Joy and Freedom of Boundaries
posts for a fulfilled life
I found myself stressed out,
burnt out and sick as a dog. Unable to dislodge the anxious thoughts. ‘Will she be OK?’ ‘What have I forgotten?’ ‘I’m so far away.’ ‘ She must be taken care of.’ Meanwhile a few hours’ drive away she was fine, confident that everything would continue to work out; unaware of the whirlwind of frantic activity and concern that had achieved her peace.
As I emerged from my illness and exhaustion over the following weeks, a few things began to dawn on me;
a clarity came as I slowly differentiated between those things I had responsibility for and those things that were not mine to take care of:
My wellbeing? my responsibility.
Another person’s mistakes? not my responsibility.
As the months rolled by more things began to emerge for me …
The impact I have on others? my responsibility.
Their reaction to me? not my responsibility.
Fast forward to today: It feels like a slow and long journey but I am well and I am more free. My relationships are changing. Some are freer, lighter and happier; others are more distant and there is sadness. All however are healthier, and both they and I are growing stronger.
So what changed?
We all know that just realizing something isn’t enough, the new insight has to transmute into choices and actions if it is to make a real difference.
For me, taking responsibility for my wellbeing meant firstly, not blaming others for how stressed and exhausted I would get, and the ill health I suffered as a result. Instead I identified the things, space, activities I needed, I made a plan and I put it into action. Saying ‘Yes’ to my wellbeing meant saying ‘No’ to some things for the first time. The hardest step was saying ‘No’ to being on call to rescue a loved one from their chaos. Actually the saying ‘No’ was easy enough, what was hard was dealing with the relational fall out from taking that stand. I was disturbing a dynamic that had entrenched itself over decades, and this is rarely welcomed. A cold distance ensued.
‘Aren’t you just being self-centered and unloving?’, I hear you challenge me. Indeed, those questions in a myriad of forms raised themselves to me time and again over the months that followed. This journey has taught me in practical terms what we all know theoretically, and that is that Love is only Love if it is done and given freely. In the previous iteration of this relationship I have described to you, I was not caring and giving from a place of freedom but as part of an unconscious dynamic; this resulted in resentment and burnout in one party and stagnation in the other. Now, however, I am more free, aware, and able to choose how and when to give of myself in this relationship, I am more conscious of and alert to how my choices impact the other. I am response-able; able to respond authentically and with integrity, rather than simply react in autopilot. I am now able to Love.
‘Boundaries’ is the label we give to our awareness of the difference between what is mine and what is not mine, what is yours, and what is ours together. Most of us will experience a lack of this clarity in our relationships, especially those relationships in which we have invested time and energy. We often hold others responsible for what is not theirs but ours to own; commonly our feelings, we say ‘they made us sad’ when actually we are sad because of our own meaning making (which comes from our past) and into which we have co-opted them.
Conversely we often count ourselves responsible for things that are not ours to own; commonly the wellbeing or choices of others, we say ‘if I don’t do this, they will no longer like me and stay with me’ or ‘I must do this for them, otherwise their life (or our life) will fall apart’. In actual fact, if we keep taking responsibility for them, they will never grow to be free and take responsibility for their actions and lives. And if they are only staying because we act and choose solely as they wish, then we are neither of us relating from a place of freedom and choice.
Even in the work setting these difficulties raise their ugly heads. We may have a tendency to cover up for others, picking up the slack and clearing up behind colleagues. When this happens occasionally, transparently without assumptions, it can be part of the lovely give and take of a healthy team. Many times its simply the dynamic between people with weak boundaries; some taking responsibility for others and others failing to take responsibility for what is theirs. People become beholden to one another, taken for granted, resentful, burnt out, and many remain immature.
As Brene Brown says ‘clear is kind’. Get to know what’s truly yours and what’s not yours, and start to express it both verbally and in the choices you make. The result will be healthier relationships. Some will grow closer, others will become unmeshed (feeling more distant); all will be more free.
If you would like to learn more about how to establish clearer boundaries in your relationships, I run a regular, 90 minute online workshop that you can join me for. The next one is on the 11th of Feb. Spaces are limited to give the opportunity to share and ask questions. There is a small nominal fee for £3 so folk are less inclined to book and not show up!
Many of my coaching clients identify the need to work on boundaries whether that’s at work, with loved ones or indeed with themselves. Coaching processes provide a liberating, empowering context to do this kind of work. Do get in touch if you are curious about coaching and whether it would be a good fit for you personally, as a leader or for your team.