Boundaries. As you get older, you feel the need for more of them. Why is that?
Maybe you have given up more than you wanted, and now you feel it is all spent up. Maybe you feel taken advantage of. Maybe you have now put yourself first. Whatever the case, maybe the need to feel heard or understood will never go away. It gets trickier the older you get. After all, you have put up with it long enough.
I want to talk about a powerful word. Integrity.
It’s a word that is not used often enough. Perhaps because it feels bigger than we do most days. Integrity is defined as “firm adherence to a code of moral ethics” or “to be whole and complete.” Bringing ourselves into integrity is the first step to creating healthy boundaries and being the most compassionate we can be. We are not in our integrity when we judge, gossip, hold resentment, or hide our true feelings. However, when we can look around at the people in our lives, even those who are incredibly difficult to love, and remember that they are doing their very best, our work of living in integrity can begin. This is the consciousness to have when creating boundaries.
What does coming into your integrity look like for you?
Is it having an awkward conversation with a friend or family member?
Is it kicking a bad habit?
Is it repairing a relationship? Or perhaps walking away from one.
Living within our integrity and defending our boundaries is something that women especially find tricky because while it is changing slowly, our society expects women to be agreeable. Advocating for yourself and communicating your limits can get you labeled as ‘difficult.’ That’s why I’m writing a whole blog about how to say no and defend your boundaries with kindness because we know easily it can be misconstrued as harshness or ‘being difficult.’
It has been such a prevalent expectation in our society that many women of earlier generations find boundaries a foreign notion to them. The idea of boundaries is a foreign notion to many.
Unquestioningly, there is an inhibiting effect that societal expectations of being amenable and accepting have on our spirit, and consequently, how we feel about ourselves and what we deserve. I have a very close family friend who has lived most of her life as a people pleaser and never set boundaries for herself. Because she has no boundaries, she also treats me like I have no boundaries. And it’s rough sometimes.
But I understand where she’s coming from because I was there once, too. I spent the first 28 years of my life turned too “outward.” I was always worried about what “they” thought about or needed from me, whether it was family, school, or work. And because of this, I didn’t fully express myself out of fear of rocking the boat. It wasn’t until I got more in touch with my “inner” aspect that I became conscious of how I was handicapping myself and more comfortable expressing the power I possess.
In order to create clear boundaries and feel comfortable with who we are, we need to have compassion for ourselves. If we cannot give and be kind to ourselves, we can never love ourselves enough to believe we deserve to be unconditionally loved, truly heard, and treated with human dignity. The result of not creating this compassion for ourselves will be that we don’t think we deserve enough of anything. We’ll have no voice to protest when someone is taking from us more than we want to give, making us feel less than enough, or simply making us uncomfortable with who we are. If we don’t believe we deserve simply because we exist, we cannot and will not demand anything from others. When we believe that we deserve, what is at stake of being lost is clear and therefore takes precedence. Putting ourselves first isn’t selfish but a necessary step in our life’s growth and happiness. When we appreciate ourselves, others will too because we teach people how to treat us.
Back to my boundary-crossing dear family friend. She was going through a personal crisis, and it was intense. I love her and honor her process, but she felt like she was in a situation where there were no good options, so she was at turns imploding and then exploding, at all hours of the day and night, without warning.
My inclination is to pick up those broken pieces no matter what that means or what it costs me. In fact, it was how I have always responded throughout my life to her periodic meltdowns and tantrums. But when a family trip to Croatia happened concurrently with one of her weeks of emotional upheaval, I went to Croatia. I went worried and with a little dread about what would happen to her if I wasn’t around to pick up those broken pieces. The time zone and cell service ended up being such that when I was able to respond to her messages, it was often many hours later and sometimes even the next day.
It turned out that when I was finally able to text back and forth with her, she wasn’t in a worse state. She was actually pretty centered and emotionally stable. It was eye-opening. I think there is a danger to relationships in creating too much space, but sometimes, and definitely, in this instance, space was exactly what was needed.
Boundary crossers. They come in all shapes and sizes and from all different areas and relationships in our lives.
Their mindset can come across as them against the world. They don’t seem to have much respect for the rules of etiquette or polite society, never mind your boundaries. They can be frustrated and short-tempered in their desire for instant gratification. And they are willing to do things that would make most of us anxious or hesitant. They’re pushy. They don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. And yet, when these personalities cross our boundaries, we’re always a little bit surprised.
