I knew my boundaries were non-existent when an acquaintance walked into my home and I said nothing. They didn’t knock. They didn’t call out. They just opened the front door, walked in and came and found me in my study. It was not okay. But instead of saying ‘hang on a second!” I just smiled and asked what they wanted.
There’s a direct line between the health of our personal boundaries and the quality of our relationships. A little give and take is always important in relationships but if our boundaries are too flimsy we’re likely to feel taken for granted and burnt out. Resentment builds and before long we’re feeling angry and hurt and the other person has no idea what they have done. If we don’t work out and talk about what’s going on, conflict and relationship breakdown are the likely outcomes.
The signs about my porous boundaries have been there for years, but I never noticed them. With hindsight and a much better understanding of myself it’s clear I allowed and propagated all sorts of things that were not okay. I repeatedly volunteered to be the one to do more at home and at work than my family or colleagues. Saying no has never been a comfortable option. Much better to dodge it or just say yes and find a way to make it happen.
I would make allowances, saying there’ll be a good reason the other is being mean or difficult or unfair. I can clearly picture the moment I was with a friend in a café in Coventry. She told me about someone who was being unreasonable. When I started to say she should see it from his point of view, she got angry. Fair enough! Instead of supporting her, as she had a right to expect from a friend, I was trying to persuade her to compromise her boundaries in favour of someone I didn’t even know!
All this was done in the service of maintaining the relationships. I might not have understood it at the time, but I tolerated these infringements because somewhere inside I believed the relationships would break if I didn’t. Unless I gave way, unless I bent and adapted to everyone else, no one would like me or want to work with me.
But it didn’t work. I was generally knackered, often resentful and could be passive aggressive. I don’t sound much fun to be with do I?! What’s more, my way of saying no was to withdraw. I would step away from people when I needed space. Instead of helping me build close, nourishing relationships, with the strength to withstand difference and disagreement, all this bending and breaking of my boundaries was doing the complete opposite.
None of it was the fault of the other person. My boundaries were mine to understand, respect and defend. It was not up to them to recognise them and step back. I was expecting the impossible if I thought it was. After all, if I didn’t know my boundaries were being trampled, how was anyone else going to.
The change has been gradual but there was a watershed moment. I was working in a group. A few of the members really didn’t like me. It was years ago but I can still picture the room, where I was sitting and the weather outside. As I would always happily tell anyone who asked, you can’t please everyone. But in this moment I truly got it. There was nothing I could do to make them like me and it didn’t matter. I suddenly understood I had permission to do what suited me. It’s important to me to always respect others, but it’s okay to take care of myself and if the other person doesn’t like it, perhaps we’re not going to be friends.
Putting it into practice has taken much longer and I still bend when perhaps I shouldn’t and withdraw, but I can do something about it. I can respect and stand by my boundaries and re-engage. Importantly, the resentment and passive aggression have gone.
If you would like to know how to define and assert your boundaries, click here to book a call with me.