Creating necessary boundaries
A few thoughts about boundaries in action.
Two weeks ago, I had the great good fortune to be back among my Big Island sisters. Big Island writing retreats are the brain child of the indefatigable Beth Bornstein Dunnington. Sitting in the safe circle, for me the first time since Covid, reminded me about the power, importance, and alchemy that occurs when women come together to speak their truth.
The process: Once in the morning and once again in the afternoon, Beth gives us a list of over thirty prompts that includes images, words, and sentences. Off we go for about an hour to write. We return to the circle to read out loud what we wrote, witnessing by and for each other . Nine years ago, when I attended my first BI retreat, I was terrified by the whole thing. The writing, the reading, the community. So much has changed between then and now, in my writing life and my real life and my gratitude is immense. Big Island has been part of that healing journey.
This time, one of the afternoon prompts was, “Creating necessary boundaries.” Uh oh, I thought. Boundaries and I don’t have much history together. But, having recently had to implement a few, for, like, the first time, that particular prompt niggled at me. Nope. I just didn’t want to go there. I stared for a good ten minutes at the rest of the list, hoping something else would speak to me. Hells bells, I finally thought. The clock was ticking. Just go for it. I hoped I’d surprise myself with the concept Christopher Bollas first coined: the unthought known.
Had I not yet thought what I knew?
The prompt: Creating necessary boundaries
Creating necessary boundaries. Man. How old were you the first time you heard about boundaries? The first time someone told you you needed to have some, or even just one? For me, boundaries started, like everything else, about ten years ago. Not having any, mind you, but learning of their existence.
When I was a kid, no one asked me to figure out what was okay and what wasn’t. No one asked me if I had feelings about things or what those feelings might be trying to convey. My parents taught me to behave, to be nice, to be a good girl, to not talk back. They didn’t say “be quiet,” but I got the message. I forgive my parents; they were only raising me the way they were raised. I bet they thought their parenting, if they thought about it at all, comparatively speaking was great. And in many ways it was.
I’ve written little about my stillborn sister’s death. Her name was Lauren, and she died before she was born, when I was two years old. Over the years, it’s come to feel like her spirit tapped me on the shoulder. Say my name. So, at writing retreats and in circles I sometimes say her name, because my parents almost never did. Silence, they somehow learned, was the way to cope.
I was two years old. Too young to remember, far too young to be able to say, “You know Mom and Dad, it’s not okay that you’re both ignoring me because you’re depressed and grieving. I’m sorry you’re suffering, but please get some help to figure out how to support one another and me.” Instead, I sat on the couch with my cat, feeling bad and responsible, but unable to understand, watching TV.
In the book I’m writing, I share about my obsession, from a very young age, with TV, with fantasy living. I share about fantasizing hard enough at night to dream myself into adventures with Jamie Sommers, the bionic woman. My fantasy life was my joy. But I digress. This piece is about creating necessary boundaries, and the “boundaries” I saw for young girls and women on ’70s and ’80s era TV were not necessary to my young growth and development.
In the long run, it’s less important when or where I started learning about boundaries than that I did start, I did learn. In part, I guess it’s that I was never taught to value myself enough to have boundaries, so it wasn’t until I repeated that pattern with my daughter and I saw some painful outcomes that I realized I needed to figure this out. I wanted to encourage her, show her it’s okay—better than okay, imperative—to know what’s okay and what’s not okay. Creating necessary boundaries is really fucking hard, so starting now, in her twenties, she’ll be light years ahead of where I was when she hits her forties and beyond. This is one way we break patterns: a decade or two at a time.
Creating necessary boundaries requires us to care more about our health than other people’s happiness. That feels like death to us people-pleasers, because everyone else is more important than we are. Or, what everyone else thinks about us is more important than what we think about ourselves.
Creating necessary boundaries means accepting that other people WILL, not might, but WILL feel disappointed in us. If we’ve spent a lifetime prioritizing others to our detriment and then, one day, say, “Enough,” well, people won’t like that.
Creating necessary boundaries is easier with a posse. If you have a couple of folks who know you, what you’re about, what you stand for, and what your intentions are, who can, when the shit starts hitting the fan, because it will, tell you “You’ve got this,” it’s easier to stand strong.
Creating necessary boundaries can mean ending a nearly 3 decade long friendship with someone who calls herself your friend, but who routinely talks shit about you behind your back, plays the victim, lays guilt trips. It’s hard to say, and mean, to someone like that, “I hope you take good care of yourself.” No ill-will. No snarkiness. No defensiveness. It’s even harder to say, “No more.” What liberation! No drama, no angst, no more Can you believe blah blah or How dare she blah blah. Simply, “No more.” I mean really, after 3 decades, who do you think is actually responsible for your pain?
Creating necessary boundaries requires head nodding, saying, “Yes, I know. It’s really hard.” But oh! The freedom in no longer getting sucked in.
Creating necessary boundaries means taking care of yourself, so that you’ll be able to care for your beloveds when they most need help.
Creating necessary boundaries means showing the people you love that they’re allowed to do the same and don’t have a selfish bone in their body when they do.
Creating necessary boundaries is trust.
Creating necessary boundaries is respect.
