Boundaries are complicated and messy, but they’re also really important.
If we’re being honest, most of us think they’re unnecessary because we care more about being liked and not disappointing people than we do about our own health and wellbeing.
But let’s be clear about something: being a healthy person requires having healthy boundaries.
Dr Henry Cloud, author of the massively popular book Boundaries, says the reason boundaries are important is because they “define what is me and what is not me,” showing each of us “where I end and someone else begins.”
But having boundaries can feel selfish, right?!
When people come to us for help we feel needed, but it also reinforces the unhealthy part of our ego that wants to be seen as “having it all together.”
But what is the cost of putting other people’s needs in front of the people who are most important to you – which, in order, is you, you, you, your family and closest love ones, and then other people.
The writer Rachel Wolchin says “Givers need to set limits because takers rarely do,” and Christine Morgan reminds us “It doesn’t make me mean, selfish or uncaring because I don’t do things your way. I care about me, too.”
There’s a word at the core of this that we all have to learn how to say if we’re going to develop healthy boundaries, and that word is “No.”
The counselor David W. Earle says “Being able to say “no” is a necessary ingredient to a healthy lifestyle,” while the writer Anne Lamott reminds us that “No” is a complete sentence.
Warren Buffett once noted that “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say “No” to almost everything.”
Billionaire Buffett was probably thinking of financial success when he made that statement, but what he’s saying makes just as much sense for those of us who care more about being wealthy in relationships and rich in purpose than we do about how much money is in our bank accounts.
How often do you say “no” to things?!
I say yes to far too many things that I should have said no to, and the reasons are never good enough to justify the time and energy I ended up spending on it, not to mention all the frustration I feel leading up to it and the resentment I have about it after.
Before I share a few thoughts to help you better understand what healthy boundaries are for you, I want to say something about what healthy boundaries are not…
Boundaries are not walls – at least not in the fear-based understanding of keeping some people/things in or keeping other things/people out.
Based on the fact that you found your way to this blog post, I’m going to assume you are a kind, caring and generous person who appreciates diversity and values the rights of all people (all of which are personal values I hold and hope are reflected in the work of Align Coaching).
Listen to that description again and think about how many boundaries are embedded within it?
“You are a kind, caring and generous person who appreciates diversity and values the rights of all people.”
How can you be KIND, CARING and GENEROUS while APPRECIATING DIVERSITY and the RIGHTS of ALL PEOPLE without developing a healthy set of boundaries that allow you to be that kind of person?
Brene Brown says “generosity can’t exist without boundaries” and her definition of Boundaries is simple: “what’s okay and what’s not okay for me.”
She offers a complex yet uncomplicated question that I’d suggest using if you want to discover or reclaim what’s okay and what’s not okay for you: What boundaries need to be in place for you to stay in your integrity and make the most generous assumptions about other people?
Her husband helped her develop this question when she was frustrated about something someone had done and he asked if she thought the person was doing the best they could.
She was force to realize that, like most of us, she wasn’t assuming anything good about the other person, and he then told her that by assuming the best about others he has found it to be easier to focus his energy on what’s okay/not okay for him without wasting energy on things he can’t control.
There are all sorts of areas in your life where boundaries (or the lack thereof) come into play, and the reality is, your ability to have healthy relationships with yourself and others while living with integrity and compassion is directly related to your ability to create boundaries that honor what is okay and what’s not okay for you.
Will having boundaries forces you to have difficult conversations with people you care about? Yes, it probably will.
Is it possible these people will get upset and hurt? Yep, but unfortunately it’s not always an option to love yourself AND live up to people’s expectations (expectations which, by the way, you’ve played a role in creating by not setting/honoring healthy boundaries).
“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others,” Brene says. And this is just one of the things that makes this so difficult, but it doesn’t change the reality that it’s also important and necessary to maintain your sanity, integrity and live aligned with your values.
So…what boundaries need to be in place to stay in your integrity and make the most generous assumptions about others?