Does any of this sound familiar?
Unfortunately, most of us know at least a couple of frequent boundary transgressors, either within our families or amongst our co-workers. People who consistently cross your boundaries probably aren’t doing it to you personally. That’s just who they are. If the behavior isn’t like them, perhaps they are going through something and acting out of character. If we’re honest, we all have the ability to behave aggressively under the right, or as it were wrong, circumstances.
I recently found myself in an uncomfortable situation with someone who was making a bit of a scene at a restaurant. My first inclination is kindness, so I tried to empathize, honor their feelings, and offer a different perspective. But in this instance, everything I said or did only added fuel to the fire. The volume just kept rising, and people were taking notice. They were willing to escalate to a point that made me cringe.
So I rescued myself. And I did it with calmness and compassion. I explained that I couldn’t participate in that conversation anymore, and I left. I was kind, but I was also kind to myself.
That’s the importance of having boundaries and being willing to enforce them. On the surface, boundaries can seem harsh, like drawing a line and making other people stay on the other side. Rather than functioning as a way of keeping others out, I encourage you to look at boundaries as the protected space you need to be your kindest, most authentic, and empathetic self.
Most of us want to help others. In fact, our desire to be supportive and kind is almost compulsive, which is a good thing! But sometimes you can’t help. At times the only kindness you can offer is to yourself.
I remember another interaction a few years back. I was invited to be a guest speaker, an opportunity that I would usually accept, but in this instance, the timeframe was just untenable. The only way I would have been able to do it would have meant ditching the afternoon out I had planned with one of my kids and moving around everything else on my calendar—a significant hassle on my end. Not to mention I will go to great lengths to keep my promises, especially those that I make to my children. So, I politely declined, explaining that I had other commitments.
To say they didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer is an understatement. I really admire people who are persistent in their goals, so if she’d given me future dates, I would have scheduled one. If she’d expressed her genuine disappointment, I would have appreciated her candor. But when someone keeps pushing us, it’s uncomfortable. And when they repeatedly ask despite your many attempts at explanation, compromise and in the face of a straight ‘no thank you, it can feel like bullying. That conversation reached that level, and I was surprised by how uncomfortable her repeated requests made me. She tried every angle, from pleading to guilt!
To make that awkward encounter stop, it often feels like the easiest way out is to cave to their demands. However, some people are fighters by nature, and hearing a ‘no’ or running into a boundary that they feel is unfair to them makes their fight response come to life. Quite possibly, this is because their pushiness has been rewarded repeatedly by other people who found it easier to acquiesce than stand their ground.
Sure, you can get out of the immediate discomfort by giving in, but think back to a time in your life when you did. Whatever you agreed to, did it bring you joy, or were you a little resentful and less than enthusiastic about it? Probably. And no wonder!
But not taking ‘no’ for an answer is actually disrespectful. Remember, saying ‘no’ is your decision, and you don’t need their agreement. As for me, I took my daughter to Disneyland, totally guilt-free.
It’s actually okay to reconsider a boundary or a ‘no’ refusal. Sometimes our boundaries need to shift, and sometimes what we initially say ‘no’ to could turn out to be an opportunity to really (really) go beyond our comfort zone and share. But while analyzing your boundaries consider a few things about the person who is crossing them or not accepting your refusal.
Is their request self-involved? Is what they are demanding solely about their self-advancement and to meet their needs? If the answer is yes, feel free to add another layer of bricks to your boundary and then sit behind it and sip a cup of hot tea. I can’t restate this strongly enough. You are allowed to remove yourself from these situations.
The great kabbalist Rav Ashlag put it like this, “As for me, I do not feel obligated to participate in this misery.”
While brilliant, that statement is a little on the nose, so here are a few alternative phrases that could come in handy:
● This is making me uncomfortable.
● Having to say no over and over again is making me feel unheard.
● I can’t participate in this conversation.
● Please respect my decision. It isn’t going to change.
Boundaries enable us to get clear about what we need, what we will accept, and how we expect others to treat us. To honor our boundaries, we have to communicate them and defend them, despite any initial discomfort. Having strong boundaries creates an environment where we can be kinder and more compassionate to others while also being kind to ourselves.