It’s not other people’s job to identify my boundaries, it’s my job to make them clear.
It’s not other people’s job to monitor my boundaries, it’s my responsibility to enforce them.
I hate the truth in those statements.
I was having a perfectly nice, and by “nice” I mean horrible day dream the other day about being at the pub. It’s based on my upcoming reality; there’s a night out with the girls planned for next month. Dinner, dancing, drinking, and gambling. The whole shebang. I’m equal parts excitement and horror. Excitement because out with my friends, and horror because out means people, and clothes, and not being in. So, the whole thing has me a bit agitated and when I’m anxious, I drift into daymares.
I was imaging myself at the pub having a very intrusive conversation with an imaginary man about why I stopped dying my hair. In case you’re interested, the decision was two-pronged. One, I was tired of doing the roots every three weeks to hide the white stripe running down my part line. So, part of it is laziness. The other part is a sort of a push back against acquiescing to the demands society places on how I’m supposed to look. It’s sort of eating disorder recovery adjacent. Why do I have to dye my hair? Shouldn’t I be allowed to decide how I’m going to look? I got into quite the imaginary argument over it with this imaginary fellow; I maintained my choices weren’t his business and he persisted in pestering me about it. I was proud of my imaginary self for holding her ground. That’s when I had the thought about boundaries.
It’s not enough to decide on a boundary and then simply throw it out in the ether. It’s not enough to simply have boundaries. It’s often not enough to state them once. You have to enforce them. You have to maintain the fences. Fending encroachments off, maintaining the boundaries, that’s my job. Expecting people to automatically respect my limits is failing to acknowledge that other people are not in my control. It would be nice if people listened and attended at all times; it would be nice if everyone acted in the way that you needed at all times; that’s not life.
I’ve been reading a lot about boundaries these last few years. It’s been a steep learning curve; for the longest time I believed I wasn’t allowed to have them. That led to all sorts of complicated problems. I don’t recommend a lack of boundaries as a life choice.
I’ve learned a few things about boundaries, however.
You have to know yourself. You have to know what’s important to you, know what you think and feel, and know where you want to draw your lines when you come up with your boundaries. And, they are yours. You don’t have to explain or justify them. That don’t have to make sense to other people. You get to decide what they are. You have exclusive rights to your boundaries.
You have to know when your limits are being crossed. Notice when you start to feel uncomfortable and resentful. Notice when you start to get angry. Check your body language; notice when you start to withdraw and shut down. I tend to step back and cross my arms and get very quiet. Learn to notice your patterns. I notice a behaviour before I’m aware of a feeling.
You have to remember to enforce your boundaries. I was terrified to say “no” or share when a behaviour was bothering me. I was certain that any limits on my part would lead to me being abandoned. I have found this is mostly not the case. Losing people because you set limits is hard, but if someone can’t respect your needs, do you really need them in your life?
“No” is a complete sentence. I used to spend a lot of time justifying my decisions. Apologizing, in a way, for enforcing them. It led to a lot of lying to keep the peace. I got very anxious when I tried to stand my ground. I wouldn’t want to go out so I’d invent stomach problems or something similar, and then a story to explain how I got the imaginary complaint, and then a story about what I was doing to treat it. It was fatiguing and I disliked the dishonesty even though I considered my stories white lies, necessary for self-preservation. It came to me over time, however, that my conversations allowed for argument. People could push back, offer solutions, and still try to get me to do what I didn’t want. Now, I simply say “No thanks.” I learned that response, oddly enough, from my son. He has fantastic boundaries.
You have to practice self-care. Take care of your body, your mind, and your soul. Remember that it’s okay to put yourself first. It’s okay to not accommodate everyone or even anyone else. It’s hard to enforce your limits when you’re tired, run-down, and spiritually bereft.
You have to start small. Starting small will increase the likelihood of success. And each boundary-enforcing success makes the next attempt easier. For instance, I dislike random hugs. I feel pressured and uncomfortable. I’m not a toucher. I tolerated it from everyone for years because I was afraid my resistance would be read as rejection and my friends would immediately start to hate me. Explaining my feelings and asking them to ask before hugging me was extremely hard. Saying “no” when they ask is still a challenge. It frustrates me. We’ve had this talk. But, consistently holding the line is up to me. It would be nice if people remembered, but it’s not on them to do so, nor is that something I can control. So, I repeat myself. I say “no” to hugs regularly now. The minor discomfort is worth it; protecting that boundary makes me feel better in social situation.
Boundaries are fluid. We make them. We can unmake them, adjust them, move them, and temporarily suspend them at our will. What’s important to remember is that ultimately it is up to us to identify and enforce the rules that are important to us.
Our lives are our responsibility.