How to set better boundaries for a happier life.
‘Givers need to set boundaries because takers never do’
I was someone who could make very authoritative and quick fire decisions on a daily basis, as London based emergency police response dispatcher. And yet I struggled to tell friends when they had caused me hurt. I could go on to launch and run two successful companies, and yet I would remain silent and invisible when a family member acted incredibly vindictive and cruel towards me. Constantly pointing out my past mistakes and short comings, rather than focusing on his own.
In my twenties and thirties I was unaware that I found it difficult to set boundaries within the dynamics of certain relationships I experienced. I had worked extensively on myself during these decades and I really wanted to try to always show kindness and compassion to everyone, even if this proved to be to the detriment of my own emotional health. In some way I felt I held some responsibility for other peoples happiness. I found it difficult to challenge people’s choices or behaviours, as I was mindful this may cause them to feel wounded or hurt themselves. I’ve never been someone who seeks out drama, so remaining silent felt like a better option.
Over the years the opportunities for me to set better boundaries for myself kept arising, but I continued to choose to repeat dis-empowering patterns, remaining silent and compliant in situations where I had every right to defend myself or simply say no. This tendency to people-please in order to sustain a quieter life, led to a sense of imbalance in some of my relationships. Sometimes this would manifest as something as simple as me not voicing my opinion because I knew my views would be disagreed with. Other times It would go as far as me not challenging spiteful or narcissistic behaviour, behaviour that was deeply hurtful, because I didn’t want to upset anyone or create drama. Instead I would ocassionally find myself tearfully laying awake at night, wondering how people could be so self-centred and cruel.
There was the time a friend blamed me for everything that went wrong on our holiday. It transpired she wanted me to act like her PA, fixing all the things that had gone wrong, rather than just allowing me simply act in a way that a close friend would. Or the time I had shown a deep vulnerability, confining in a family member about a deeply personal situation. Only for them to immediately run off to repeat my words to the other party involved. On both occasions I felt hurt by these actions, but I never found the courage within myself to address this with those concerned. No challenging meant no drama.
My inability to confront such situations meant I was constantly betraying myself. I also quickly learned that not standing up to such behaviour, only strengthened such traits in the people who displayed them. Leaving me vulnerable to being treated poorly again.
Then in my forties, something changed. I was unexpectedly betrayed by one of my closest friends. This person was someone I had always supported with love, compassion and a deep sense of loyalty. I had also shown her a great deal of financial generosity too. The level of her deceit and willingness to discard our friendship due to her own ego and personal financial gain completely took the wind out of my sails. It was a wound that cut deep and I wasn’t completely sure how to process the pain.
Not long after the event, I was receiving teachings from my spiritual mentor. They helped me realise I had this tendency to view sticking up for myself as being unkind to the other person involved. Where in truth, this actually meant I was in fact being unkind to myself.
“Having a kind heart is a wonderful trait to have Elizabeth, but being kind doesn’t mean you should allow other people to treat you poorly. True compassion must start with yourself, and that means setting better personal boundaries. This isn’t an act of selfishness, and it isn’t being unkind to the other person involved, it’s about having enough self-respect to honour your own worth.”
Over the course of the next week I found myself repeating my spiritual tutors words in my head. For the first time in my life she had helped me view my patterns in this area differently. How could I find it so easy to challenge certain people in my life but not others? On reflection I started to acknowledge that my tendency to people-please surrounded those I held dear, and this meant I was constantly placing other peoples happiness before my own. And doing so often led to me harbouring feelings of resentment and pain.
Setting boundaries is going to be uncomfortable at times. The uncomfortable feelings don’t mean you shouldn’t stand firm with continuing to set personal boundaries. Ensuring our relationships are healthy and reflect mutual respect sometimes means we cannot avoid upsetting others. Those who are worthy of our time and attention will respect the boundaries we set for ourselves, and if they don’t, it’s really their issue to work through and not yours.
It may mean letting go of toxic or unbalanced relationships. When I eventually found the courage to let my friend know how deeply I felt betrayed, she simply brushed my feelings off and defiantly announced she had done nothing wrong in her opinion. What this did was actually make me view the friendship for what it truly was, one-sided and lacking value. She didn’t care about my hurt, or the fact that she had caused it, even quick to dismiss any wrong-doing on her behalf. Looking back I realise she wasn’t comfortable with the new boundaries I had set for myself, she was used to me being over-generous and ridiculously laid back. Her complete dismissiveness of my feelings and her unwillingness to acknowledge any involvement of why I felt the way I did, made it easier for me to walk away from the friendship. We cannot control how people behave, but we can decide how we react to that behaviour.
Setting boundaries can prove to be empowering. When we begin to value our own worth, it helps others value us too. It builds mutual respect within our relationships and in turn helps us respect the boundaries that others set for themselves. Seeing ourselves as worthy also helps create a healthy relationship with ourselves. Setting personal boundaries shows others very clearly how we are prepared to be treated, and this can be incredibly empowering.
Do not feel guilty about setting boundaries. This was the biggest lesson I learned about setting boundaries for myself. I would often mistake my own boundary setting as being difficult, or acting selfishly. If I said no, or had the courage to challenge someone’s behaviour towards me, I would then worry that it wasn’t a kind thing to do. When I finally came to the conclusion that healthy boundary setting was actually a very important thing to do in our lives, I finally began to accept that my own happiness was just as important as the happiness of others.
The next time you feel hurt by someone, or want to say no instead of yes, have the courage and conviction to be honest with yourself about the boundaries you need to set in all areas your life to ensure you create happy and healthy relationships. Boundaries are about meeting our own needs, but in a way that doesn’t sacrifice someone else’s needs. We can respect other peoples choices and behaviours, but we can also limit the impact those choices have on our own lives by ensuring we have strong personal boundaries set in place.