How are your boundaries? [Wise Wednesdays]
We tend to think of them as a self-protective thing.
Yet, there is nothing more conducive to healthy relationships and a strong social fabric than the ability to put a loving and honest boundary in place. A boundary gives clear information about your needs and gives others a chance to meet you and also have their own. If done well, we learn to live together a little better and more happily.
But we often resist setting boundaries out of fear of being refused or just not knowing where to start.
And then the cost comes…
For example, have you ever snapped at someone only to realise it’s because you’re just tired or hungry and it had nothing to do with them?
How did it feel afterwards? If you’re a Wise Wednesdays reader, I’m guessing you cared a lot and felt guilty. Then you had to expend more of your precious time and energy repairing the damage or ruminating over how to make up for it.
In my experience, whenever I disregard my truth (about what I need or what I have capacity for) – i.e. I fudge a boundary – a little piece of tension lodges itself in my body. A tiny dent appears in my integrity and my energy flow becomes distorted, not in a woo-woo sense, but in that my energy doesn’t flow quite as smoothly. Over time, the tension builds up and then… explosion!
Of course, it's easier to spot fudged boundaries in others. We feel it when someone is saying ‘yes’ but doesn’t really have the capacity or motivation. The vitality in their voice is muted. Or they overcompensate and sound a little too eager. But it’s ultimately our job to know what we have capacity for.
Legend in the making: I was speaking with one of my wonderful German clients, A (virtual working may have its limitations, but one great thing about it is the expansion in possibilities for global work and connecting across geographical distances and national borders). As head of finance at a well-known management consultancy, she’s extremely effective at galvanising people around limited resources: whether it’s her team, boss or family. But what she needed the most, recently, was to slow down and reflect on how she wants to live and where she wants to pour her skills in the next phase of her career. So we carved out Executive Time for her to filter better for what matters and what doesn’t in her life. We also worked to transform the meaning of guilt and procrastination over taking time for herself into an opportunity to affirm her boundaries rather than abdicate them. Honouring her boundaries to create space has helped her be more relaxed and productive, make progress on long term goals like buying a dream home as well as reconnect with an idea for setting up her own business. With boundaries, her doubts dissolve while her confidence grows… Congratulations, A!
These days, I see 3 reasons for affirming your boundaries:
1) Personal liberation:
Yes, yes. Honouring your physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual needs gives you the space to mobilise your energy in alignment with your deeper values (rather than the pressure of external expectations or conditioning.) Ever noticed the release that happens when you say ‘no’ instead of forcing yourself to do something? Ever noticed how it’s often not a big deal? I’m not saying drop your kids to go skinny dipping. But there’s a lot that you can let go of without compromising the important things. The space you’ll be left with will be liberating for you as well as for others who will be inspired by your courage.
2) Creative expression:
Your brilliance emerges from silence, not from noise. Stress, information overload, interpersonal conflict all destabilise your attention and divert it into survival behaviours that are usually counterproductive. There’s a reason that authors go on writers’ retreats, right?… Honouring your boundaries allows for more stable and spacious attention, which catalyses fresh (creative) thinking and novel solutions to all manner of challenges. So boundaries will enable you to produce your best work yet!
3) Social transformation:
This is very simple. As you learn to honour your own needs and navigate the challenges of doing so, your compassion for what it means to be human expands: 1) because you feel better in yourself; and 2) because you realise how hard it is to ask for what you need. Boundaries enable you to mobilise your energy in service to a higher vision and values while grounding you in the truth of a messy human nature – and that paradoxically restores the dignity of the whole and creates a healthier social fabric for all.
So if you’re ever feeling guilty about affirming a boundary, remember that human dignity is not served by the abdication of your boundaries. On the contrary, the loving affirmation of a boundary serves the dignity of the collective because it brings clarity (and ultimately compassion) into the relational space between you and others.
Have a great week,