If standards are the gatekeepers for the castle grounds of our lives, then boundaries are the variety of protections that fortify this castle, and safeguard those within (read: You).
Like moats filled with alligators, or skyward towers made with thousands of bricks, the boundaries we set in place for ourselves are not for the faint of heart.
What’s important to understand is that your walls and defenses do not make you difficult to be around, and certainly do not make you hard to love. Not by your partner. Not by your family. Not by your friends.
Your walls do, however, make you hard for abusers to love.
Your walls do make it difficult for someone only interested in a Get-Love-Quick scheme to stick around.
Your walls demand bravery and discipline to overcome, and force cowards to call their own bluffs.
And the ones who are worthy of you will not only work within the boundaries you set, they will hold you accountable to them. Earnestly and compassionately.
The best part about this concept is this:
Each person who respects your standards and your boundaries, in essence, becomes a sentinel on your team. The people we surround ourselves with create a powerful boundary protecting our boundaries!
So, Rule #5 discussed standards, which are the initial litmus tests for whether or not someone should have access to certain levels of our lives.
In this way, boundaries are guidelines which inform others how they may interact with us. I see them as the red and green lights we use when engaging with each other.
For instance, with regards to dating, the initial boundaries we create at the outset of a courtship might look like this:
No, you may not contact me past midnight and expect a response.
No, I will not prioritize a date at the last minute over plans I’ve made with friends.
No, I will not play Caretaker to fill the office of Mother in your life.
No, I will not engage in sexual activity until a level of trust has been proven and verified.
No, you may not use subversive tones and/or derogatory terms in conversation with me.
No, I will not participate in a relationship with you while you are in a relationship with someone else.
No, I will not read between lines for your implications.
These are all basic examples of boundaries in romantic relationships, and there are plenty more that I am certain each of us can add.
We can simplify this list even more, based on what we are or are not comfortable with, in general. In doing so, this list can be adapted for your dating life, for your friendships, and even for your work life:
No, my boss may not email or call me after-hours and expect action to be taken.
No, I will not accept the tasks my coworker wants to pass on to me, simply because he or she lacks the discipline to do it themselves.
No, I will not sacrifice a mental health day, even if it means missing out on my friends’ last second plans.
No, these people around me may not use words or actions that undermine my spirit.
Can you already tell what Molly-Today is going to say Rule #6 means, at its core?
Rule #6 is all about the importance of implementing the word “No” in our lives. Because by lacking boundaries, we allow ourselves to become desensitized and derailed.
By lacking boundaries, we allow ourselves to become overextended, overworked, and spread thin, to the point of breaking.
Molly-Over-The-Past-Ten-Years did not like to say “No.” Even at the risk of her own health and sanity. She never said “No,” but she actually never said “Yes.” She led something of a “Sure?” lifestyle.
A “Sure?” lifestyle is dangerous because it allows others into the driver’s seats of our lives. In my life, this is what that looked like:
Sure, I will work overtime in my position, while covering my boss’s position and working overtime there, and not be compensated or recognized in any way for either?
Sure, I will push the limits of what I am physically comfortable with in our relationship, even though I absolutely know this could be a slippery slope leading to something I definitely do not want?
Sure, I will join my friends for a night of an activity in which I have no interest, even though I haven’t slept well in days and should probably use tonight for a quiet night in?
But, Molly, your “Sure?” lifestyle was allowing you to spend time with your friends and dive into your career? Aren’t those good things?
To which I will say:
Of course, it is important to spend time with those you love and care about; and of course, it is important to invest in your career path.
But not at the expense of your peace.
When we “Sure?” our way through life, we burn out by using our energy on things that do not serve us. Worse, we allow ourselves to miss the opportunities to engage in what will truly fulfill us, as we use our time and efforts on the extraneous tasks that belong to others. We use our bandwidths accepting burdens that dull our edges, instead of taking on projects and engagements that polish our finish.
But, Molly, if it’s good to spend time with friends and work hard in my career, how can I tell when I have crossed my own boundaries?
Well, I am so glad you asked!
The great news is that your body is your first, and most powerful, ally. Our bodies can tell us when we’re not honoring our boundaries. Here are some physiological responses we might experience when we allow our lines to be crossed:
When we are in a relationship with the wrong person, our hearts will feel anxious. When we are working the wrong job, it will be hard to get out of bed in the morning. When we want to do something new, our minds will be restless.
The sheer volume of signals our bodies provide us is innumerable! But as easy as it was for me to type those examples, they aren’t easy lines to draw. Because they take a lot of time to discover in the first place!
Most of the boundaries I have developed have come from A LOT of sleepless nights (much like the ones I described in Rule #4), pondering what is within my control that I am letting out of my control.
Predictably, after any amount of time burning the Proverbial Candle all over, Molly-Over-The-Past-Ten-Years used up her physical, mental, and emotional capacities.
She became tired and worn down, and she found that her only solution was to stop reacting at all. The energy it took to emote on a daily basis just wasn’t there.
This is what a life without boundaries led me to! I was very much, and very simply, a walking and talking skeleton, who moved through life as dictated by her schedule.
But that’s not what we are made for! Though we are technically skeletons that can walk and talk, we are made to be so much more.
Without proper boundaries, I left no time to get to know myself. I left no time to enjoy my own passions. I left no time to process how I was doing. I left no time to develop the life I wanted for myself!
Physically, I was across the world from my loved ones. Mentally, I was exhausted and going through each day in a fog. And emotionally, I felt nothing. Except paralyzed.
My body was communicating. My alarm systems were blaring. I knew I wanted to make a change, but it seemed like everything needed to change. And that thought was daunting.
The first thing I had to do was eliminate my knee jerk reaction to accept everyone else’s demands and requests. As soon as I did this, I was shocked at how much time and mental space opened up for me!
As soon as I started saying No, I was actually able to say Yes.
Making this small change to what we know is negatively impacting us, amounts to honoring our own borders. And the feeling of relief that comes with this simple action is immense.
As long as we ignore these signals, and honor the whims and preferences of others, we will find ourselves in discomfort. And once we start defending ourselves, by making small but noticeable changes to our lives, we give ourselves room to grow.
Rule #6 is so important, because if there is one thing this world needs less of, it’s individuals who are so jaded from overextending themselves that they no longer feel passion.
Or worse: they no longer feel compassion.
So, Rule #6 is about saying No, when you want to say No.
Rule #6 is about saying Yes, when you want to say yes.
Rule #6 is about excising the impulse to accept what is not required of you, in an effort to accept more.
So, let’s wrap this up:
What are some examples of boundaries you have instituted in your own life?
How often do you find yourself accepting the requests and responsibilities of others, that you should refuse?
When your boundaries have not been honored in the past, what signs has your body given you?
How can you honor the boundaries you have created for yourself?