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?
Molly-Ten-Years-Ago loved this rule. Molly-Today loves this rule. Molly-Over-The-Past-Ten-Years wanted to live by this rule…but of course, that’s not how this story goes.
Mostly because she didn’t understand Rule #5. As I’ve said before, Molly-Ten-Years-Ago was a strict lady, but she didn’t always know her target and what lies beyond. Truthfully, I only recently began to understand what the rule means and how to institute it now.
Arguably, the hardest part about having legitimate standards, that Young Molly never could have warned her future selves about, is that you cannot help the acute disappointment you endure when someone walks away because of them.
Did I overestimate my own worth?
Am I not good enough for my own standards?
Did this person not believe my value was worth the rules I set in place?
The next hardest part is that you want to bend your rules to convince the person who walked away that you are in fact worthy of said rules. I have done this so many times, in order to give someone the time and space to see what I knew to be true about my own worth.
But therein lies the danger! This is the trick that has taken me years to catch on to!
When we allow someone into our lives who does not meet our standards, we have actually taught this person that they can have unfettered access to our peace. Even though they may not want it.
And, regrettably, they absolutely will treat us as such.
Which brings us to Rule #5. It has been incredibly tempting for me to write this as a what-to-look-for-in-others type of post. And once again, that causes me to endure days of writer’s block…which probably means that it is not in fact what my heart feels called to discuss.
What my heart does feel called to discuss is somewhat counterintuitive, at first glance, which is what took me so long to figure out! Rule #5 is so lovely because at its core is the truth that having standards actually allows you to accept others as they are.
How can that be, Molly? It feels mean (dare I say, un-lovely?) to say that someone doesn’t meet my standards. Isn’t that a cruel way to interact with others?
To which I will say: No, my friend.
First, I want to say the reason we might feel mean instituting our own standards, is because we know how hard it was for us to meet them ourselves! That being said, ideally, the standards you create are standards to which you hold yourself (read: they are humanly possible).
Next, I’d like for us to look at it this way: when I bring someone into my life who, at present, does not clear the bar I have set for myself, what I am actually doing is deciding for them that they will change later, while enabling the behaviors they exhibit which do not meet my standards.
This is another way we do a disservice to ourselves and to the other person in the scenario. Just like with Rule #4, we have chosen to make the decision for the other party.
What decision is that, Molly?
Well, I am so glad you asked.
The decision the new party must make is whether or not they are willing to accept the terms and conditions of a relationship (romantic or platonic) with you. And when you ingratiate someone into your life who very clearly does not meet your standards, you have made the decision for them, that they must change what they might actually not be willing to change.
When it comes to allowing others into our lives, we get to assess what they bring to the table (and they should be doing the same of us!).
A great set of basic standards might look something like this:
- Must have a job, contribute to their place of living, and be able to support themselves
- Demonstrates integrity
- No criminal record or drug use
- Emotionally, physically, and financially responsible
- Knows how to mitigate conflict
- Wants to improve themselves to be their best
- Is conscious of and working through their issues
Notice that each of these points depicts a person who will not only build themselves up, but is on a trajectory that could grow upward with yours, instead of detracting from your momentum.
Notice also that each point on this list does NOT dictate to someone’s appearances, personal preferences, viewpoints, religious beliefs, passions, et cetera, et cetera. If these are items that you feel inclined to add, you may do so, in a compassionate manner.
As we come to know ourselves, and who we want to be, and how we want to be, Rule #5 becomes crucial. Our growth and development does not occur in a vacuum. We do not exist in a world devoid of the human condition.
And remaining true to the changes we want to see in ourselves can become challenging in the face of those we choose to spend time with, especially when they do not wish to meet these basic requirements.
So we must be selective and careful about who we choose to engage. Romantically. And platonically.
Because the people we surround ourselves with ultimately become representatives for us. Our friends and significants teach the world how to view us as individuals.
Even more importantly, our chosen circle shows others how they are permitted to treat us. Or behave around us.
Our standards beget our treatment.
Molly-Over-The-Past-Ten-Years allowed people into her life that affected her more than she wanted to see. Because Molly-Over-The-Past-Ten-Years didn’t like to disappoint others by walking away or guarding her self.
She spent a lot of time with a variety of people. Some good; many not-so-good.
