As I walked into my office building today, I heard one woman say to another, “Good for you, for setting a boundary!” It’s something I’ve had friends (and counselors) say to me yet it still bristled. How is it that setting boundaries is such an unusual thing (especially for women, shock of all shocks!) that we need to be encouraged and heralded for doing so? But as I walked toward my office, I realized that although it’s something I’ve been working on, I still need that, “You go, girl!” to encourage me that boundaries aren’t a bad thing; that saying no isn’t a bad thing; that taking time to take care of me isn’t a bad thing.
When a baby begins to grow into a toddler, you “baby-proof” the house so she can’t stick her fingers in an electrical outlet or eat the cleaning supplies are or hang herself with the mini-blind cord. You place gates places you don’t want her traveling like up and down the steps. You might even gate her into a certain area of your home that you have deemed safe. Why? So she doesn’t hurt herself.
It’s the same with boundaries.
Yet it’s an almost constant struggle for me. It’s always easier for me to be the woman in the hallway cheering on her friend for setting a boundary in her life and sticking to it. I usually follow-through. I’m KNOWN for follow-through. If I tell you I am going to help you with something or do something for you, I will. Even at my own peril; even if my world has fallen apart in the interim between the promise & the actual “doing”. And in my work, follow-through is everything.
But in the past year (and probably before that, if I’m honest), this is something I’ve been working on. I often give of myself to my own detriment. Or I agree to something and then, almost immediately, regret not asking more questions before agreeing or even agreeing at all. A huge part of it is that I have latent people-pleasing tendencies and so my default is to go out of my way for you, him, her, them; anyone and everyone. In a whole lot of ways, this is not a bad thing. But it’s a fine line…and something with which many of us seem to struggle. Most often, I think the struggle is with the reactions or perceived reactions of those to the boundary than to the boundary itself. It’s easy to say. “I’m going to do this but not that” when you are living your life in a void. Funny thing about that, though – unless you are on a deserted island, your boundaries always involve others. Friends, Family. Coworkers. People at church. People at school. People in the grocery store, the library, the car wash. And if I have learned one thing about people, it is that we are all focused on self. Even the most self-less and giving among us is wired to consider how others’ actions impact US instead of the reverse. And our life experiences, how we grew up, the environments in which we live, work, and so on, all have an impact on how we react to that. If you tell me on a day when things are going fairly well, when I’ve had a restful night’s sleep, when I have just had a great lunch, talking with some pleasant folks, that you need to cancel on something you promised to do for me later that day for a valid reason, I will likely be disappointed. But I’ll deal with it and move on. Same situation on a day when I haven’t slept, skipped lunch, and ran into snags with everything I attempted? Suddenly, you aren’t my “real” friend. You’re not there when I “need” you. How dare you? I’ll swear that I’ll never ask for your help again. (I will. Ask again, I mean.)
Seriously? We need to respect the need for boundaries – and we need to give ourselves, and others, a break. When I say no to you outright or change my mind down the line, it’s not me being a jerk. (Ok, well, sometimes it probably is.) It’s me saying I know what I can handle – mentally, emotionally, physically, financially, or otherwise – and that perhaps I’ve reached my limit. Or that I can see my limit on the horizon and know myself well enough to know that I shouldn’t wait until I get TO my limit before putting on the brakes.
P.S. This whole post came about because I didn’t do NaNoWriMo. I didn’t write a word. Ok, that’s a lie. I wrote 10 words and then realized that I didn’t have the time or the motivation to do it at this point. And I felt guilty about that. But you know what? Boundaries are cool. Make some.