Over the last month or more we have been talking about self care and how to implement it, and how you can’t fill from an empty cup.
My clients have been asking how do I actually do this? How do I make the changes I need to make around the house to take care of myself? How do I care for myself with love and compassion and still care for my loved ones too?
The answer really is boundaries. Not narcissistic boundaries that don’t account for the needs of other too, but boundaries that are steeped in compassion for both self and others. In this way, boundaries and compassion coexist and work together. Let’s take a look at what this means.
What is a boundary?
When I ask my client what a boundary is they usually say something like “it’s a line,” or “it’s something you shouldn’t cross”. While this is true I like to remind them of one very important truth:
A boundary is made up.
This is significant for one very big reason: if you’re the only one who made it up, and no one else knows about it or believes in it, then you’ll find that boundary being crossed over and over and over again. Clients say to me all the time that they try to set boundaries but that no one listens to them. They set some rules and get walked over by the kids, the spouse, the friends.
Does this sound familiar? If so, then the answer is probably that you must not be believing in the boundary very much. I tell my clients that the key to success is that you have to believe in that boundary more than they don’t.
Think of a line between states or borders between countries. In reality, they are just imaginary lines we drew on the earth and then agreed upon their validity. Everyone agrees that the line is there and sooner or later, they all behave as if the line is real.
Sometimes, if there’s resistance, we might war over those borders, lines and boundaries until everyone settles down to it and a truce is met. We might use fences or guards to reinforce them, in case those who don’t quite agree try to sneak across. However it is done, if we truly believe in the line between two countries and everyone else does too, then we’ll do whatever it takes to keep that line real.
While this can have unreasonable implications in a world sense (that we won’t go into here: no politics please) this is a great analogy for understanding how we can implement boundaries in our own lives. Here are some clear steps you can follow the next time you want to create a boundary.
+ Step one: set the boundary in the place that you want it
+ Step two: let everyone know where the line in the sand has been drawn
+ Step three: be absolutely clear about the consequences of crossing said boundary
+ Step four: patiently engage in any negotiation, arguments, or war that arises: and reach a truce
Some examples of boundaries
What kind of boundaries might need to be set? Here are some ideas:
+ how you expect to be treated or spoken to
+ behaviours you do or don’t expect from others
While not knowing how to set boundaries takes away our own freedom and joy, the boundaries we create should never take away from another’s freedom or joy either. The key component that guides us here is compassion.
Compassionate boundaries account for everyone involved. Keep in mind when considering all of this that narcissists generally have great boundaries. This isn’t an exercise in narcissism, rather when drawing lines you are taking into account the needs and desires of others: you are always offering the same thing you seek: kindness and respect.
A few questions to ask:
+ Am I honouring and respecting myself with this boundary?
+ Am I honouring and respecting others with this boundary?
+ Am I making this boundary free of resentment, anger or vengeance?
If you can answer yes to these three questions then you’re probably on the right track. A narcissist will always be able to answer yes to the first but not the second. A martyr will usually be able the answer yes to the second but not the first. The third question is there to help you avoid setting a knee jerk boundary out of spite or revenge. This may mean waiting until your anger has subsided so you can set a more reasonable line.
Understanding your audience
Once the boundaries are set we need to bring compassion to how we enforce them. This means understanding our audience. For example, the way I reinforce the rules with a young child will be completely different to my grown husband. The child will require much more firmness and discipline, which would be condescending and hurtful to an adult, who needs gentle and clear communication only.
The exception here is if you are in a violent, abusive or otherwise unsafe relationship with an adult. In this case the boundary will most likely be to walk away: as any other boundary you try to set is likely to end in violence and abuse.
For a work colleague or employee there is extra tact required: you may remind them of the goals of the team and positively encourage them to meet the expectation of the boundary in a way that they failed to do so. Or you may gently remind them of the area of their job description that is not being met.
When it comes to boundaries the two most important things to remember are this:
+ If you can’t create boundaries for yourself you will always be running from an empty cup, and
+ The boundaries you set should still allow for the other’s personal growth.