So often in therapy we talk about boundaries: what they are, why they are important, how to set them, and what to do when they get crossed. These are all very important points to consider when you are learning how to shift the patterns with others in your life. It is good to be aware of the varying elements that can hinder or strengthen this process.
Yet there is another piece that is more like a Boundaries 201 course. It has nothing to do with anyone else or your interactions with them. It is about you. Because what happens when you have made the changes with others? What about the moment when you have managed to shift patterns and keep company with those that respect your boundaries? It all sounds easy enough. You just live your life happily without a care in the world because everyone around you is so supportive of your growth.
Sure. That is how it works. (Sarcasm intended).
Instead we often find ourselves struggling internally to listen to our own needs. It is as if unless things are in dire conditions we don’t see the need to set boundaries. It is one thing to find that wonderful strength to tell another that they have crossed a line. It is a whole different animal when you are confronted with the knowledge that no one has done anything wrong. You simply are beginning to become aware of your own needs to be a healthier person.
Here, let me give you an example that I hear a great deal. It is about people who are kind, caring, and generous. They take the wonderful steps of setting boundaries and are no longer being taken advantage of by others. However, they feel guilt, fear, and later anger about stating things they want and need in their life. For instance, a person does a great deal for family, friends, coworkers and people they don’t know– it gets to be a bit overwhelming. This is not because anyone has done anything wrong, but because the individual has taken on too much.
The signals are there telling them that they need to slow down, not commit to any more activities, or get some alone time to refresh. But the person doesn’t say anything. They keep these feelings to themselves and just suffers through becoming more exhausted and frustrated. This of course is because we are all human and need down time for ourselves to regroup.
So you have a person that can set boundaries under duress but can’t follow through on setting boundaries to take care of themselves in a supportive environment. Why is this? Well, mostly because it is about believing that you are worth something beyond just what you do for others. It also is about realizing that you matter to yourself and that beyond all the anxiety and past patterns that you are still creating a similar situation. This round of integration is at a deeper level and it does need to be addressed. And as most of us know… if this issue is left unattended it results in burn out and/or resentment. Not really the outcome one is looking for in the whole self-growth model.
What do you then when you realize you are needing to set a positive boundary and are afraid? In some ways it is similar to what you do when you are learning to set boundaries in negative situations: you muster up the courage (which is based on feeling the fear and doing it anyway) and say the words and take the actions to begin the change. But that can be the easy part.
The difficult part is trusting yourself that you are worthy of treating yourself with the same kindness you do to others. When you say out loud to your partner “I need some me time.” and you are terrified they will react negatively, manipulate you, or use it against you later… and they say in return “okay. sounds good.” with a smile on their face. You realize that you did it… but you are still concerned about the consequences. Are you really worth enough that the person will be fine with the reality that you are more than just caring for them? You are still questioning and working to shift this pattern.
It requires tremendous fortitude to acknowledge your own needs and wants around people who will support you. The change can be scary even if it is healthy all around. Still, when you are unsure of yourself in these situations, you can directly state your fears
“I’m afraid if I ask for space you will get upset”
and when the person responds positively and you are still worried later you can ask for support
“I’m still nervous that you are upset that I took some me time, are you?”
and when the person responds positively and the anxiety still persists …
you remind yourself over and over that trust in yourself and those around you is created by consistency over time. This process of growth can be difficult at times. However, when you treat yourself well, you will see the positive results. It isn’t easy at first, but just like you learned to set boundaries in the negative you too will learn how to set boundaries in the positive!