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Okay, let’s be real for a second. Boundaries have always eluded me. It’s possibly because I apparently never had them up until a few years ago, maybe that’s why, but I have always felt like people talk AROUND the concept of boundaries.
Is it just me?
I think the simplest explanation I’ve heard is that boundaries are simply enforcing what is okay and what is not okay with you (it possibly came from Brene Brown? I could be wrong). But, come on, what does that even mean?
In a binary sense, I’m sure we can all establish certain things that we are okay with and not okay with. In particular, things that threaten our safety or keep us alive. That’s easy.
Yeah, okay, have better boundaries. Work out what is okay with you and what’s not. Hold yourself (and others) accountable when there’s a risk of overstepping or forgetting your boundaries. Awesome.
This doesn’t even work when a woman can’t tell a man she’s not interested in him without having to say she has a boyfriend out of fear for her safety so let’s just get real about the concept of boundaries and the reality of them.
It’s not a case of doing some self inquiry to work out what is acceptable for you and what isn’t, and then immediately being a pro at asking for what you want. There are no worksheets that will solve your boundary issues overnight (trust me, I wish there were).
In the years since I was first told that I’ve pretty much never had boundaries (not this lifetime or the previous ones either), I took it as a personal challenge to sort that shit out. But if only it had just been a case of deciding I needed better boundaries and going pro at it.
In my experience, this is an ongoing and ever evolving process.
Not just the working out what’s okay for you and what’s not. And then remembering that (while constantly adding more to the list) and then remembering to tell other people about them when you feel your boundaries have been overstepped.
If only life was so simple.
If you’re anything like me, and especially if you’re more of a quiet, sensitive type (hi there, you’re in the right place!), it might be a relief to hear that you’re not the only one who has read the articles and seen the posts on social media about WHAT boundaries are and WHY you need them…but you haven’t really worked out the HOW of it.
Maybe, like me, you’ve also come to understand that you could be doing better with your boundaries (just add it to the pile of things to improve, am I right?)
If you’re a pro and you’re running a course on better boundaries, you’ve probably got it nailed, but if you still find yourself saying yes to stuff you want to say no to, and feeling drained or a bit icky about certain relationships or responsibilities in your life, I hope some of the things I’ve learned over the years might help you too.
Start to notice when others are influencing what you doWell, there are lots of reasons, and we probably don’t need to focus on them. We want to fit in, be liked, be accepted, not be difficult or emotional or high maintenance, right? Especially women, and especially if you were brought up to be a good girl.
This means saying yes, even when we want to say no.
To a friend, a partner, a parent, boss, coworker. Anyone really.
It’s taking on someone else’s responsibility at work because if you don’t do it, no one will.
It’s having sex with your partner even when you don’t feel like it.
It’s allowing people into your space (online or offline) to talk to you however they please, even if it makes you feel drained or even unsafe.
It’s agreeing to walk your friend’s dog when they’re out, even though it’s out of your way. And they ask you to do it every week and just so happen to not be available when you need something.
It’s not saying anything about the dishes and just cleaning them up yourself because you don’t want to be a nag.
It’s keeping quiet even when you feel strongly about something and letting someone else’s voice speak over yours and their thoughts to matter more, even if you disagree.
As women (in particular, but I’m sure we all have boundary issues, regardless of how we identify), as highly sensitive, introverted souls we mostly seem to be afraid of what others will think of us.
But on an energetic level, those of us who are impacted by the energy of others can struggle with strong boundaries because our energy is so heavily influenced by bigger, stronger energy. Everyone aligns themselves with the strongest energy in the room. And if we don’t have a handle on our own energy, we can so often find ourselves agreeing to what someone else thinks or wants before even remembering our boundaries.
Practise saying noI still struggle with this but, like anything, it’s a muscle we need to learn to flex. It’s not about being purposely disagreeable or even rude, but to be very clear about what we’re okay with.
I personally feel that when I’m put on the spot, if I have to answer while I’m trying to process what’s been asked, it can be super overwhelming and my instinct has always been to just say yes.
It’s so funny, because growing up my dad always used to say no to everything. No was always the first answer. He’s a highly sensitive introverted type as well, and I have come to realise as an adult that this was his way of ‘buying time’ to think about what we had asked of him. He usually came back and said yes and it meant that we’d be so happy, instead of doing the opposite.
I’m not saying this is the way to go, but starting small with little things just to test it out can make it easier. You can say ‘no thank you’. You can still be polite. But firm and clear that no is your answer. And when you say no to things you don’t want to do, you can say yes to things that are so much more meaningful.
Check your nervous system responseI’ve noticed that when I agree to something I don’t want to do, or I take on something that’s overstepping my boundaries, my nervous system chimes in to let me know. This has taken practise to observe instead of getting caught up in and sometimes it’s not until after I’ve gotten upset or mad that I look back and go, ‘Oh, oops, I could have handled that better’.
What does your body do when you forget your boundaries? Does your stomach flip flop? Does your heartbeat increase? Do your cheeks get warm? Do you find yourself at a loss for words or feeling frazzled? Do you feel tired or drained? Do you feel irritated or angry?
People are always going to ask us for things or need something from us. It’s not their fault if it’s more than what we’re able to give. Our body gives us clues when we’re not okay with something LONG before our mind realises what’s even going on.
Notice when and where you feel most drainedThere are pretty common things that are extra draining to introverts and can also overwhelm or exhaust highly sensitive people. Loud noises. Big crowds. Being at work all day, talking to lots of people.
But what affects YOU.
There is no black and white to this. Introversion, sensitivity (and, actually, everything else) are on a spectrum. Start paying attention to the interactions, events, involvements, responsibilities that leave you feeling exhausted or drained of energy. This is the first step to truly understanding your own energy.
Call Your Energy Back InAt the end of the day, or after a big encounter with others that have left you feeling a bit tired, stop, breathe, and call any energy you’ve sent out or leaked away back to you.
Visualise it however you please – I focus on a golden orb in the centre of my body and all the energy I’ve been sending out like golden threads. I see them unhooking from whatever or whoever I’ve been thinking about (either consciously or subconsciously) and reel them back in to me, making the golden orb grow brighter and bigger and better than ever.
As I mentioned earlier, this is not an overnight shift in suddenly having super strong boundaries and letting no one stomp on them. We’re fluid, energetic beings that adapt and evolve over lifetimes, not necessarily overnight.
You can be doing so well with saying no when it feels right and suddenly find yourself giving your time, your energy, your power away because you found yourself put on the spot or someone you love SO much asked something of you.
The key is to not be too hard on ourselves, and over time, looking back and realising how far we’ve come. How much more strong we are in our own energy and being in a good place with the people in our lives so we’re not constantly giving all of ourselves.
It feels like such a cliche to say that it doesn’t happen overnight, but that it does happen. But it takes first an awareness of what’s going on and then intentional work each and every day to check in with how we’re feeling and where we’re overgiving to breaking point.
If you’d like to understand your energy a bit more, I’m currently offering an introductory 1-hour energy and soul medicine session for just $97 (until the 16th of June 2019).
Book in here or email info(at)katherinemackenziesmith(dot)com to secure one of the final available spots.