She grew close with the people who have built her up. She spent too much time with others that tore her down. And she entertained some who exhausted her spirit entirely.
And what’s important to note is that each of these people is entitled to their own path, their own decisions, and their own behaviors. Without pressure from me to exist in a particular manner.
But so was I.
And the meaning of this rule is that I am also entitled to hold people as close to, or as far from, me as I deem fit. And doing so is not a cruelty, rather an acceptance of what may or may not come.
Because not everyone deserves the same access to you, your heart, and-or your time. And those who choose to walk away from you in the face of your standards, are showing you that they would indeed take you for granted, either as a friend or a partner.
We’ll talk about boundaries in my next post. But there is a quote I love about boundaries, that applies here, as well:
“The only people who get upset about you setting boundaries are the ones who were benefiting from you having none.”
Your standards should not feel like a standoff, where the person who caves first has to cater to the other’s whims. They are your guards. And they help you to discern when someone does or does not make the cut to certain levels of your life.
Your standards should be systems that you set in place to help you achieve your goals. And anyone who stands in the way of your doing so (whether by the way they treat you, their lifestyle, their habits, or their intentions) should not enjoy the privilege of You.
From now on, I will only allow someone into my world that can match my enthusiasm and zeal for life. Because this rule is about being so focused on meeting your standards and achieving your goals that you simply cannot undersell yourself.
This rule is about standing firm in your worth, and believing in the quality, not the quantity, of individuals who will choose to meet your expectations.
This rule is about knowing how hard it is to meet your standards, because you endured the challenge of them yourself!
This rule is about accepting that some individuals may want access to your life, but will not be granted such access until they make the choice to shape up.
So, let’s wrap this up:
What are systems you have set in place to help you live your best life?
How do these systems translate to the standards you hold yourself to?
When have you allowed someone into your life that may not have honored your standards?
How do you help the people in your life to honor their own standards?
What I’m learning and loving about each rule we discuss here is that every new rule becomes intertwined with the ones before them.
The conversations we have from implementing Rule #2, help us to dive into our own growth in Rule #1. And vice versa. You’ll see that each successive rule allows our weekly posts to become knitted even more intricately together!
As I think about each week’s exposition, I get excited at how the underlying meaning of each rule is not always what it might seem at the surface. You might be saying to yourself:
So what, Molly? What does that have to do with Rule #3? Why can’t my significant and I hang out in public?
Or you might be saying…
Big deal, I’m single. How does this rule apply to me?
To which I will say, I’m glad you asked!
Admittedly, on the surface, Rule #3 sounds like it has to do with social etiquette and how we engage with our partners. But what Molly-Ten-Years-Ago didn’t realize she was speaking to, was this:
Two individuals honoring each other through their independence, and trusting one another in time spent apart.
Still not seeing how this rule relates? Let’s rephrase: Rule #3 is about having so much confidence in yourself, that nothing can shake the confidence you have in your partner.
This rule was inspired by watching a dear friend of mine meet (and fall in love with) a wonderful man (who she proceeded to marry and has 3 beautiful children with), and observing how they socialized.
I remember feeling so impressed at how calm she was in their relationship, and how they both could disengage from each other at social events, without a care in the world.
Most relationships I had observed until that point were heavy on the codependency. Defined by excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, codependency is a difficult trait to hide…and an awkward one to endure as an outsider.
This particular brand of addiction looks like two people who can’t be apart for more than a few minutes, before needing to reunite. From here, this couple proceeds to hang all over each other for the rest of the event. If they do manage to drum up the energy to separate for any stretch of time, their audience endures endless conversations about the missing significant.
So, imagine how refreshing it was for me to see that my friend and her then-suitor could stand to be apart for these large group events. And not only physically apart, but that she spoke of him only briefly and only if asked.
So, we’re going to focus now on those couples that exhibit high levels of codependency. Because nothing oxidizes faster than a toxic relationship in the harsh light of day, let’s discuss why failure to accommodate for Rule #3 might be an indicator of red flags in a relationship.
As usual, we’ll call my favorite witness to the stand: Me-Over-The-Past-Ten-Years.
In my past relationships, there were plenty of reasons I felt compelled to babysit my exes in social gatherings, but I’ve narrowed our list down to the three main insecurities I had:
1. I was worried they would feel uncomfortable talking with my friends or family without me there.
2. I was worried they might act rudely towards someone, and I wanted to run interference to prevent that from happening (or to be able to rationalize it away later).
