When was the last time you said “No”?
Not “No, I’m sorry because…” or “No, I would but I can’t this time because….”
I’m asking, when was the last time you simply said “N-O full stop”.
“No” can be a full sentence. It doesn’t require explaining, justification or skirting around. But the truth is, most of us feel guilty for saying this. We feel like we’re being an absolute b**** if we don’t drop everything to pander to someone else’s needs…because that’s what we’ve been taught to do.
It’s called ‘having healthy boundaries’. And most people struggle with this concept. Most people feel guilty or ashamed for having boundaries and fear being disliked or seen as selfish. Healthy boundaries are the ultimate people-pleaser’s nightmare, but they are incredibly important to have. Unhealthy boundaries are…well…unhealthy – mentally, physically and emotionally.
Luckily, becoming a Boundary Queen is possible (even for a reforming people-pleaser like myself!).
But first, what exactly are personal boundaries?
Knowing your personal boundaries and why these are important
There’s no question that boundaries are important. They help to keep us safe emotionally, physically, sexually, and in the workplace. They also help to protect our personal belongings and our time. But boundaries aren’t just about safety. They’re also about respect.
When we set boundaries, we’re saying that we respect ourselves and our needs. We’re also saying that we won’t tolerate being treated in a way that doesn’t respect those needs. This is especially important for mothers, who are frequently expected to put everyone else’s needs before their own. Whether it’s in our personal lives or at work, women are often expected to be selfless and giving, without any thought for their own boundaries. We are expected to be selfless mothers, dutiful daughters, supportive wives and girlfriends, and hard-working employees, all without complaint.
But the truth is that boundaries are essential for healthy relationships – both with others and with ourselves. Without boundaries, we become resentful, burnt out, and disconnected from our true selves.
So, how do we do this? It’s firstly about understanding the different types of boundaries that exist so you can protect them. Boundaries fall into six main categories:
And as mothers, we often find ourselves having to set boundaries in all of these areas. We have to protect our own emotional wellbeing while also caring for our children. We have to protect our physical space while also accommodating our family. We have to protect our sexual needs and safety while also being open and loving with our partner. We have to protect our workplace and our ability to do work without interference while also being present for our children. We have to protect our personal belongings while also sharing them with our family. And we have to protect our time while also carving out time for ourselves.
The first step in setting boundaries is understanding your needs and wants.
What are you comfortable with?
What do you not want to tolerate anymore?
The difference between healthy and unhealthy boundaries
Most of us have been taught the exact opposite of having healthy boundaries – to give our great aunt a hug even though we don’t want to, or been guilted into eating another serving of food because “your grandma spent hours slaving over the stove to make this”. We learn early on that it’s not ok to say “no”, to have our own opinions, or set limits.
We get forced to share our toys before we even understand the concept of sharing. If we fight back, our parents push back harder.
We are taught to keep quiet and never speak back to an adult. We are told that standing up for ourselves if ever accused of something we didn’t do and speaking out of turn is disrespectful and rude.
As we encounter disagreements at school with other kids, we’re taught to ‘toughen up’ or simply ‘take the high road’ despite this slowly wearing down our spirit.
We learn to shove down and ignore our feelings because that’s just what we’re supposed to do. We plaster on a happy face for the world to see and respond with “I’m fine” whenever asked how we are, and then we begin to wonder why we feel so disconnected from our true selves and unable to nurture healthy relationships?!
This is especially true for women (who are socialised to be caretakers and selfless), and can be particularly damaging when it comes to motherhood. In a culture that values motherhood and putting others first, it can be a radical act to put your own needs first. But it is essential for your wellbeing (and that of your little ones too!). When you learn to create healthy boundaries, you are not only taking care of yourself, but also modeling healthy behavior for those around you.
Healthy boundaries allow you to:
- Respectfully say “no”
- Have your own opinions and feelings
- Set limits on what you’re comfortable with
- Nurture healthy relationships
- Take care of yourself
Unhealthy boundaries can look like:
- People pleasing
- Caretaking others at the expense of yourself
- Allowing someone you’ve just met to discipline your children
- Allowing others to overstep and invade your boundaries
As with most things in life, there is the risk of taking boundaries to the extreme. If they become too rigid, we risk becoming isolated from the world around us; and if they are too loose, we risk loosing our self-worth and sense of self.
Becoming a Boundary Queen (effective boundary management)
There’s no doubt about it, setting boundaries is hard. It’s even harder when you’re a mother. You’re constantly being pulled in a million different directions and it can be tough to put your foot down. But setting boundaries is essential if you want to feel calm, respected and reduce stress.
Here’s how to do it:
1) Setting boundaries
The first step is to anchor in on what your deep values are as these often identify what boundaries need to be set.
Consider where any emotional triggers lie. If you are being triggered or a more extreme emotion is being felt around particular areas, this is an indicator a boundary (whether defined or not) is being crossed and needs to be explicitly set.
Feel into your body and inner knowing to see whether you intuitively feel that you are being taken advantage of in any particular area? If so, this is another sign you need to set boundaries.
2) Implementing and communicating boundaries
Once you have a sense of what boundaries you need, it’s time to put them into action.
This can be done by communicating your boundaries directly to the person or persons involved. Be clear, concise, and honest in your communication. Like anything you do, learning to communicate in this manner takes practice. If you’re feeling hesitant, acknowledge this and approach with curiosity – what stories are you telling yourself? Are you afraid of being judged? Are you afraid of not being liked?
These are often signs of low self-energy and self-respect, which can result from having unhealthy boundaries in the first place. Seek solace in the fact that by establishing boundaries and having these conversations, you are honouring your needs and building upon your self-worth as a result.
3) Maintain your healthy boundaries over time
Your ability to maintain a healthy boundary will be correlated to your ability to say “No”. Even if you were brimming with confidence and effectively communicated your boundaries initially; it’s vital to hold firm and maintain these (re-communicating them as required).
Motherhood can be a particularly challenging time when it comes to maintaining healthy boundaries. We can often feel guilty for saying no to our children, even when it is something that we feel strongly about….and kids are persistent! You might be able to hold strong on the 1st, 2nd or even 10th attempt to push your boundaries; but if they know they can overstep them, they will keep at it until you cave.
It’s about getting comfortable with making a decision, knowing that this is something you truly value, and being able to say no to something that isn’t in line with your principles or isn’t a priority for you right now.
Boundaries work best when they are flexible, responsive and adaptable to the ever-changing circumstances around you. Like a dancer, they need to be strong but also light on their feet. They need to be able to move with the music of life – to go with the rhythm and shift with the tempo of the music but to not fall down. So, be sure to use your boundaries as a tool to protect yourself and honour your needs – and don’t forget to have fun with it!
Setting healthy boundaries is crucial in all relationships, whether they be with our children, our partners, our friends, or even our co-workers. Boundaries allow us to nurture and care for ourselves while also respecting the needs of others. Unfortunately, not everyone will respect our boundaries, and that’s okay. It’s important to remember that we can’t control how others react to our boundaries, but we can control how we respond. If someone can’t respect our boundaries, it may be time to reconsider the relationship. (Don’t ditch your kids of course, lol! But there are other measures you can put in place to protect those boundaries instead 😉 )
Ultimately, setting healthy boundaries is an act of self-love and self-care, and it’s something we should all strive for. So start practicing flexing your boundary muscles and you too can become a Boundary Queen!