I grew up in a home with an undiagnosed narcissist for one parent and a self-absorbed know it all for the other. While they both have good hearts, their ability to raise children and form healthy relationships was bit…lacking. I’ve come to understand that they did the best they good with the emotional tools they had available to them and I’ve made my peace with all the gaps in my knowledge about how to live in the earth realm (while still working to fill them). I’ve come to be grateful for this challenging, though certainly not unique, set of parents because it set me on a path of learning how to create and enforce healthy boundaries.
Growing up, boundaries were violated – whether by accident or on purpose – all the time. I quickly learned it was no use setting them. But some part of me also refused to be a doormat. In the absence of knowing how to create and enforce healthy boundaries, I took to building walls and turning into a screaming, temper tantrum-throwing mess any time someone came anywhere close to taking even a single brick out of those carefully constructed walls.
As you can imagine, this made relationships of any kind quite difficult. It was an all or nothing proposition for me. Either I felt safe and let you inside my walls (and often wound up hurt in the process and kicked you out in dramatic fashion) or I kept you out (and probably missed out on some great stuff.)
Fast forward a lot of years and we arrive at learning to build fences instead of walls. You know the saying “good fences make good neighbors?” Guess what? They make good boundaries too. I had to learn that it IS acceptable to say no to some things while still allowing that person or situation to be within my sphere of existence. I had to learn to clearly state – and follow through with – my limits and back away if those were violated. Yes, that’s right. BACK WAY. Very different from screaming and throwing a tantrum.
I still sometimes feel like I have trouble setting boundaries, but thanks to some amazing friends who act like a mirror, I’m beginning to see I’m actually a lot better at it than I thought! It turns out, I am taking care of myself and my needs while not slamming the proverbial door in people’s faces. Is it easy? Heck no! Could I do better? Probably. But the key has truly been about self-respect. Because the truth is that boundaries are simply another form of self-care.
Whenever I approach a person, problem, or situation from a place of self-respect, I’m able to set clear boundaries and express them in ways that are not offensive and don’t feel off-putting to the other person. This means sometimes need to wait days, or weeks, before responding to something so I can let go of the hurt or anger and respond from a place of inner strength and self-respect.
Please understand, this does not mean I’m subtle. I’m not. Unless you count the time someone in college called me “subtle as an atomic bomb” my name and subtle have never been used in the same sentence. Here’s the thing – boundaries, just like real fences, don’t have to be subtle to be polite and effective. They simply need to come from a place of self-respect and be set up without anger or malice.
I know, easier said than done. Don’t worry! There’s some AMAZING resources at the end of this article to help you (or your kids) begin to build healthy boundaries.