3. I was worried they would flirt with other women behind my back.
There are so many other reasons I’ve felt the need to hover around my exes. And all of these reasons existed because I
probably knew that the guys I chose to date were guys I should never have chosen to date.
Because in a healthy Green-Flag kind of relationship, your partner should enjoy spending time with the people who make you happy. Your partner should not be prone to making rude comments towards others. And your partner should not be developing an attraction with someone who isn’t you.
These are just basic ground-level standards, Mol.
But here’s the jagged little pill Molly-Over-The-Past-Ten-Years never wanted to take: if you feel like you need to babysit your partner, you should pay attention to that instinct. And honor it.
Dig in and understand the root cause of those instincts. Don’t ignore them or hope them away. Your instincts are important to have, because your heart is a precious thing and should be protected. And you should be The General leading that vanguard, joined only by the partner who is worthy of you. Not the partner who tricks you into letting your guard down.
But even more so, your instincts tell you where you have some reflection to do, and maybe even some growth.
For each of the aforementioned reasons, my instincts set off every alarm system my brain had in place. These instincts were pulling me toward reflection I desperately needed and lovingly avoided.
That reflection should have looked like this:
1. Why is my partner uncomfortable around the people I care about? Why do I feel I insecure about it?
2. Why does my partner make rude comments when interacting with someone? Why do I entertain this behavior in this person?
3. Is my partner as invested in this relationship as I am? Why do I allow myself to feel devalued?
Having made all of these observations, what do I want to do about it?
These are scary questions I didn’t have the guts to face over the past decade. And each of these questions showcased areas where I needed to develop and strengthen myself.
In the first instance, I was afraid that my friends or family would not like my partner. I was distrustful of my own judgment of character. In the second, I was worried my partner would give them concrete reasons to dislike him. Most of the time, my partners had already given me various reasons not to like them, which I justified and ignored. And finally, I was scared that my partner didn’t even like me, and was always looking for someone better. (It goes without saying that I was acutely aware there were reasons to be suspicious of this.)
I think there’s something to be said about hindsight here, but c’est la vie!
I may have a hard time accepting that a man who I feel calm with is someone I am worthy of. I may also have a hard time accepting that the Brooding-Batman types I dated in the past couldn’t be the one for me (read: couldn’t be fixed).
Clearly, I’m still working on Rule #1 for myself, and that’s okay! What’s most important is that, at long last, I chose to stop running. I chose to defend my boundaries, my standards, and myself. (And now, here we are.)
Developing the strength to ask the hard questions early-on, of yourself and then of your partner, facilitates the on-going conversation you should be having with them. Additionally, it commands respect.
With each question you answer together, you build momentum for growth. This rule either cultivates a healthy relationship, or it allows you to make an informed decision on the fate of said relationship.
Beyond the red flags we address in ourselves and our relationships, we should pay attention to the green flags. We should celebrate those positive traits in our relationships!
Considering that I am single myself, I love seeing my friends enter into healthy relationships. And I love taking notes on how they do it, in their own unique ways.
It allows me to identify the various green flags that can (and should) present themselves in healthy relationships: in the way each person honors the other.
Where each partner can reach out to the other’s friends and family at anytime, for casual conversation or to make special plans. For instance, my friend’s fiancé contacted his AND her entire family and her friends to set up an expansive, surprise birthday Zoom call, so she could celebrate in quarantine!
Or where each partner is respectful in how they treat others. My sister’s partner can make anyone smile and feel included by how at ease he is in conversation with them.
But especially where each partner is so enamored with the other, that they could never be distracted by someone else. My new brother-in-law knew the second he saw my sister that she was The One. And his devotion to her is unwavering, and apparent to everyone.
What beautiful couples I get to surround myself with and learn from!
This rule is about cultivating such a strong and healthy relationship with yourself, and then your partner, that you both can withstand a moment (or two) of separation.
And this rule is about facing the underlying fears you may have, which contribute to codependency issues in a relationship.
So, let’s wrap this up:
What are fears you have held in past relationships, or even a current relationship?
How do these fears translate to insecurities you have about yourself?
What Green Flags have been exemplified in the healthy relationships around you?
How can you implement these Green Flags in the way you see and treat yourself?