Creating a strong boundary is one of the most loving acts we can do for ourselves. It tells other people how we want to be treated and helps them to love us the way we want to be loved.
I used to have a lot of trouble with boundaries, and I honestly thought that a boundary was something that I told my partner to do. For example I thought that asking my partner not to drink so much was a boundary, or asking him to spend more time with me and less with his friends. Imagine my shock and surprise when I learned that these were not boundaries but attempts to control my partner
When I realized this, I set out to find out what healthy boundaries were and how I could create them for myself. Ultimately, I learned that a boundary limits another person’s access to me — my time, attention, energy, and presence.
This opened up whole new world.
If I could set any boundary I wanted to with my time and attention, I could be free! I had been giving away time and attention to anyone who wanted it, just because they asked. It was a completely different life experience to realize that I only needed to give time and attention to people when and where it was in best and highest good for both of us. So when my ex-husband wanted to talk with me, and I was busy, I could say no! I could even ignore his call! When my current boyfriend wanted to date other people, I could stop sleeping with him or even stop seeing him. When I wanted to spend time writing, I could turn off my phone.
The nice thing about boundaries is that they are flexible, and moving them is an option. I used to think that I could only set a boundary once, and then it had to stay the same forever. I was so happy to learn that a boundary is adjustable. I can move a boundary whenever it feels right to me.
For example, I was once dating a man who didn’t want to be exclusive with me. I really loved him, but didn’t want to share him with other women, so I decided that I would set a boundary to not be sexually intimate with him, and I would not spend the night at his house.
One night I was at his house, and we had an especially lovely evening together. He told me that he was tired of dating other people, but was afraid that giving up that right would lead to him disappointing me later, that he wouldn’t be able to keep his “promise” to be exclusive with me. After this deep talk I felt safer with him and closer than I had in ages, so I decided to move my boundary. When he asked me to spend the night I said yes. But I still held my boundary around sexual intimacy because it didn’t feel good to me to engage with him in that way yet. I moved the boundary, and put it where it felt comfortable to me in that moment.
Eventually this man made the decision to be monogamous with me. The beauty of it was that I was keeping myself safe in the meantime while he was making his decision, and he didn’t feel pressured by me. The boundary gave me safety and freedom to be with him, and it gave him space to make his own decision.
In the past I would have angrily broken off the relationship. Instead, we were able to enjoy the deep connection that came from knowing that we both were willing to set boundaries and stay in our highest choices.
When we are setting boundaries, it is good to allow ourselves a three times rule. Giving ourselves permission to state our boundaries clearly and concisely at least three different times ensures that our partner understands what we need. In a world where we are often distracted by smart phones, television, and the fast pace of life, it is compassionate to be willing to repeat a boundary a few times so that our beloved will remember it.
For a long time I felt uncomfortable and upset about restating my boundaries every time a particular situation came up. I thought that it should be obvious that my boundary had been crossed, and that my partner must be disregarding it on purpose. But then a shocking thing came up with a former partner. He actually asked me to remind him of my boundary in certain situations This taught me that many times our partners really want to honor our boundary, but they may not remember that we have one in that particular moment.
It is important to feel rather than think when determining where to put a boundary, to work with the wisdom of the body. Boundaries are about helping us to feel safe, by reassuring that part of us that is scared in certain situations (or angry or sad). When we set a boundary, we can imagine that we are protecting the little child inside of us, and he/she is worth it
Practice 13-1: Discovering Boundaries
- Begin by breathing deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth.
- Sit and take a moment to connect as in the Sacred Tree Meditation on page 26. Now feel into your belly and notice any situation in your life with another person that is coming up for you, something that is feeling uncomfortable right now.
- As you feel into your belly, start to breathe even more deeply, first feel the reality that the other person is probably not going to change their behavior.
- With that knowledge, feel into what would feel better. What boundary can you set, what action can you take, what limit can you place on your time and attention that will help you feel safe?
- Once you can feel something that feels better, ask your belly (your inner child) if there is something that would feel even better. If so, then see that in your mind’s eye and feel it in your body.
- Keep repeating the step of reaching for something better until you have found the best possible feeling and the boundary to go with it.
- See clearly in your mind’s eye how you will implement this boundary and feel how good it will feel to love yourself in this way.
It is important that you follow through after doing this exercise by communicating and implementing your boundary. This will create an enormous shift in your inner child’s feeling of safety.
–excerpted from my book, “The Heart of Intimacy: Six Gateways to Healthy Relationship“. To learn more about my Heart of Intimacy Program click HERE.