Understanding how to develop and maintain healthy boundaries can be difficult. Mainly because many of us have to discover what is healthy for us after experiencing inappropriate modeling in our early years and then replaying these dynamics in our core relationships.
In order to experience greater peace, freedom and contentment, we really have to discover how to create healthy internal and external Internal boundaries. Internal boundaries are the guidelines we have within ourselves, in relationship to ourselves. External boundaries are the guideposts we place between ourselves and others.
Marin is a working mother who feels responsible for her family and also to her job. She learned to care for others’ emotions, including her mother and siblings, while growing up. Her husband and children helped Marin repeat this pattern because quite frankly, it seemed to make life easier for them. While other colleagues in her office seem to create decent work-life balance, Marin takes on project after project at work, even though she does not get paid for extra hours. She has become worn down trying to meet the needs of her family and over-extending herself at work.
In coaching, Marin and I tackled boundary-setting in order for her to get to a baseline for a manageable life. Before any goals can be created, a sense of basic well-being must be achieved. First, Marin needed to set some internal boundaries such as “I am choosing to prioritize my own well-being and I will no longer betray myself in order to please everyone else.” and “I choose to sleep regular hours, exercise 3 times a week before work, and feed my body foods that nourish me as my first order of business. I will protect these needs before I take care of any other needs, problems, or people.”
Once Marin allowed herself to be important to herself, it was easier to set external boundaries. For example, she voiced the need to split parenting duties with the other working parent in the home (rather than continue with the 80% she was carrying) and she let her family know that all who were capable of making their own breakfasts and lunches would now take on these for themselves so she could take her morning workout classes. She also had an honest conversation with her boss, letting her know that she was not being compensated for projects outside of her job description. As s result she asked for a raise or reduction in workload (she ended up getting both).
While Marin’s progress took time for her and others to adjust to the new her, she gained more and more self-respect and was also acknowledged by her family and co-workers for the value she brought into her home and work spaces. Self-advocacy efforts that seemed intimidating began to pay off and voicing her needs became a positive habit, rather than a feared action.
We teach others how to treat us. The first step is modeling great care, compassion, and concerns for our own well-being. Boundaries are not a luxury. They are the foundation upon which a happy and functioning life are built.