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Setting Boundaries from the Inside

Often setting boundaries is approached from the thought of keeping something out.  This is true and works well for food storage containers and cell membranes, but in the interpersonal realm not as much.

In relationships with others it's more helpful to think about boundaries in terms of what activities and environments best meet your needs.  Instead of setting a boundary to keep others out, you set one to continue to move toward what works for you.  This creates a sense of safety through connection rather than safety through resistance or withdrawing.

For example, a friend asks you if you would like to join her for the next 3 weekends in making a cob structure in her backyard.  You feel a tension in your stomach.  She's really excited and looking for support.  You have some cob building skills and know you'd be useful.  You know you don't want to do it, but it's hard to say no to your friend.  "I just don't want to", doesn't seem like a good answer and might trigger her into thinking you don't care about your friendship.

This is when it's helpful to know what you are moving toward.  Upon reflection you connect with what is alive for you.  You realize that in your personal time you need rest, peace, and connection with yourself.  You feel energized and rejuvenated when you meet these needs by spending time alone in your wood working shop.  Taking care of yourself in this way allows the best you to show up with others during the work week.

From this place of knowing what's important to you, you can answer your friend.  When your friend has an understanding of your world, it's easier for her to hear your "no", because she gets that you are saying yes to your own needs which allows you to contribute to others in the ways you have chosen through your work and other engagements.

This also can open a space for negotiation.  Understanding your needs your friend may shift her request.  Rather than helping on the weekends, she may ask if you would be willing to take an hour to look at her plans for the structure.

As you become subtle and clear about what truly meets your needs, in a way that is in alignment with your authenticity, setting boundaries becomes a process of staying connected to yourself rather than pushing others away.

Each day this week take a few moments as you eat breakfast to reflect on your intention for the day and how you will move in alignment with that intention.

Next week I'll look at how this applies to cycles of reactivity in your relationships.

Next Gem
Setting Boundaries around Reactivity
Previous Gem
Facing the "Difficult" Person

8 Responses

  1. Nov 18, 2010

    This is an elegant description of healthy boundary setting. Thank you!

  2. Nov 18, 2010

    What about when boundaries are ignored? When you ask for a time out and your partner just keeps at "it". Or when you ask that your possessions are not discarded without your permission and that is ignored? HOw does one stay in a place of calm and come from a loving position?

  3. Nov 20, 2010

    stay tuned :)

  4. Jan 17, 2011

    I yearn to learn this dance of grace. Thank you for your compassionate insights...I'm inspired and hopeful!

  5. Jan 18, 2011

    Your welcome. I wish you well on your journey!

  6. Jan 31, 2011
    Patricia Baltodano

    I live in Costa Rica. My friend Susana Raine showed me your publications. I am interesting to receive them. Thanks very much.

  7. Feb 01, 2011

    Dear Patricia,

    I will sign you up. I speak Spanish and would love to come to Costa Rica and do a workshop there. Any interest on your end?

  8. Jun 24, 2012
    Ted Zuschlag

    I liked rereading this post! It helped me to connect with hard won ideas about setting goals.

    It is easy to identify tasks, a little harder to identify and commit to projects, and difficult to set goals. Yet when I have set goals I have been able to access my authenticity readily.
    It is easy for me to confuse setting an intention with making a resolution (shallow). Using language of goal setting has helped.

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