This week I learned about boundaries. One of my favorite podcasters, Karen Kilgariff, recently said this at the end of episode 231: “In business situations, people like to get you to talk about your feelings…so that later, your feelings are what the point is and not the facts of what you have a problem with.”
Hello — Yes.
That hit me as a great entry to thinking about boundaries. And, more to the point, one of the key gains from becoming more emotionally stronger and more flexible is that you own your emotions. No one else.
The stronger we are emotionally the more agency we have over our emotions. Instead of letting other people tell us how we are feeling, we can tell ourselves, and then, when appropriate, bring how we are feeling into the relationship.
We can tell ourselves how we are feeling and then remind ourselves that our strong feelings are ours and need to be felt, but the situation is not ours and we have to let it go.
Case in point: My lovely mom, near a raging fire, chose to stay put in her home recently. My emotions consumed me and I so wanted her to leave — so I could know she was safe, breathing fresh air, far away from a very dangerous fire.
She stayed put, surrounded by friends and her husband, in her home she loves. A great lesson in boundaries. In knowing what was mine and what was hers. I got to feel my strong emotions on my own, which was an actual strong and very real reminder about how much I love her. She, of course, got to make her own choice about her own life and stay in her home.
That dance in relationships of what is yours and what is the other persons. Man alive, sometimes it can feel like a hot potato (does that reference still work in 2020?).
There’s an art to holding strong boundaries. A great metaphor for strong, healthy boundaries is a cell membrane. Cell membranes let some stuff in but protect from other stuff <= no, I am not a biologist.
Your boundary is an invisible force field around you that lets you know what is your stuff, what is not your stuff.
Sometimes boundaries are too rigid. In this case, you might feel like you need to be in control, feel that things are black or white, you might use guilt or manipulation to get people to do what you want and your identity is crystal clear but never changes.
Sometimes boundaries are too diffuse. In this case, you never want to be in control, want other people to fill your emotional needs, and you are really scared of losing human connection, even when that connection is hurting you. Your identity is unclear. You might have lots of surface relationships but no deep ones.
What we want to shoot for is flexible boundaries. We can say yes when it’s healthy for us even if we’re a bit scared, but we can say no when something is not healthy for us. We contribute, take risks, we’re open to feedback.
How are your boundaries? When you consider that force field around you, is it healthy like a cell membrane? Take some time to consider this.
Perhaps there is a situation in your life right now where setting healthier boundaries could help.
Almost always, working on setting or resetting healthy boundaries with people we are very close to is best done with a professional.
You can though, start this week to consider how to engage with people you are not especially close to in order to learn more about your boundaries and where you might want to strengthen them. Remember, strong absolutely does not mean rigid. Rigid boundaries are just as weak as diffuse boundaries.
As you go through your week, and engage with people at work, people in shops, acquaintances, etc, notice your boundaries.
Take small steps to either say “No” when you normally might be afraid to, or say “Yes” when similarly, normally that might make you feel like you are losing control. Get playful. Yes, anger can result when we strengthen our boundaries but tremendous growth can happen when you quietly observe that anger blowing over and realize that your boundaries just got that much stronger.
5. Level-UP / Go Deeper
If you feel your boundaries are too rigid or too diffuse, consider looking for a trusted therapist to work with.
It’s life changing stuff, and well worth the time.
9. Hero: Therapists — Amazing Boundary Setters
Why? I can’t choose just one. Over several decades, taking an infinite (seeming) number of baby steps with trusted super professional therapists, I have worked on boundaries. Personally, perhaps the most important work I have done.
10. Take Care of Yourself This Week and Share if you know someone who might like this.
Wild and Precious Podcast, the audio partner to 10 Things, is available everywhere you download podcasts. Flexibility episode Thursday.