Learning to assert our own personal boundaries is often a life-long process. We begin (often clumsily) as children: shoving others out of our personal bubble, crying when some other kid takes our toys, leaning over someone to grab the book that we want (elbowing them in the face in the process)…
At home, we learn to draw boundaries around our beds, bedrooms, diaries and physical property. By middle school, we are learning how to assert our boundaries surrounding our rapidly changing physical bodies. In high school, our sexuality blossoms and boundaries may be greatly challenged.
In young adulthood, we struggle with asserting our independence, needs, and wishes with a variety of people: our bosses, co-workers, house mates, and family. At this stage of life, we are thrust into a life of greater responsibility.
We have to learn what our wishes and needs are, as well as what we don’t want in our lives, in order to recognize and assert our boundaries. A person who is not very self aware will have a hard time asserting appropriate boundaries. A common response is to set hard and fast general boundaries that may be interpreted as being stubborn and withdrawn. An equally common response is to set no or very little boundaries. This person will have a hard time saying “no” and is often engaged in various activities with a wide range of people all the time. They will always help you (and everyone else in their lives) no matter the circumstances, and ask nothing in return.
I have recently been challenged with drawing boundaries around my personal self and business self. Starting my own health coaching practice has required my face, name, and contact information to be blasted all over my (physical and online) community. I can not hide from dangers and stress. I must face it head-on, or risk tarnishing my professional name. Don’t get me wrong, I am still just an ordinary person, who sometimes pays her bills late, forgets to bring back library books, and occasionally sleeps through her alarm.
But when I had an unfortunate professional encounter recently, I wanted to run and hide in a cave for the next few years, emerging only when the imaginary dust had settled. My boundaries, which I thought were solidly constructed, were breached in the blink of an eye. I was left unsettled and feeling extremely venerable. Like a possessed T.V. in a horror movie, the details were replayed in my mind countless times. I lost sleep, and so did my partner. If these boundaries which I had carefully built were so easily penetrable, that could happen to any of my boundaries at any time!
This realization that I would not always be able to protect myself from harm and discomfort was a tough one. My first instinct was to hide in my cave and have other people handle the situation for me. With a little contemplation, I realized that was not a very adult response to the problem, and furthermore, may not always be an option for the future. If I don’t take control of my own boundaries, then they are no longer mine. Sending out an agent to draw a boundary for me makes it that agent’s boundary. However, if I enforce my own boundary, as well as allow an agent to protect it, that is still my boundary that I am empowered to protect and hold.
It’s not easy to step out of my comfort zone and say “no” and “that’s not ok”. But it is a lesson in balanced practitioner/patient relations, and a big step forward in my self esteem and maturity.
Of course, there are times when your boundaries may be so violated, that the only reasonable and safe course of action is to involve the authorities and give up the control of that boundary. In cases like this, please allow the authorities to draw a bigger boundary around your own boundaries. Like a fence around a wall, the new boundary drawn by your agent, will only add a level of protection to your own.
I encourage you to take a look at areas of stress and anguish in your life and examine whether they could benefit from establishing or firming up a boundary. For example: if you’re always feeling tired and burnt out because your boss continually asks you to work on your days off, it might be worth establishing a boundary with your boss by saying something like, “I am pleased that you appreciate my work so much, but I really need to limit my hours on my days off. I need (some of) those days to take care of my home life and family.”
If you can’t put your finger on the cause of the stress, or what might alleviate it, try one of my favorite methods of meditation and self-discovery: pondering. Go on a quiet walk in the woods, sit on top of a mountain, next to a river, in the middle of a field, and observe. Observe the minute details of life in nature – the bugs, the fungi, the tiny plants, decomposition. Gaze upward at the massive treetops, clouds, sky, universe. Breath deeply. Be silent and still. Clear your mind. Then begin thinking about your problem.
Best of luck on your journey of self discovery and maturity. I’m right there with you.