Healthy emotional boundaries amplify our voices and have the power to heal and change ourselves and the world. Explore why boundaries are important and six ideas for how to create healthy emotional boundaries.
Why Boundaries Are Important
When I brought up the topic Why boundaries are important with my Joan of Sparc team I had just deleted Facebook from my phone after spending too much time arguing with strangers in the comments sections of political posts. I wanted to talk about how you can stand up for yourself without standing against someone. I wanted to write about ways to stop fighting with each other and with ourselves. I wanted to write about unity and connection.
Then Ruth Bader-Ginsburg died and her replacement was named, threatening my rights as a woman and the rights of marginalized citizens everywhere in America. Yesterday my daughter was sent home from school and my family had its first in-person scare with Covid. Life is a lot right now and I got to thinking, why does any of this matter in a world that’s gone mad? Who cares about boundaries when my daughter may not have agency over her own body? Why write about why boundaries are important when this government threatens to limit LGBTQ rights to be seen as human? Does any of it even matter?
What Are Boundaries?
Healthy emotional boundaries are invisible lines that separate me from you. Think Dirty Dancing, Baby and Johnny, this is my dance space, this is your dance space. But, it’s more than just dance space, it’s headspace, heart space, time, energy, and attention. I spent many of my formative years not only living in other people’s dance space but seeking it out, hoping that I would find validation, love, and connection in their arms. My methods were simple—please, acquiesce, comply, help, save, and fix. I thought if I could be the person they wanted me to be, or if I could help them become the person they (I) wanted them to be, I would finally feel whole, complete, loved, and seen.
I learned about boundaries when I got sober and discovered that I had none. My life and existence were defined by my ex-partner or whatever group of people I was around.
There were many different versions of me: yoga teacher Kim, homeroom mom Kim, wife Kim, party girl Kim. I oozed out everywhere and people oozed all into me.
Not good. It’s no wonder I drank until I blacked out every night. It was exhausting trying to remember which role to play at which time. And, the soul part of me, the light inside that is the same light that shines in the most distant stars… that light never got a chance to expose her brilliance. I was too busy trying to be so many someone else’s, I never got to be me. I lost myself, my power, my voice, my agency.
Healthy emotional boundaries create more freedom, they allow us the space to remember who we are and what we stand for. They bring us into our power and agency. Boundaries are important because they define what we are willing to allow and accept.
Practicing healthy boundaries can be a challenge. For many of us, it is the beginning of believing ourselves. It is the first layer in the foundation of peace. It is when we realize we don’t have to fight, pretend, or please to be seen, heard, and loved. While some boundaries are rigid their manifestations in the world do not have to be. It can be as simple as saying, Oh, that’s an interesting perspective, when in conversation with someone that usually riles us up and then leaving it at that. A healthy emotional boundary is knowing that “No.” is a complete sentence.
Six Tools to Practice Healthy Boundaries in Real-Time
Creating and maintaining healthy emotional boundaries is a daily practice. Creating boundaries is like a work-out, the more you do it, the easier it gets and the stronger you become.
#1 If It’s Not 100% a Yes, It’s a No
I learned this gem in therapy and it never fails. If any part of me feels funny or experiences trepidation around a decision to be made, it’s a no, at least for the time being. Befriend your inner guru, lean into her inner knowing.
#2 Slow Down
When I rush to make a decision, I am not acting from a place of presence. I am acting from fear founded in the past or the wreckage of the future. My sponsor says that if you don’t know what to do, do nothing.
#3 Find Your Why
What’s your why? Are you putting another person’s needs ahead of your own?
This is not always a sketchy situation, but when our choices to “help” another human are an act of self-betrayal, we are complicit in our own suffering.
#4 Respond Instead of React
Are you reacting or responding? Reacting is often hyper-emotional. A thoughtful response comes from a pause, settling into our bodies, and seeking an authentic yes or no.
#5 Know Your Audience
As the resplendent Maya Angelou says, “If a person has shown you who they are, believe them.” It is not unrealistic to expect respect, decency, honesty, and compassion from humanity. But, if a person has shown you their true colors, it is unrealistic to expect it from them. Trust yourself and learn from your lived experience.
#6 Identify What Is (or Isn’t) Yours
That’s not mine. Is this yours to take on? Many women I know are stuck in a cycle that makes them responsible for other peoples healing and work. We fall into pseudo roles of mothering adult humans. We want to make it better for them. We want to show them a better way to live. If they would only listen or do X, Y, Z, their lives would be so much happier, healthier and whole. We exhaust ourselves trying to do the impossible—change other people. When I got sober, a woman in a meeting shared a story. Her entire life she felt like she was walking around carrying a backpack full of bricks. A friend in the program suggested she take off the backpack and set it down. When she did she discovered the bricks were not hers to carry, she didn’t even own the backpack. It’s simple; it’s not easy.
Why Boundaries Matter
Boundaries matter because when we have healthy boundaries we are more sure of who we are. We are more energized. We no longer spread ourselves thin on people, places, and things that are not our responsibility. We are more compassionate and connected. We see and feel the struggles of others because we have been there. We empathize but do not own their process.
We know our power, we feel it every time we make a decision in real-time that does not self betray.
The patriarchy and powers that be want us to feel small. They want us to believe we are powerless. The dogmatic systems of corruption of the current administration hope we forget our power and remember our place, as the good girls, the compliant ones, the pretty pieces in the background, seen and not heard. I do not know the fate of my country. But, I do know that when I stand in my authentic self, I am strong and ready for whatever challenges lie ahead. I know that I matter, my voice matters, and my presence matters.