Boundaries has been a popular subject of self-help advice lately and I want to share a different perspective on the topic.
Many people unconsciously set boundaries to try to control other people’s behavior and avoid processing negative thoughts and feelings about themselves. But this use of boundaries isn’t helpful in achieving the results you want or your personal growth.
Here’s the thing: you can’t change someone else’s behavior. Their behavior is a result of their own thoughts and feelings. When you try to set a boundary from a place of control it becomes an ultimatum, which people don’t respond to, and creates a lot of resentment and drama. You end up wasting a lot of mental and emotional energy being invested in trying to change the other person, wishing they were different and running from your feelings. It’s more helpful to focus on what you can control: your own thoughts, feelings, actions and results.
Other people don’t cause your feelings, your own thoughts cause your feelings. If you unconsciously believe what they say or make it mean something negative about yourself, you will feel a negative emotion like sadness or anger.
So if your mother criticizes you or comments on how you parent, you will have a thought about what she says, then you will feel an intense emotion and want to set a boundary that when she does that you will end the conversation or leave the room. The problem is you won’t feel better because your unprocessed thoughts and emotions are still with you and causing you to continue to feel terrible. Your mother doesn’t cause your thoughts, it’s your own belief that you are not a good enough daughter or mother that will cause you to feel sad or ashamed.
Doing the deeper work of uncovering your unconscious thoughts and feelings allows you the freedom to deliberately choose how to think and feel. You can decide to think that your mother was criticized her whole life, so she thinks it’s normal to criticize others and it has nothing to do with you or your self-worth.
It’s with this emotional freedom that you can choose to create a boundary from a place of love for yourself, preference of how you want to spend your time and compassion for others rather than resistance of your negative emotions or rejection of other people’s humanness.
Then comes the even harder part: having honest conversations with others about your boundaries and actually enforcing them. It’s difficult to do because women are socialized to think it’s their job to make everyone happy and enforcing a boundary will bring up a lot of stress and anxiety if you are worried about how it will make other people think and feel about you. Remember though, you can’t control how other people think and feel.
I think this is the most difficult and rewarding work of our lifetime. Telling each other the truth about our personal preferences, without any judgement or fear of rejection, leads to true intimacy and authenticity. This is how we cultivate deep, quality, intimate relationships, which is what most of us long for.
If you’re longing for more ease and connection in relationships, sign up for the waitlist for the next Manage Your Mind group program starting in February. It will transform your relationship to stress, anxiety and self-doubt and get you living with more authenticity and joy. You can sign up here: Waitlist