situations or difficult people. Yet, when I think about the purpose of setting a boundary, I wonder if people really understand the purpose of boundaries, when and how to draw appropriate lines, and what it really means for the people on both sides, as well as the individual creating them.
Have you noticed people who set a boundary, whether it’s with self or another, only to break the barrier all too quickly? For instance, consider how many new year’s resolutions fail, how many people cheat on their diets, how many 3rd, 4th or 5th chances are given to people when they have been betrayed, or how often someone takes a stand on a position or belief, only to give in moments later and participate anyway.
People go against themselves hoping they will still be liked, accepted or loved; yet inside, they are betraying themselves, sometimes in small ways when the stakes are not high, and other times when it can be detrimental to how they view themselves. Either way, this self-betrayal chips away at one’s soul and the anger towards others is often really a disappointment in one’s self. If that’s the case, how do you begin to define your own personal boundaries, yet still be able to fully connect and participate with the people and circumstances of your life? After all, what’s the point in setting and keeping appropriate boundaries?
Let me start to answer that with a metaphor from one of my life passions. I love dancing; in fact, partner Latin dancing is one of my favorite indulgences. Knowing the steps to salsa, merengue, cha cha, tango and samba are so exciting to me that when I hear a Latin song with a strong beat, I can feel the rhythm in my bones and be confident in being led around the dance floor.
Yet, knowing the steps isn’t what makes me excel in this pastime… it is being able to hold a boundary and protect my personal space so that I have enough room to “do my thing” and be able to read where my partner is leading me. It can seem counterintuitive to keep the person you want to be close to at a certain distance. However, without this limitation, there would not be enough space to allow for playful spins, complicated steps and free movement.
Dancing with a strong container allows me to ground into my body, connect to my partner and have fun moving to the music I love. And when both people protect their personal arena, lean into each other’s strength and allow a synergistic flow of energy, a mutual respect, self-confidence and powerful connection can emerge.
Boundaries are necessary to preserve the integrity of self and teach other people how to treat us. When they are set with compassion, loving-kindness and trust, then everyone benefits. But if you are a silent sufferer and do not remain true to your own set of boundaries, then frustration often results. What seems like anger towards another is often aimed at self.
In other words, as Daphne Rose Kingma wrote in her book, When You Think You’re Not Enough, “Anger is the way we tell other people that they have gone too far, that they’ve crossed the invisible boundary they shouldn’t have crossed if they want to remain in our good graces.”
Know your line of what is acceptable to you, and what isn’t. Understand your why, and when it’s okay to change your mind. Boundaries are not meant to be rigid and imprisoning. They are actually meant to allow you to have more freedom, strength and energy for your own life, and create a healthy connection to another person based on that self-love.
Here are some life areas to consider setting decisive, loving boundaries:
Personal Values & Beliefs: I believe everyone gets to decide what they think, what holds meaning, and how they want to portray that in the world. My only caveat: cause no harm to self, others or the world. Do your actions/intentions create goodwill or ill will?
Relationships: This area, of course, can the biggest challenge for most people. Our days are filled with relating to others with different needs, wants, desires and expectations in our lives. Be open and upfront with people with what you can and can’t do, what you need and how you need it. Co-create with others, and design a relationship that honors both the commonalities, as well as differences. Get comfortable with asking for what you want, and disappointing others. Make sure that you are clear, kind, compassionate and fierce for your own self-preservation – as an individual, parent, child, sibling, spouse, partner, friend, etc. All relationships need boundaries.
Professionally: I believe in life balance, not just work/life balance. Right-size not only how much you work, but also how much you think about your career. Create your own rules of engagement for your professional life, set your personal boundaries around your time and decide when and how work needs show up in your life. I am not suggesting that you do not stay in integrity with a job to be done, but make sure you create appropriate limitations. And please, use ALL of your vacation and personal time each year.
Financial Boundaries: Be smart, be informed, ask questions and build a healthy relationship with money. Save, spend and give your money based on what is important to you and your values. Create a clear plan with your resources.
Physical Space: I believe we all need a space of our own that is a reflection of our personal style and is a sanctuary for our soul. It can be a place to reflect, to be creative, to be quiet and to just be. Whether it’s an office, a man cave, a special chair or an entire home, this is a must. Additionally, don’t let clutter overtake and get in the way.
Energetically: When someone or something drains your energy, you are not obligated to continue to participate. You can express your concern for them and how their dumping is affecting you and suggest professional assistance. When necessary, remove yourself from the person or situation. There are no victims, only volunteers. Don’t be a martyr in your relationships, but rather, choose to spend time with people who lift you up and support you. In other words, go where you are celebrated.
A Coaching Exercise on Drawing Your Own Personal Boundaries:
Take out a blank sheet of paper, write your name in the middle and draw a large circle around you. This line is your personal boundary. You get to decide who/what gets in and who/what stays out; what is acceptable to you and what is not; what rules are needed and where can there be flexibility.
- Start to think about the people in your life and the criteria in which they get in the circle. Who is safe? Enhancing? Energizing? Significant? Supportive? Nurturing? These are the people you want in your circle.
- Who drains you? Causes harm? Sucks your energy? Makes you feel bad? Is unsupportive? Hopefully, these people are outside of your boundary.
- Now consider situations, places, activities, organizations– what are you tolerating? What makes you happy? Is there something you look forward to? Or dread?
Let this inform you as you begin to place the names of people in or out of your circle. You are now consciously and knowingly drawing the lines in your life. Use this visual exercise to guide, support and enhance who you are and what you are up to in the world. If you find this is difficult, seek support to talk through what might be needed and how best be clear with yourself and others.
Ready to start living an amazingly authentic life?
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