This has been a life long lesson for me. Having grown up in a house with zero boundaries, I was never taught their importance. Or, for that matter, how to effectively set healthy boundaries and then how to enforce them.
If this resonates for you, don’t worry. You CAN learn to set healthy boundaries. You CAN learn to enforce them. Although it might be uncomfortable in the beginning, setting boundaries is crucial to supporting your personal power.
There is a misleading perception these days… “be open, be inclusive, don’t judge”, etc…no matter what. Sure, we all agree that being nonjudgemental is a good thing. But not if someone is taking advantage of you or walking all over you. There is nothing spiritual or enlightened about being a doormat.
Another way of looking at boundaries, is seeing them as tools to ensure your standards are being respected. In other words, you haven’t lowered the bar for other people. You instead, can hold them to the standards you expect, or move on. They know where you stand and can decide for themselves if the relationship works for them…and visa versa. Your job is to be clear and consistent.
The best way I have found to learn this skill is by modeling someone who is good at it. Studying someone who has mastered a skill you desire is a great way to learn. So, if you want to learn how to be more comfortable with networking…you could find someone who’s already comfortable with it and join them for some networking events. Then, watch their behavior and start behaving that way yourself. It may feel awkward at first, but it works. (Just like as children, we modeled our parents…there is a reason we sound just like our mother sometimes!)
This works for any behavior you want to learn.
I didn’t get really comfortable and capable with boundaries until I started working in a doctor’s office as a rehabilitative Pilates Instructor.
Dealing with people in pain is challenging. Being in chronic pain is exhausting. And, some patients have more difficult personalities than others. So, setting boundaries became crucial for me if I wanted to maintain my own personal sanity. And let me add, many of these people tried to test my boundaries or ignore them altogether. But I stayed firm…once I got comfortable enforcing them.
Fortunately, the office manager, was outstanding at setting boundaries. He too had to learn this skill years ago, but he was clearly confident and capable now! I remember gawking at him several times in absolute amazement… “You can do that?” I remember thinking… “You can just say ‘no’??? Without a bunch of excuses and apologies????” He was amazing.
I studied him like a hawk. And eventually, I became very clear about my boundaries, despite how uncomfortable it was at first.
Some personal examples:
Session times. Some people are chronically late or just don’t respect your time. I got really good at ending exactly on time. I didn’t care if they were late…we ended on time. I had one patient show up still eating her breakfast which wasted 20 minutes of our session. I watched her eat…I still ended on time. And when she complained, I reminded her what time our session started, and that it was her choice to eat for the first 20 minutes. Our session was scheduled for one hour…not an hour and 20 minutes.
Cancelation policy. Sometimes people think they are exempt from this policy which I clearly state, and put in writing. So, I ensure I get paid in advance so if they cancel last minute, I’m still getting paid. My policy is my policy and if they don’t like it, they can work with someone else. (I do make exceptions for people with chronic, painful health issues…but that’s rare.)
Another boundary I learned to set was how to ‘hold space’ for people. By that I mean, someone could be struggling physically or emotionally, and rather than hooking into their emotions, I quietly, compassionately, observed them. I witnessed their pain…without getting personally involved with it. (And I wouldn’t do any good as a life coach if every time a client got upset, I took on their pain…)
I think this boundary, ‘holding space’, is an important one for everyone to learn. Because, yes, people want to be seen, heard, and understood. But we can offer people that compassion and simultaneously keep our own sovereignty by staying in our own emotions and not hooking into theirs.
I repeat…We can be unrelenting in minding our own energy and emotions, and still compassionately observe the pain of others.
This is especially important now due to our current events. We are bombarded daily with all the terrible things happening in our world. If we allow ourselves to get sucked up into it, we’ll burn out, break down, or self destruct.
Now more than ever we must set healthy boundaries and enforce them vigilantly. Especially when it comes to holding space and witnessing others.
This is one of the most common issues I work with people on. It is challenging for many of us. Please, get in touch if this is an issue for you. We can work on this together.