I had absolutely no idea how to set boundaries prior to finding my way through my divorce. Most of us don’t know how to set them. We’re taught to put others ahead of ourselves. (This is especially true for women, but there are plenty of men who have the same issue.) I have heard my friend Cheryl Richardson say on several occasions, “If I spend my life pleasing people, I spend my life.” Up until that point in my life, I definitely had been spending it. And I was just about bankrupt when I finally woke up.
Not everyone puts others ahead of themselves, of course, and some of us are more prone to people-pleasing than others. But the attachment many of us feel to keeping others happy is pretty tenacious. In a certain way, pleasing becomes our currency—the way we purchase love and attention. If we don’t think we inherently deserve love, we feel we must find some way to earn it.
When we begin to set boundaries, we often find ourselves face to face with A-to-Z thinking. All or nothing; it assumes that if you can’t make it to Z, you can’t have anything at all. But it doesn’t always have to be an either/or proposition. You only have to get from A to B. Small shifts add up.
If you’re prone to A-to-Z thinking, evaluate your situation thoroughly and ask yourself:
- What steps can I take today to move me inch-by-inch toward the boundary that I’d like to set? For example, where might I say ‘no’ when I would otherwise say ‘yes’?
- Where can I ask for what I really want instead of watering down my request to please another person?
When we answer honestly, we see that there is room to take one small step and set one boundary at a time. Then, setting that one, first, boundary helps us to develop the courage to set more boundaries.
- We are no longer reacting or responding to someone else.
- We are suddenly able to act from a clean, clear place.
Having set my own boundaries for the first time I was finally able to begin living my own life and it was amazing. And while I felt stronger in some ways, I also felt a lot like a young colt trying to walk for the first time—which is fitting, since I was indeed birthing a new identity. My legs felt gangly, like I could barely stand. And then in time, of course, I leaned to stand on my own two feet again.
So, take heart! When you set new boundaries, you may at first feel as though you have a new pair of legs. You might feel off balance, but it won’t last forever.
Yes, it can be very scary to operate from a place of what your own heart desires, especially when you’re a people-pleaser like I was. As children, we learn to respond in a way that brings us the least stress and trouble—and that often means allowing ourselves to be moved by others’ wants and needs. But as adults, we have to learn to get past our ingrained fears and make clear choices.
Your Boundary Badass Mantra: “I will only say ‘yes’ today to what I truly desire.”
Try it…and let me know how it goes!