Boundaries are a buzzword for a reason. Few people know how to set boundaries, how to hold them well, and how to distinguish them from walls.
“Walls keep everybody out. Boundaries teach people where the door is.”—Mark Grove
Boundaries are an invitation to engage in a way that allows the right level of opening to occur at the right time instead of a complete closing off of connection.
You may have a hard time saying no, having been taught to be flexible, malleable, and an agreeable caretaker. For you, putting up walls could be necessary before you tackle learning how to set boundaries - clear boundaries.
Walls are not a problem to be fixed and you’re not wrong for having them. You may have needed walls to survive. Give thanks for their safety-giving strength and thank yourself for erecting them when you needed them.
And, when you’re ready, your next step will be to shift out of behaviors that helped you survive into new behaviors that support you to thrive. This includes softening your walls and learning how to set boundaries instead.
Boundaries are born out of sovereignty and self-acceptance.
A former yoga teacher of mine used to say that when the inside—our connection to our deepest self—is strong, the outside—how we meet the world—can be soft and receptive.
The reverse is also true: When our connection to our deepest self is weak, we tend to harden our outer self. The hardness is made of compensation and self-protection and is not who we really are. At some point, it becomes time to turn our attention to what’s behind that hardness so that more of who we really are can come out.
Take note: If you’re in active trauma, the number one thing is to get yourself to safety before you even think about starting to dismantle your walls. Once there’s enough of a foundation of safety and support in your life, then you could start to examine how to transition to creating clear boundaries instead of walls.
#1 Tip for How To Set Boundaries
Before you ever say YES or NO to someone else, learn to say YES to yourself by practicing filling yourself up fully with yourself and what you most love and value in life.
The funny thing is, if you center yourself in your own sovereignty and values, the way people treat you shifts even before you have to tell them what your boundaries are.
The Filling Up Practice:
Sit quietly in a place where you won’t be disturbed for 5-10 minutes. Feel your feet on the floor and the pressure of your body on the chair.
Become aware of your connection to the earth, the solidity beneath you that holds you up.
Become aware of a central column that connects your seat to the crown of your head. Your core, if you will. Center yourself in that central column as you gently breathe. Feel your sovereignty and connection with yourself in this central column.
Become aware of the qualities or values you most love in life. Whether they're love, freedom, clarity, or passion, choose the three qualities that matter the most. Let those qualities infuse your central column and expand out to fill your body as you breathe.
Become aware of the space all around your body, as if you’re sitting in an egg. Let the sensation you feel in your central column spread out and fill this egg.
Your energetic field extends out several feet in all directions from your body. Breathing your center outward to fill the egg is a natural extension of filling yourself up with yourself.
Practice filling yourself up with yourself as many times a day as you need to until walking through the world as a filled-up sovereign being is how you naturally carry yourself.
#2 Tip for How To Set Boundaries
In order to own your YES, learn to own your NO.
Practicing Tip #1 makes it easier to feel and communicate your clear NO and YES to others. It will be very clear to you what does and doesn’t feel good once you’re filled up with your own center.
Here’s the uncomfortable truth:
Until you have a clear NO, your YES will be suspect. A muddy YES makes you untrustworthy and sets the stage for you to feel violated by others. People have to pussyfoot around you because they don’t know whether or not your YES is real. They end up often feeling wrong because you haven’t told them how to win with you.
Read this article by Lynne Twist on the victim triangleto get a clearer picture of how we tend to move between the Victim, the Persecutor, and the Rescuer positions in our daily lives.
In addition, every time you say YES when you mean MAYBE or NO, it’s like death by a thousand tiny cuts to your self-esteem and self-trust. The first step to developing self-respect and integrity is getting clear on your YES and NO and communicating it.
If you hold setting a boundary with your YES and NO as a demonstration of sovereignty, self-esteem, and integrity, it becomes easier to do. If you’re focused on whether or not someone will reject you for not going along with what they want, it becomes harder.
[bctt tweet=" Saying NO when you mean NO is an act of kindness, both to yourself and to the people around you.—Marie-Elizabeth Mali"]
The YES and NO Practice:
Start small. Say YES or NO when someone asks if you want Mexican food for lunch or if you want a coffee. Get honest when the stakes are low.
Bonus: if you’re a YES to coffee be very specific about how you want it instead of taking it however it shows up. This builds the muscle of helping others win with you by teaching them what you want and don’t want. Your specificity is also an act of kindness.
Remember to reward people when they give you what you want. This can be as simple as a big smile and a, Thank you!
Your joy feels great to others to receive. And if they’re worth your time and attention, they will do whatever it takes to receive it again.
Work up to a stronger YES and NO boundary by raising the stakes over time. You could practice with a friend you invite to help you improve at boundary-setting until you no longer stumble over your words or over-explain your NO. Get smooth with it in increasingly challenging contexts until it’s no big deal to tell your boss you won’t be taking on that extra project over the weekend.
To become a boundary-setting champ, combine the practices of filling yourself up with yourself and saying YES and NO when you mean it. This crucial skill works in the boardroom, the bedroom, and everywhere in between. Choose the arena you find it easiest to practice in first. Expand out to tougher ones once you’ve nailed it in the less charged area.
December is better relationships month! If you missed last week’s roundup on how to have a better relationship, click here to get caught up.
Please leave a comment below on your greatest takeaway from this article. I'd love to hear from you!