Boundaries are like a good pair of Spanx, they provide support to help keep things where they should be, they are often at work behind the scenes, and they take some effort to get into place but once there, they can do one hell of a job!
Today, I see boundaries as one of the single most important aspects of a healthy relationship and a healthy life. About a year ago, however, I couldn’t really tell you what the term boundaries even meant. Growing up an only child, I didn’t have the same struggle for power I so often saw among my friends and their siblings, nor did I have to share a bathroom, a closet, a bedroom–let alone a bed.
And then, I moved to New Zealand to live in a van.
Making the transition from life in a 3,000 sq ft home to a 1994 Toyota Estima was…a drastic one. The plan, developed with my best girlfriend of 4 years, was to leave our normal lives behind in pursuit of something bigger than ourselves and spend a year getting outside of the traditional social standards of living in Western society. We challenged ourselves to live a minimalist lifestyle with no electricity, toilet, or refrigeration for a full year. Out of all the challenges this presented, by far the most intimidating was the task of sharing a living space about the size of a walk-in closet.
Aware that we were getting ourselves into something that would be slightly demanding on our friendship, and being the good planners we are, we did manage to take the first step towards putting some boundaries into place. This included things like regularly having alone time, checking in with one another on a weekly basis to see what was going well and what might need to change, and establishing an equal share of the chores and things to be done. In addition, she requested that we don’t sleep in too much (as that is something I often do) and I requested specific days where I would need to spend doing school work as I was still attending my online university and studying for my PhD throughout this time.
In agreement, we made our plans, bought our flights, and made our way across the world together. The first 6 weeks were fueled by excitement as we purchased our van, got our bank accounts set up, and started making our way around the North island. We felt an uplifting pride in ourselves that we were really doing what we said we were going to; we were there, and we were doing it!
As with any human experience, however, the honeymoon phase inevitably fades, and you are soon left with the ‘real’ life that has been lurking in the shadows. As time continued on, we started to feel our differences become more pronounced and it was here I truly began to learn about another very important aspect of healthy boundaries, actually maintaining those boundaries.
Instead of letting my friends know I needed more alone time, I let my frustrations grow. Instead of making it known I needed more time for school, I fell behind. Rather than expressing my concerns and upsets, I stifled them to keep the peace. Every boundary I failed to keep I would justify as a necessity and it was as if each event lived for me as a fragment of life instead of the interrelated network of experiences that were calling for the structure and support of boundaries.
Looking back, the biggest obstacle I ran into was my preoccupation with being nice and keeping the peace. Hardly something at first glance that would seem to be problematic but as I look back over my life, and as I hear more from women of all ages, being nice can actually get in the way quite often. As women, we seem to feel the need to hold back out of concern for other people’s feelings and, for me, understanding too what my friend was going through at the time. However, what we don’t necessarily see is how we could be caring for our friends, our families, and ourselves much better if we voiced our needs and feelings.
What I have discovered throughout this experience is that having and maintaining boundaries is the way to voice our needs in a fair and respectful way. When we take the time to have up front and honest conversations with the people in our lives, we are setting the foundation for those relationships. Through our actions and our words, we are conveying to others that we care about them enough to say the things that so often go unsaid and that we are facing those challenges in order to establish something meaningful in our lives.
Boundaries are not necessarily easy to set…or to keep but changing my context for what boundaries are and how they support healthy relationships in my life has helped me face having those conversations. Now, when I am coming up against my boundaries and I start justifying why I can just let it go, I remind myself that I am worthy of my boundaries being respected, I am worthy of relationships with people who feel the same way, and most of all I am worthy of my feelings and my needs being heard.
Now, for me, boundaries are no longer a source of shame. Instead they look a little something like:
- Having boundaries means you make your needs known, prior to them becoming an issue
- Having boundaries means you don’t let yourself get into situations you don’t want to be in
- Having boundaries means you can express yourself
- Having boundaries means you care about yourself AND about others
- Having boundaries means you communicate…even when it feels really terrible and you don’t want to
- Having boundaries means you’re mindful of your life and how you want to live it
- Having boundaries means you stand up for and reinforce your boundaries when they are pushed
- Having boundaries means when you realize someone doesn’t respect your boundaries, they probably aren’t a person you want around
- Having boundaries does NOT mean you are rude, selfish, or mean
~ Your Goddess Guide Molly Stillwell