With the new year comes new goals or resolutions and new habits. Given that willpower alone won’t get you where you want to go, one of the key ways to support what you want to rock in 2020 is going to be to get suuuuuuuper clear on your boundaries.
Boundaries are a buzzword these days for a reason. But few people know how to hold them well. They often get confused with armor or walls, and can feel like a smack when applied for the first time in a relationship that previously had weak ones or none.
“Walls keep everybody out. Boundaries teach people where the door is.” — Mark Groves
Boundaries aren’t a complete closing off, but an invitation to others to engage in a way that allows the right level of opening to occur at the right time. When you don’t have good boundaries, you’re going to tend to armor up around certain people around whom you tend to abandon yourself.
For me, that used to be my mother. My drive to be a good daughter coupled with her tendency to focus on what she wanted without considering her impact had me go against myself to please her over and over again.
After I was diagnosed as allergic to gluten in 2008 and she kept making quiche or serving pie when I visited her for dinner, the first time I refused to eat what she served I shook in my shoes. But avoiding days of abdominal pain post-visit became more important to me than my fear of her disappointment, so I risked hurting her feelings. And wouldn’t you know it, after I did that she got the hang of what I could and couldn’t eat without a fuss.
You may also have a hard time saying no, having been taught to be flexible, malleable, and an agreeable caretaker. For you, armoring yourself with walls for a while could be a necessary stage on the way to learning how to have clear boundaries.
Walls are not a problem to be fixed and you’re not wrong for having them.
Armor may have been a necessary part of what you needed to wear to survive. Be grateful for its safety-giving strength and thank yourself for putting it on when you needed it.
And, when you’re ready, your next step will be to shift out of the behaviors that helped you survive into new behaviors that support you to thrive. This includes dismantling your armor and learning to have clear boundaries instead.
Boundaries are born out of sovereignty.
A former yoga teacher of mine used to say that when the inside — our connection to our deepest self — is strong, the outside — how we meet the world — can be soft and receptive.
The reverse is also true: When our connection to our deepest self is weak, we tend to harden our outer self. The hard armor forged out of compensation, self-protection, and lack of self-trust is not who we really are. At some point, it becomes time to turn our attention to what’s behind that hardness so that more of who we really are can come out.
Your true boundaries emerge out of self-acceptance and integrity, as well as clarity about what does and doesn’t work for you.
Sadly, this isn’t something you can figure out in your head in an abstract way. You can’t think your way through this one, you’re going to have to try stuff and feel how it ripples through you.
NOTE: If you’re in active trauma and need armor to survive, the number one thing is to get yourself to safety before you even think about starting to dismantle your protective patterns. Once there’s enough of a foundation of safety and support in your life, then you could consider starting to examine how to make the transition to creating clear boundaries instead of wearing armor.
How To Set Boundaries #1
Before you ever say YES or NO to someone else, learn to say YES to yourself by practicing filling yourself up fully with yourself and what you most love and value in life.
The funny thing is, if you center yourself in your own sovereignty and values, the way people treat you shifts even before you have to tell them what your boundaries are.
The Filling Up Practice:
Sit quietly in a place where you won’t be disturbed for 5–10 minutes. Feel your feet on the floor and the pressure of your body on the chair.
Become aware of your connection to the earth, the solidity beneath you that holds you up.
Become aware of a central column that connects your seat to the crown of your head. Your core, if you will. Center yourself in that central column as you gently breathe. Feel your sovereignty and connection with yourself in this central column.
Become aware of the qualities or values you most love in life. Whether they’re love, freedom, clarity, or passion, choose the three qualities that matter the most. Let those qualities infuse your central column and expand out to fill your body as you breathe.
Become aware of the space all around your body, as if you’re sitting in an egg. Let the sensation you feel in your central column spread out and fill this egg.
Your energetic field extends out several feet in all directions from your body. Breathing your center outward into the space around your body is the natural extension of filling yourself up with yourself.
Practice filling yourself up with yourself as many times a day as you need to until walking through the world as a filled-up sovereign being is how you naturally carry yourself.
How To Set Boundaries #2
In order to own your YES, learn to own your NO.
Practicing #1 makes it easier to feel and communicate your clear NO and YES to others because it will be very clear to you what does and doesn’t feel good once you’re filled up with your own center.
Here’s the uncomfortable truth: Until you have a clear NO, your YES will be unreliable.
A muddy YES makes you untrustworthy and sets the stage for you to feel violated by others. People have to pussyfoot around you because they don’t know whether or not your YES is real. They end up often feeling wrong because you haven’t told them how to win with you.
Read this article by Lynne Forrest on the victim triangle to get a clearer picture of how we tend to move between the Victim, the Persecutor, and the Rescuer positions in our daily lives.
In addition, every time you say YES when you mean MAYBE or NO, it’s like death by a thousand tiny cuts to your self-esteem and self-trust. The first step to developing self-respect and integrity is getting clear on your YES and NO and communicating what’s true for you.
If you hold setting a boundary with your YES and NO as a demonstration of sovereignty, self-esteem, and integrity, it becomes easier to do. If you’re focused on whether or not someone will reject you for not going along with what they want, it becomes harder.
The YES and NO Practice:
Start small. Say YES or NO when someone asks if you want Mexican food for lunch or if you want a coffee. Get honest when the stakes are low.
Bonus: if you’re a YES to coffee be very specific about how you want it instead of taking it however it shows up. This builds the muscle of helping others win with you by teaching them what you want and don’t want.
Your specificity about what you want is not overly demanding or high maintenance! It’s an act of kindness because you make it easier for people to win with you.
Remember to reward people when they give you what you want. This can be as simple as a big smile and a genuine, Thank you!
Your joy feels great to others to receive. And if they’re worth your time and attention, they will do whatever it takes to receive it again.
Work up to a stronger YES and NO boundary by raising the stakes over time. You could practice with a friend you invite to help you improve at boundary-setting until you no longer stumble over your words or over-explain your NO.
Get smooth with YES and NO in increasingly challenging contexts until it becomes no big deal to tell your boss you won’t be taking on that extra project over the weekend and you don’t even go into explaining why not.
To become a boundary-setting champ, combine the practices of filling yourself up with yourself and saying YES and NO when you mean it. This crucial skill works in the boardroom, the bedroom, and everywhere in between. Choose the arena you find it easiest to practice in first and expand out to tougher ones once you’ve nailed it in the less charged area.
For more on boosting self-love, which is the foundation for creating better boundaries, read 5 Ways To Pump Up Your Self-Love Muscle that Don’t Require You To Buy Anything.
At first, people may get thrown a little by the change in you, but if you express delight and appreciation when they respect a boundary you’ve set, they’ll embrace the change over time. This lays the groundwork for your relationships to feel so much better to all of you and for you to rock your 2020 goals.
The relationship you desire is possible! Click HERE to discover what missing pieces are stopping you from having the connection and passion you desire.