One of the skills I did not learn in childhood that has led to many of my painful life lessons is BOUNDARIES. If you asked me if I had them, I probably would have told you yes. What I didn’t know is that boundaries come in many forms and can be applied in many ways.
The most challenging boundary issues in my life so far have been in my relationships, mostly significant others. When I look back on my past love relationships, there are so many I can now see that I didn’t have healthy boundaries in place. My desire to be loved and wanted led to allowing boys and men to treat me in non-loving ways.
My first college boyfriend ignored me for a good portion of our relationship. I chalked it up to me being his first girlfriend and him not knowing how to be in a love relationship. It took a year for me to finally realize I wanted a better, more loving relationship.
In graduate school, I had a relationship that was never “official,” but was extremely unhealthy. We would have intimacy only when we were alone. When we were with our mutual friends, he would pretend we weren’t in this weird relationship and he would distance himself. I went home with him for Christmas one year, but he still would not acknowledge our relationship to his family, even though they knew. When my mom met him, she immediately pointed out that she didn’t like the way he treated me. I tricked myself into believing this type of relationship was okay because of how he acted in private. This went on for five years, on and off. I finally woke up and knew I wanted a better loving relationship.
In my first marriage, I found it extremely difficult to have boundaries. There was so much turmoil and emotional abuse going on that I lost myself. I did not stick up for myself when I needed to, and when I did, I was punished for it. I took the punishment, possibly because I thought I deserved it. This was the bottom of my barrel in not having boundaries and my self-worth was almost a zero. I started to get my power back when my daughter was born. She gave me the strength to stand up for myself because I knew I couldn’t let her grow up in a house like this.
It was in the subsequent years after that first marriage that I finally learned what real boundaries are. If something doesn’t feel right to me or I don’t like something, I don’t have to take part of that experience. If someone is trying to control me in my actions or what I say, I can stand up for myself. If someone is treating me in a disrespectful way, I can speak up about it, and I can take myself out of that situation.
The first step in setting boundaries is knowing for oneself what is okay and not okay. I am best able to set boundaries and keep them in place when I am in a centered space. I tap into how I am feeling about a person or situation and consciously decide how to be in that space and what actions or in-actions I need to make for me to be okay. Ultimately, if I am respecting and loving myself, I can clearly see when others are not giving me respect. Now I set boundaries daily with those in my life, and I am much healthier and happier for it.
How do you set and keep your boundaries?