Boundaries – not the sexiest conversation, right? But, what if you knew the art of setting healthy boundaries holds the key to your happiness? Yes but, what if people won’t like me when I set boundaries? That’s a common concern, we will get to that.
I had no idea that my wellbeing was so closely linked to my ability to set boundaries. Let’s be real, for the first 28 years of my life I knew very little about boundaries. Which is hilarious when I think of it now. Let me fill you in on how that played out for me.
Lack of boundaries can make you a red hot mess.
The first half of my life I was an all or nothing girl. Honestly, I was a red hot mess, but no one else knew about it. I battled with binge eating, extreme weight loss/weight gain, binge drinking, people pleasing, this list of “fun” is really a mile long.
Everyone loved me because I would just do whatever they wanted me to do. I was an over-achiever and behind the veil of success and achievement, I was crippled by anxiety. I often experienced sleepless nights, depression and addiction and I had NO idea that boundaries would become one of the keys to my freedom from living with these challenges.
The real question you need to ask yourself.
I spent years frustrated with myself. I was forever going to start a diet, or go alcohol free and sometimes I managed it, even up to 6 months at a time. But, I would soon swing the other way, completely out of control and make up for lost time. For years I believed these patterns were about me being weak, making excuses, lacking discipline. What I didn’t know at the time was that my self destructive behavior had more to do with boundaries than me being weak or pathetic.
I consider myself one of the lucky ones. You see, I stopped focusing on what looked to be the problem, like addiction to numbing substances, food, alcohol, or anxiety and depression. I started to ask myself “why”? Why was I turning to these substances? Why was I feeling anxious and depressed? What I realised was that my battle with those things had more to do with how I was doing relationships. No-one had ever explained this to me.
When we end up focusing on the wrong thing
Whilst it might seem that setting boundaries helped me to prioritize my needs and well being, it was actually the other way around. When my wellbeing and my needs became non-negotiables, I realised that there was no possibility of side stepping boundaries. What I mean by non-negotiable, I didn’t want to keep hating myself, to keep abusing my body, to keep feeling depressed and anxious, and if I didn’t want all of those things, then I had to be okay with feeling uncomfortable. I had to stop letting things slide (my boundaries) so that I could reclaim my sanity. Most importantly, I learnt that when I put all of my focus on setting boundaries with things like food, alcohol, work or sleep, that I was fighting an uphill battle. When I switched my focus to setting healthy boundaries with the people around me, this changed everything.
Saying “no” is the hardest word
The more I worked on my ability to say no to other people, the more I could say no to any self sabotaging and harming behaviours. Whether that was over eating, over drinking, or over working. As I learnt what it meant to set healthy boundaries in relationships, my health improved. Most importantly my mental wellbeing completely transformed.
Just like any skill, I had to learn the signs of unhealthy boundaries before I could do anything about them. This isn’t easy to do on your own. I definitely had to get coached along the way. I also had no idea that in order to be able to set healthy boundaries, I needed to pay attention to what I was feeling, be able to express those feelings and speak up. Definitely not an easy task for a perfectionist and people pleaser.
Place the oxygen mask on you first
I hated the idea of setting boundaries, but after my initial reservations, I started to see the direct correlation to feeling better inside myself. By speaking up when I needed to, feelings of anxiety and depression were dissipating, self hatred replaced with self compassion and understanding. I no longer needed to binge eat or drink to numb my frustration or growing resentment.
People started to see me differently and I did lose some friendships along the way. Be prepared that people close may not like the change. I even lost my best friend of 12 years when for the first time I said no to something she asked of me. But, I knew I had to start prioritizing my needs and taking care of myself before I could do that for anyone else. Just like we are told in those airplane safety talks, I needed to put on my own oxygen mask first. I was so busy thinking about everyone else, I forgot about myself. Healthy boundaries are my oxygen.