It took me a while to become ok with saying no. But what I started to realise was that always saying yes to others was saying no to myself. For so long, I chased the gold star of other people’s approval. As a reformed workaholic, I can look back with empathy and kindness and fully understand that external validation was my drug of choice at the time, feeding my sense of self-worth. With others’ opinions and feedback as my North Star, I became too flexible and fluid with my own needs, allowing behaviour I wouldn’t tolerate now. The boundaries in my life looked like smudged chalk lines on the floor. Over time, those boundaries had been scuffed and faded to such an extent that no one could be sure they were ever even there – implicit permission to overstep the mark, and I’d facilitated it. The biggest myth about boundaries is that other people are crossing them, but we have allowed them to be crossed because it is not anyone else’s job to uphold, respect or honour our boundaries. It’s up to us.
Boundaries are the limits we set for ourselves and others about what we will not do, accept and tolerate in our lives. Boundaries enable us to hold space for ourselves and our needs. Where we feel resentment in any area of our lives, it is the number one sign that a boundary is needed, as we are out of alignment with ourselves. Where we have no boundaries, we effectively block and override our own desires as we say that someone else’s agenda, needs, wants, and desires are more important than our own. Re-establishing boundaries is hard as we often have to step out of deeply ingrained patterns and habits of pleasing or blaming others where we haven’t previously held space for ourselves. As I became centred in my life and sure in my knowing and self-worth, no longer outsourcing my validation, I realised that my own approval was the only gold star I needed in my life. The vague mistiness created by my lack of boundaries started to clear as I began to set small delineations daily around what was and wasn’t acceptable for me.
Our boundaries shouldn’t change direction or shift with the wind. When we hold our boundaries consistently in all scenarios, they create clarity for others, but they also send a message that we want to feel valued and that we are worthy of feeling valued. Often this message is most important for ourselves. We need to reframe boundaries as badass, and it’s one of the kindest and loving things that we can do for ourselves. It’s kind and empowering to say that something no longer serves us. Where we have porous boundaries in our lives, it can mean that we are unwilling to stand in our truth, and we need to continue to reframe that it’s empowering to say no. It’s our way of holding space for ourselves and reclaiming our personal power.
In life, I have often found that there has been a negative connotation with boundaries, especially where our lack of boundaries was convenient for others. So, be mindful of the energy bought to holding a boundary. When we are triggered, reactive and feeling resentful (often due to a lack of boundaries), the boundaries that we do hold can feel like an electric fence rather than an easeful garden gate. Boundaries are kind when they are clear and consistent. The energy that we have expended in ‘sucking it up’, acquiescing and being stuck in a feedback, repeat loop of saying yes when we mean no, removes us from our authenticity. And it keeps us small as we subvert our needs to keep the peace and avoid friction and disappointment. This energy often shifts into resentment, and an action that we thought would maintain the peace in the connection or relationship often erodes it. Boundaries create clarity, and where they are not appreciated after a calm and kind conversation, we may have to consider if the situation still serves us. Start small and start to practice holding boundaries in areas of your life that feel safe. Don’t overexplain your boundaries, as that erodes your sureness. Now, there is only one thing left to ask: How are you going to embrace your elegant power and set a new boundary for yourself today?