Most of us know how to set boundaries.
At least, intellectually.
We know what they look like, feel like, and sound like. We know when they are needed, and we know when they are crossed.
So, with all this good knowledge and information readily on hand, why does it still remain so difficult for many us to actually set and enforce key boundaries in our lives?
We fear the loss of relationship.
Many of us have a deep-seated fear that if we take a risk and confront something, or assert ourselves “too much,” that we will lose a relationship that we’re invested in.
We don’t want to set a boundary because we want to avoid being rejected, abandoned, left, or lonely.
We’d much rather re-negotiate a boundary inside of ourselves than enter into a difficult conversation outside of ourselves between us and another person.
Ask yourself: How many times have you been willing to sit with increasing internal conflicts, resentments, and distress, rather than risk losing a relationship that you depend upon in some way?
Does this sound familiar?
1. Someone intrudes into your space, your emotional space, physical space, mental space, psychic space, sexual space, identity space. (It can happen in multiple areas of your life.)
2. You get an internal cue, a contraction, that tells you that something unwanted has come up in the space between you and this other person.
3. When you imagine bringing it up to them, you also imagine a variety of potential unpleasant responses:
They will turn it around on you.
They will get upset with you.
They will tell you you’re overreacting, over-analyzing, micromanaging, controlling, etc.
4. Imagining this, you self-silence and re-negotiate your internal boundary. You minimize it: “It’s not that important anyway.” Or you dismiss it: “I can just let this go. Why make an issue out of something so petty?”
5. Instead of actually talking about what isn’t working for you and negotiating something that might work for both people, your attention and energy goes inward. Your self-doubt increases.
Maybe you tell yourself that until you’re perfect and have cleaned up everything on your side that you don’t have a “right” to ask for what you’re wanting or needing.
You decide that this isn’t a boundary of yours that needs to be enforced or protected but rather is an example of your “issues” and that you need to change in order to make the relationship work.
One of the fears that keeps us from setting healthy boundaries for ourselves, is the fear that we will lose the relationship. (I’ll talk about 2 other fears that inhibit us next week).
If this is a core fear for you, you may be experiencing a “dependency conflict,” fearing that asserting yourself might mean losing the perceived security of the relationship, and so you numb out to your own needs and boundaries, preferring to accommodate the other person.
A part of you is operating out of this mindset: “As long as you don’t leave, I’ll do whatever you want.”
This kind of over-focusing on the other person’s feelings and needs, wants and desires, leads to becoming increasingly trapped in unhealthy relationships, disconnected from yourself, and unwilling to set or enforce your own boundaries.
What’s the fix?
Bring your own boundaries back to life: You’ve likely negotiated your boundaries so often that you’re a little out of touch with where they even are anymore. The first step is a commitment to deep, honest self-connection and taking your inner cues seriously.
Give yourself permission to have limits and standards. It’s not your job to be everything for everyone.
Make a commitment to interdependence in your relationships. It’s all well and good to want to meet other people’s needs, but choose to do that with people who reciprocate equally, otherwise, your relationship will feel more like that of a host to a parasite.
Make sure that you have at least three to seven people in your life who are committed to your well-being, know you deeply, and have your back. Spread out your relationship and connection across multiple people and consider cultivating a long-term relationship with a professional who can guide and support you on your own healing and growth journey.
Overcoming our fear of losing relationships is foundational to our willingness to set boundaries, and we can cultivate the courage to do so when we are deeply connected to the values we are living into in life, and when we have a whole network of relationships to help buffer the loss.
Next week, we will explore two additional fears that can keep us from setting and enforcing boundaries.
For now, ask yourself:
Who is on your life team?
What relationships feel interdependent, mutual, and reciprocal to you?
Where would you like to develop the courage to set or enforce more of your own boundaries?
What is holding you back?
I’d love to know. Leave a comment below.
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I read your blog with great interest, thank you for the topics you bring to life.
It would be great to talk about how to approach boundaries in a mother : daughter/son relationship. Unless they are advanced in age and maturity our children do not necessarily reciprocate in terms of acceptance, empathy in general.
Looking forward to any input… Thanks.