One repeating theme over the last few weeks, for clients, friends and myself, was setting boundaries. The Universe has an interesting sense of humour at times. Whenever you think you have learned or mastered something, it will bring a new challenge or a new trigger to test you.
Relationships, especially those with our extended family, challenge us in different ways. When a relationship is abusive and/or life threatening we need to cut the cords completely. In all other relationships, we need to set clear boundaries. Regular unpleasant or upsetting interactions show up for us to learn something. We cannot change others, but we can always change ourselves. Let’s examine what lessons show up. How are you or others getting affected by these unhealthy interactions? How are misunderstandings, hurt or pain created? What boundaries need to be set for the interactions to become healthy?
- Take a close look in the mirror. Every relationship is a dance between two people and we have to honestly decide what missteps we have made and what part we are playing for the situation to be the way it is. We have to take responsibility and own our half of the situation or nothing can change. Have we invited the other person to overstep boundaries? Then we need to change our own behaviour.
- Forgive yourself and others. Life is short and can be over from one day to the next. What upsets us now won’t make a difference in a few weeks, months or years. The things we hold on to that upset, irritate and annoy us create toxins in our bodies, our relationships, our family, our community, and our world.
- Examine whether the existing boundaries are healthy and work for you, and then clearly set or re-set boundaries.
Having clear boundaries has almost become a catch phrase. What does that even mean? Who do we ultimately set boundaries for and why are boundaries healthy? Maybe a couple of examples will help.
A client of mine has a father who has an alcohol problem which he hasn’t faced. He goes from drama to drama, from accident to accident. She has been clear with him about what she has noticed, how she feels and what she is not willing to put up with. She has provided him with resources to get help. He is not ready to do anything to get help at this point.
Setting boundaries meant to tell him not to call her or show up when he is drunk. He has regular accidents and is frequently admitted to the hospital for an injury caused by falling. In the hospital, he has the chance to ask for help with his drinking problem but so far he hasn’t. Setting boundaries for my client means to not rush to the hospital but to trust her father to make his own choices.
Is that easy? It usually isn’t easy because a part of us still hopes for our loved ones to change. Does not rushing to him for help mean she doesn’t love her father? Not at all. Sometimes we need to love people from a distance or by setting and maintaining clear boundaries. What it means is that she loves herself! She makes her own feelings and the needs of her own core family first priority. We can still be compassionate and loving but at the same time very clear which lines we will not allow others to cross.
One of my clients had to set boundaries with her mother. The mother gossips about one daughter with the other. One day, she forms an alliance with one daughter until something occurs that triggers her fears, then she turns to the other daughter and forms an alliance with the other. Those family dynamics have destroyed the friendship between the sisters and have created mistrust between all three women.
My mother used to do the same for the longest time. She would call me to complain about my sister’s kids and praise my children instead and visa versa. There is a part in us which feels flattered to be the chosen confidant and the one to hear what a good mother we are. However, how much does that truly mean if the wind can turn at any time and suddenly blow from another direction? The inability of our relatives to love themselves and others unconditionally causes us a lot of hurt. It creates competition instead of true unity.
My client gently but firmly had to tell her mother that she is sorry that she feels disappointed by her sister. She also had to tell her that she needs to talk to the sister herself. She had to clearly refuse gossiping. The mother desperately looks for an ally each time she feels unloved, rejected and disrespected. We can be compassionate with a relative who does this but need to set clear boundaries out of self-love.
I should have set clear boundaries with my own mother much earlier. It would have saved my sister and me years of unnecessary competition and grief. When I finally set boundaries with my mother, did that mean I didn’t love her? Not at all. I did and still do love my mother dearly. I also love myself and choose to live—most of the time, unless I forget—in a space beyond right and wrong, beyond judging others and myself. If somebody wants to complain about being a victim and wants to gossip because another person has triggered their inner feeling of unlove-ability, make a clear choice of not connecting in that way.
Who needs us to set clear boundaries? Our own Inner Child, the vulnerable part inside us, needs to feel loved, safe, protected and respected. Not setting boundaries is internal child abuse. By allowing others to cross our boundaries, we are telling our inner child “you are not worthy of your feelings being addressed and your needs being met”. We are not treating ourselves with love and respect.
Setting boundaries means to not allow others to pull us into drama or discord. It means speaking up when somebody sticks their nose into what is not their business and not allowing them to destroy our other relationships. Parents do not need to know any intimate details of their children’s relationships, just as children don’t need to be told any intimate, private or embarrassing details of their parent’s relationship. Those are blurry boundaries. They destroy respect and invite meddling. Talking behind somebody’s back about them is also a blurry boundary. Admittedly, we might all forget this at times but unless we are able to only say nice things, it is better to not talk about others when they are not present.
We need to clearly and lovingly let the other person know where our comfort level is and what feels good and loving and what doesn’t. Communication is the problem of the communicator, not the person communicated to. If the conversation doesn’t go well and we are not understood the way we intended, it is due to how we communicate with the other person. It is our responsibility to communicate as clearly as possible.
The only thing to do when we are struggling to be understood is to focus on a non-violent, clear, authentic communication while having clear boundaries. Check in with your inner child about what feels respectful and meets her/his needs. Express your feelings without blaming anyone. Nobody makes you feel a certain way. It also doesn’t matter who did what. All that matters is to acknowledge each other’s feelings and to take responsibility for one’s words and actions. Setting boundaries is not about rehashing the past but about changing the interactions in the present and in the future.
The more we set boundaries and stand-up for our inner child, the more we connect with what we truly feel and need. Every time you make a clear decision to set or maintain a boundary, it is another piece on the journey to true unconditional self-love.
Life Coaching and Belief Changes
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