Another common theme I hear from my coaching clients is that they participate in activities when they really don’t want to. They say yes to other people’s requests, or they participate in something they like, but it is not on their terms. Often, this is because they have not set any boundaries for themselves.
So what are boundaries? They are the parameters you set for your life – the absolute non- negotiable limits. No one can set them for you. Parents usually set them for us as children growing up – put a coat on in the winter, don’t touch a hot stove, look both ways before you cross the street, don’t talk to strangers. Boundaries also come from our religious or cultural beliefs – showing us what is acceptable and unacceptable in the communities to which we belong. It was pretty clear to most of us growing up what the boundaries were.
Some of those boundaries we grew up with were imposed on us – we were expected to conform. Now we are adults. Do they still apply? Do I still believe in them? No one told us that we have a choice – to continue with any or all of the boundaries we grew up with or to create new ones for ourselves.
If our boundaries were violated as kids, we may not know how to create them as adults. One way to create them is to determine what doesn’t ‘feel’ right to you or what makes you uncomfortable.
I set boundaries many years ago – I chose not to associate with any person or situation that I considered to be abusive, disrespectful, demeaning or hurtful in any way. I have relatives who after you visit them or have a conversation with them on the telephone, they would modify what you share to suit their needs, completely distort it, and then tell everyone who would listen.
I felt obligated to continue to connect because they are ‘family’ and in doing so, felt that I was not being true to my values. Then I asked myself, “if this person was not my relative would I associate with them? Would I want to be friends? Is this someone whose company I enjoy?”
The answer was always an emphatic ‘no’! The day I released myself from obligation, my first response was feeling guilty. That quickly changed.
It just didn’t make sense to feel guilty about hurting someone else’s feelings or be worried about what they thought of me, when they clearly had their own agenda – which was in no way supportive of me.
It could be a friend, a parent, a sibling, a coworker – it doesn’t matter. We teach others how to treat us, by what we are willing to accept and not accept. When I set up my own boundaries, I honor myself and my beliefs. In doing so, I noticed two responses from others – more respect toward me or they dropped off my radar because I was no longer wiling to engage with them. They took their behaviour elsewhere because I no longer accepted it. They likely found some other person they could unleash their negative behavior on.
I had to take personal responsibility for my life and stop blaming others for how they were treating me. I did it by setting boundaries and you can too.