Creating necessary boundaries is connection.
Creating necessary boundaries is love.
Creating necessary boundaries says yes to life. Yes! With an open heart.
Creating necessary boundaries feels bad until it doesn’t, until it becomes the gateway to peace in action.
Creating necessary boundaries means standing up for yourself, because if you don’t, who will?
The legacy I want to leave is loving myself enough to break the harmful patterns of the past, and to compassionately support others in doing the same work. Even if, especially if, I’m the one who perpetuated or created the pattern.
Creating necessary boundaries is a huge part of giving voice to what I need, what I want, and yes, even, what I deserve.
Creating necessary boundaries, this is how I took back my power.
Creating necessary boundaries, this is how I will take back my power.
Returning to where I began is not possible in the literal sense, of course, but creating necessary boundaries, figuring out what they are, is how we go back to where we began and give ourselves what others were incapable, unwilling, or unable to give. Creating necessary boundaries tells me, and it tells you, that I matter and always did. That, in fact, a real, healthy, boundaried life is better than any fantasy life could ever be.
Want to learn more about boundaries, particularly between daughters and difficult mothers?
Here’s what I know for sure: changing the way you experience the relationship – taking care of yourself in the relationship – isn’t about never being hurt or angry.Karen C.L. Anderson
Check out Karen C.L. Anderson’s Healthy Boundaries Workshop. See more information HERE. Learn more about Karen’s important work HERE.
PS. Remember: the people in your life are entitled to all the same boundary considerations in reverse!
Have thoughts, comments, or questions about boundaries or anything else? I’d love to have a dialogue…let me know down below in the comments.
Holy moly. Also just saw this on Instagram. The Book of Boundaries. More HERE.
Understanding and communicating our boundaries is a great topic to discuss, Tracey. Like in your situation, my parents did not teach me that I could set boundaries. They hardly could acknowledge my feelings and as time when on, neither could I. Thank goodness I reached a point in my 30’s when this mantra reverberated in my head: “You can’t blame someone who walks all over you. You can only blame yourself for not getting out of the way.”
I took that to heart and began setting boundaries. Here’s an early example I remember well:
A so-called friend asked me to pick up her children along with mine every day after school, since I’d be making the drive anyway. She said she’d pay me. I said no, that doesn’t work for me. She kept asking, begging, trying to change my mind. I actually felt I had to come up with reasons why this driving arrangement wasn’t a good idea. When begging wasn’t working, she began crying, and even put her husband on the phone to try to convince me to make a commitment I didn’t want. I hung up on him. And I lost a friend that day.
But then I realized she wasn’t a true friend if she thought it was okay to cajole me into something I didn’t want to do.
If this situation had happened before I respected my boundaries, I probably would have said yes, and then I would have regretted that decision for months and months, kicking myself for having agreed to her proposal. I would have wanted to get out of it but then I’d likely carry guilty feelings if I quit.
It was sad to look in the rearview mirror and think this woman was never my friend. Maybe she was for a time.
It was empowering to realize I couldn’t be manipulated. Live. Laugh. Love. Learn.
I love this story, Sue, but I’m sorry you had to go through that. We know that what’s hard helps us to grow, but it’s still hard! And setting boundaries is very hard, especially at the beginning, and especially when you know others will be upset. It can be a challenge to set them with compassion, but it’s SO worth it. I am SO glad you stuck up for yourself…that woman’s behavior was bizarre! Thank you for sharing..and I love that mantra!
Love this, Tracey. Always so good to read your perspective, and I’m right there with you in learning how to set and maintain boundaries later in life than I may have wished. xx
Thanks jess xo
Tracey, I relate to so much of what you wrote. I was brought in a house where only my dad could have boundaries/limits. I was not allowed to . And I was raised like you to stay silent and behave not like a good girl but as a young lady. No room to be a child.
I was five when my baby brother was born and died three days later, only no one told me anything. I learned what had happened when I was 27 and my then sister in law told me. My parents never ever talked about it and I did like you, blamed myself and buried myself in TV and fantasy.
I too am only recently learning to set boundaries and it’s really hard. And the people I set them with do not like it. I had a rupture in my relationship with my one remaking brother over my setting a boundary.
Thank you so much for writing and sharing this. So helpful, illuminating, good reading and well written. I’m happy for you that you go to the Big Island for Beth’s workshops. It must be amazing to be on the island and in the workshop.
Thank you Audrey, I had no idea we had so much in common! You can relate to what I wrote and I can relate to you. I’m sorry your family went through that. I’m sorry mine did too. And exactly. I remember only two instances when Lauren’s name was mentioned, once by Dad and once by Mom..that was it. That’s so sad…for them and for our family. Sad for yours too. Setting boundaries is REALLY FUCKING HARD!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Have I mentioned how hard it is? lol…And you’re right..people don’t like it. Of course they don’t! Why would they when they’re so used to getting their way. And it’s also hard to remember sometimes that others are allowed to set boundaries, too… the whole situation, by which I mean being alive, is really just so hard and complicated. I’m sorry about your brother. Hopefully, he’ll learn and someday the two of you can be family again. I hope so, anyway, in a way that is healthy and compassionate. Much love to you! Thank you again. XOXO