April 2012 Issue #27
Today’s Topic: Identify and Communicate Your Boundaries Part 1
This week my husband and I are marking our 25th
wedding anniversary by heading off to Vancouver Island for a little celebratory road-trip. We’ll be revisiting some spots we haven’t visited since the early years of our relationship. A little trip down memory lane!
The commitment to honour each other’s boundaries has been a key ingredient in the quality of our relationship over the years. The process of identifying and communicating our boundaries hasn’t always been graceful (the “sandpaper” analogy comes to mind!) however it has always been worth it. When we honour each other’s boundaries, the safety in our relationship increases – and the trust and intimacy grow.
Read on for some reflections on how to maintain healthy boundaries – a challenge we all share.
Something to think about
Each time you neglect to ask for what you need, or to confront someone who treats you poorly, you chip away at your confidence and self-esteem.
A universal challenge
Over many years of coaching, I have noticed that one topic comes up over and over again, with virtually ALL of my clients – irrespective of their differences. That is the topic of BOUNDARIES. At one time or another, in one setting or another, most people struggle to stand up for themselves and their boundaries.
Here are the kinds of comments I hear from clients that can signal a boundary challenge:
“I find it so hard to say “no” when someone asks me to do something, even if I don’t want to do it.”
“I am SO busy, I never have any time for myself.”
“I get so frustrated with how my co-worker treats me and I don’t know what to do about it.”
“I hate it when my mother weighs in with her opinion about how I should raise my children.”
“It drives me crazy when my son takes my car without asking me.”
We can have boundaries around our time, our bodies, our hearts, our minds, our souls – and in the last example, our possessions. Increasing our skill with boundaries can yield high returns. A client recently told me that she is much less conflicted and stressed since learning some new skills in maintaining her boundaries with some difficult family members. The by-product of having strong boundaries can be increased energy, peace of mind and self-respect.
The purpose of a boundary
Thomas Leonard, a pioneer of coaching and the founder of Coach University, described boundaries as “an imaginary line of protection that you draw around you to protect your soul and what’s important to you”. Your boundaries determine what others can and cannot do to you or around you. They reflect what you will and won’t tolerate. Says coach Cheryl Richardson in her book Stand Up For Your Life
, “A strong boundary is like an energy field or ‘psychic barrier’ that protects your body, mind, and spirit from harm.”
Boundaries demarcate those places where WHO I AM bumps up against WHO YOU ARE. The more we can learn to identify and communicate our boundaries, the more we will be treated in a way that feels good and respectful to us. When our boundaries are honoured – and when we honour the boundaries of others – we experience less conflict and increased trust and intimacy.
Boundaries are YOUR responsibility
Wouldn’t life be great if we had no need for boundaries? If everyone we encountered just magically knew what was hurtful or intrusive or offensive to us --- and never did it? Thinking this way is tempting, however it’s wishful thinking.
Personal boundaries arise out of who we are -- and everyone has a different personal reality. So your boundaries will arise from your history, your gender, your family, your culture and many other personal variables.
One person’s boundaries won’t be exactly the same as another’s. That person who has offended you may be acting in a way that is totally appropriate to THEIR boundaries -- however it may not be appropriate to YOUR boundaries. Hence the need to take responsibility for your boundaries and communicate about them!
This means paying attention to our feelings and making requests of others consistent with what we need to feel safe and thrive. This means giving up our expectation that others will read our minds and "just know” how to treat us.
Maintaining your boundaries
There are 2 aspects to maintaining your boundaries: 1) identifying what your boundaries are and 2) communicating your boundaries to others. I'll deal with the first of these today and the second aspect in my next newsletter.
First things first
It’s difficult to maintain a boundary if you don’t know what it is! So becoming aware of and identifying your own boundaries is the first step.
Perhaps in some areas, you are clear about your boundaries and easily able to articulate and act on them. If so, great! However, often we discover a boundary only when it is violated – and we experience a negative reaction to something that another person does. Feelings of anger, hurt and irritation in response to another can be powerful clues to a boundary violation.
In identifying your boundaries, it may be helpful to think about them in relation to these four dimensions of yourself:
1) Your physical well-being:
These boundaries pertain to your body and physical health and may include boundaries around your time and energy. Examples: I won’t sacrifice my health for my job. I decide who can touch me and how.
2) Your emotional well-being:
These boundaries have to do with your feelings and what is hurtful for you emotionally. This involves protecting yourself from both intentional hurt and unintentional hurt on the part of others. Examples: People can’t vent their anger on me. I won’t tolerate jokes about my weight.
3) Your mental well-being:
These boundaries have to do with your intellectual health and what contributes to a positive environment in which to learn and grow in understanding. Example: People may not ridicule or make fun of my ideas. People can’t call me “stupid”.
4) Your spiritual well-being:
These boundaries relate to anything which has a negative or toxic impact on your spiritual well-being or sense of self. Example: I won’t take part in bad-mouthing another person. I can’t participate in something that violates my ethics.
Listen to your feelings
Is there something you’ve been tolerating or putting up with? Are there particular situations when you repeatedly “lose your cool” or experience stress? Feelings of upset, anger or hurt may be giving you a clue that a boundary is needed. So pay attention!
Ask yourself “What is not OK with me? What boundary of mine is not being honoured?” Once you identify the source of the upset, you’ll be empowered to take the next step of communicating your boundary to others. The more we learn to identify and communicate our boundaries, the greater ease we will experience in navigating our life and relationships -- and the more we will be treated in a way that feels good and respectful to us.
Invitation to action
Identify a boundary of yours:
Think of a relationship in which you feel stressed, uncomfortable or irritated. Ask yourself:
What behaviour on the part of that person is problematic for me? What boundary of mine does it violate? Is it a physical, emotional, mental or spiritual boundary? Or more than one? Name the boundary as clearly as you can.
Even this first step of identifying your boundary can be very freeing. It shifts the focus off of being “done to” by the other person and locates the power back within yourself -- where it can make a difference.
My next newsletter will tackle the topic of COMMUNICATING YOUR BOUNDARIES TO OTHERS.
A former client recently contacted me to celebrate the good news of having recently become engaged. After her divorce, we worked together a few years ago to clarify her vision and requirements for the partnership she wanted to create. She called to let me know that it has manifested for her! I couldn't be more delighted. I applaud her wisdom in taking the time to consciously envision her next relationship -- and her patient persistence in bringing it forth. If you're single or divorced, contact me for more information about the Conscious Dating Coaching Program, which I offer. This comprehensive program will help you avoid past mistakes, create a vision for your future relationship and inspire you to make wise choices in your relationship quest.
Shirley Vollett BSW PCC is a Life and Relationship Coach, with over 20 years of combined experience in counselling and coaching. She delights in helping pro-active individuals make positive changes in their lives, their work/business and their relationships. Her clients appreciate her ability to listen deeply, her compassionate wisdom and her support in staying focused. Contact Shirley for a complimentary intro phone session. If you are experiencing a challenge or are eager to make some changes, explore how coaching works and how she can help. Click on a link below or visit her website at http://shirley.vollett.com