The Value of Boundaries

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‘It’s important to have boundaries’ is one of those sentences that trips off my tongue. I understand exactly what the words mean cognitively and, to really act on what I think or say continues to be a challenge to me.
Brene Brown defines boundaries as ‘what is okay for me and what is not okay for me.’ This in itself is not hard to establish, what makes it an issue is when I know what is okay or not okay and I don’t communicate that. I end up justifying my actions as ‘keeping others happy’ and then comes the emotional impact. If I don’t hold a boundary that is important to me I know immediately. I end up feeling angry, hurt or resentful. I also believe that I am able to hide that feeling from others and my experience has shown me that is rarely true. If the words I speak are not the words that declare my boundary then what I said and what I mean are inconsistent. This will be a felt by both parties in an interaction even if though it may be hard to articulate. This is important because it impacts the quality of our relationships.
Everyone has his or her own experience of a boundary being crossed. When someone steps over one of my boundaries I get angry, my chest contracts and I have the feeling of being taken advantage or disrespected. I struggle to say what I need to say and most often I will withdraw and disengage. Others may be more aggressive in their response directing their anger at the person who has overstepped the boundary. Both reactions are inappropriate because the person who has invaded the boundary is unaware of what they have done. In both cases conflict is the immediate result, be it inner or outer. The point is not to judge the reaction. The point is to be curious about what has happened. Our emotional reactions are flags telling us that we have a concern that needs to be attended to.
Coaching offers us tools and practices to help us recognise when we have not been clear about a boundary and what to do about that. The action required to put clear boundaries in place may not endear us to everyone; it may even alienate us from certain people. If someone wants us to do something they will not appreciate it when we are not able to meet their need. This can feel very uncomfortable at first. It takes practice to become skilled. Our default settings, like ‘keeping everyone happy’ or ‘needing to be in charge’ are automatic until we start to notice them. When we practice something new like ‘keeping myself happy’ or ‘allowing others to take the lead’ it will not feel natural or normal. The one way to know if it is an effective new strategy is to observe the quality of your relationships. If you feel more connected to yourself and to others you are putting boundaries in place that serve you.