Why is it harder to set boundaries with some people than it is with others? Have you experienced this? For me, it’s usually with a particular friend or boyfriend who I am rooting for as they struggle with hardships. I can see their potential. I can see their goodness. I can see that times are just really hard for them, so, if asked for help, I usually say yes. Can you relate? But the longer I help someone in need and see the extent to their crisis or struggle, the less likely I am to speak up about my needs. When I swallow what I need and am always available to help someone, that person loses respect for me, ironically while they may be asking for even more of me. And if this goes on for any length of time, say a person doesn’t get better or can’t support themselves, or becomes aggressive, needier, or abusive, I’ve teetered into really unhealthy territory. I’ve crossed over into co-dependency, when I should have set a boundary. (Sadly, I’ve had therapy for co-dependency and read many books on the topics too. Melody Beattie’s Codependent No More is amazing btw!) Clearly, I still have a lot to learn.
With certain people I can start to feel nervous or guilty just trying to say what I need to say, or do what I need to do. That’s because a pattern got set of me always being there for them and now that I’m aware of it, it upsets the dynamic of the relationship, even if it’s an unhealthy one. These people trigger my upbringing because I can anticipate getting yelled at, guilted or manipulated or abandoned, or all of the above, as punishment for voicing my feelings. So fear of being yelled at or abandoned is real for me. Even though I wanted to avoid these two things in my relationships, for most of my life, I attracted them. (But that’s another post, maybe!) I remember vividly being yelled at by an ex-boyfriend because I dared to stop during a road trip to go to a Target to buy tampons. It was a busy Target, I admit. The lines were insane, plus I had to find a bathroom and then get a drink in order to take a few Motrin. With traffic being bad, I was likely 45 minutes off schedule for arrival. The inconvenience of me not arriving at our weekend destination on time in order to help him unload his car and help settle a family member, out-surpassed my cramping and desperate need to ensure I wouldn’t soil my clothes. I was yelled at in front of others when I arrived. I should have turned around and drove home that evening. Lets just say it was an eye-opening New Years Eve for me. I set New Year’s Eve intentions to follow my dreams without guilt or fear of abandonment. Who knew that one incident set me on a course to write my book and begin yoga teacher training? The Universe gives me the lessons I need, if I pay attention, and if I’m willing to open my heart, to change. I didn’t yell back at my ex-boyfriend. I just asked to go my room and I journaled, meditated and set my mind to stop neglecting my needs.
But sometimes I cha-cha in life. I take two steps forward, think I’ve got the dance down, and land one thudding step back. It’s okay. I’m learning to set boundaries, even if I don’t say what’s on my mind always in the moment. Sometimes I opt for peace, especially if another person might not be open to hearing what I have to say without getting angry. I can set a boundary without saying a word. I can just distance myself, not always be available, not answer every text. (Folks in LA have that one down!) But it doesn’t feel respectful with someone I really care about. That’s when I often stumble. When I care, I can ask for space or a boundary by making excuses or justifications or apologies…In the end, it’s not necessary. As a good friend told me, it’s just a matter of me connecting to my heart that is saying I must check in and take care of me, my needs, my family. If a friend can’t respect that, or is angry, or confused about it and wanting to engage in a lot of dramatic banter, I shouldn’t justify myself or try to explain, or make it into a painful dialogue, no matter how much I love them. I shouldn’t have to. The lesson for me,is to speak my truth earlier, in the moment, regardless of how the other person responds. As long as I am kind and coming from a heart-felt place, it will all work out exactly as it is meant to.
If you can relate to any of what I just said, then this article “What are Healthy Boundaries” by Sharon Martin is for you. I love her list here, that I am re-posting, as it simplifies and clarifies what healthy boundaries should feel like: