Boundaries & Self Love
I* used to be a “my door is always open” kind of person. I prided myself on that. I thought it was loving, good, kind, generous, and true to my values to be that way.
Yet, often my thoughts and my energy were anything but loving, good, kind, generous, and truthful. Underneath the surface of being “there” for everyone simmered resentment and frustration. At the end of the day (and often in the middle) I was drained, exhausted, and burnt out.
So now, my door is often closed. I choose when to open it and why. I decide. And the beautiful thing is, when it is open, it is wide open. And I am able to be loving, good, kind, generous and honest to my fellow humans in ways I was never able to before.
Somewhere along the path of my overly self sacrificing journey, I came to realize a painful truth. It wasn’t love that was motivating me. Love wasn’t at the core of my actions. For me, the core was distraction and low self worth. Distraction, because by being busy with everyone else’s stuff I didn’t have to look at my own. Low self worth, because I thought I was earning my worth by being there for everyone else.
So how did I evolve into someone who chose when and why to open my door? I deepened my self love, and as part of that deepening, I had to learn how to have boundaries. How to keep my door closed when needed - physically, energetically, spiritually. I had to practice (very awkwardly at first) how to set boundaries.
Self love is built the way genuine, deep, abiding love grows in any relationship, by small actions over time. Small, consistent actions engender trust. One of those actions is maintaining boundaries. Boundaries are how we choose to honor and protect our time, our bodies, our hearts, our property and our energy. And when we show ourselves that we have our own backs - by consistently asserting out boundaries, that self love grows.
Many of us did not have good examples of healthy boundaries around us as we grew up. Many of us were encouraged in various ways to not honor our own boundaries. Whether through abuse - the ultimate violation of boundaries - or through seemingly innocent acts that were normalized. Some of these include:
- being told to hug or kiss or have physical contact with others even if we didn’t want to
- having our feelings dismissed (“You’re ok” “There’s nothing to be afraid of” “That’s silly”)
- criticism, bullying
- being forced to share
- given responsibility for the feelings of others (“That will make mommy sad if you don’t eat your dinner”)
- lack of privacy
- no choice over how to spend time
- coerced into decisions (or not being allowed to make decisions) around every day things like what to wear or eat, and major things like jobs, colleges, or relationships
- deferring to the needs of others; this may be socialized through gender, age, or social status
So it is no wonder that setting boundaries can feel really difficult. It may go against many habits that have been ingrained in us since childhood. Creating new ways of being requires courage and commitment. Recognize that the old ways of being are deeply embedded and will require time and consistency to change. The powerful truth is that we are remarkably resilient and capable of change! Give it time and recognize that healing is cyclical not linear.
Having boundaries requires skills. They are skills - which means we can develop them! They aren’t magical abilities only granted to some. Regardless of our natural proclivities or our past experiences, we can get better at this. So what skills do we need?
How to clearly discern our boundaries
How to communicate them assertively
How to respond to feedback - this includes pushback and boundary violation from others, as well as learning to evolve our boundaries as needed
You may know what boundaries you need to set. You also may not. It may take time to discern. This is where self love is so important. Self love builds self trust. In any relationship, if we have continually betrayed another person, they will lose trust in us and hesitate to communicate their needs. Why should they, if those needs are consistently violated?
The same happens in our relationship with self. After a childhood where I was taught to subjugate my own needs, I then spent years making choices that betrayed my own needs and desires. So I stopped communicating those needs to myself - why was I going to share what I needed when “I” wasn't going to listen anyway. I needed to fall in love with myself to know and understand and listen.
Spend time deepening your relationship with yourself. Get to know yourself. Take yourself out or stay in - just spend time doing what you enjoy on a regular basis. Spend time in silence and in stillness with your own thoughts. Figure out your preferences in areas where you have allowed others to dictate theirs.
Resentment is an indicator of crossed boundaries. Think of when and where in your life you feel resentment and identify what resource of yours (time, energy, property) is not being honored. What boundary do you need around this?
“Shoulding” on yourself can be an indicator of boundary issues. When you find yourself saying, “I should....” take a moment to figure out why.
Feeling drained and exhausted around specific people is an indicator of a lack of energetic boundaries.
Communicating boundaries assertively
I have found this pattern for assertiveness extraordinarily helpful.
-Am I actually communicating my boundaries? I often felt resentful of people around me, and expected them to just “get it.” In actuality, I was expecting them to read my mind. I was holding them accountable for things I had never actually communicated.
- How do people in your life respond when you communicate your boundaries?
Responding to feedback
So we’ve discerned our boundaries, communicated them, and we get pushback. People in our lives push back and question our motivations, perhaps they call us selfish, respond with the silent treatment, or with mocking, petulance, anger, or even abuse.
You’re not alone. I think this is true for anyone who starts to set new boundaries.
People who gain perceived benefits from us not having boundaries will push back when we set them. So the significant thing to remember is that receiving pushback does NOT mean we are wrong to assert our boundaries. In fact, it usually indicates just how necessary that boundary really is.
It might be tempting (and a testament to our people pleasing tendencies) to explain our boundaries each time we receive pushback. Perhaps we try explaining the boundary in several different ways in an fervid attempt to get them to understand and accept. We are left drained and exhausted each time. And perhaps it just doesn’t feel worth it, so we soften or even eliminate the boundary.
This is why my favorite method for responding to pushback is the broken record. If you choose to, you can explain the why behind your boundary initially (you don’t have to), and then decide on a “broken record” statement. Be prepared to calmly and directly repeat the “broken record” statement one or more times, and to remove yourself from the situation if the boundary is not honored.
Boundaries can evolve. This depends on both our own needs and our relationships with others. Our own needs change over time. We also need to consider how others honor our boundaries (or don’t) and determine how our boundary needs to evolve to adjust. What is helpful for me when assessing boundaries is to focus on my needs and not on the possible reactions of others.
As I mentioned, asserting boundaries can feel incredibly awkward, even painful. That’s ok! The brain is powerful. You’ve most likely spent your life walking forward. If you were suddenly in a situation where it was best for you to walk backwards for the rest of your life, several things would likely happen:
Walking backwards would feel awkward and even painful. Your body and brain would resist.
You would forget, often at first, and be tempted to or would actually start walking forward
In time, because your brain is so powerful and neuroplastic, you could make walking backward your new norm. It would take time, of course. And the neural pathway for walking forward would be tempting, possibly for a long time. However, you are so powerful that you could create the neural pathways that would make walking backwards your new normal.
While it isn’t a perfect analogy, this applies to boundaries too. If your norm, or ingrained neural pathway, is one of lax or no boundaries, you need to create a new way of being. Here is where essential oils* * can be remarkably helpful. The brain is well capable of this creation, but as I’ve explained - it ain’t easy. Essential oils are a tool that can help us anchor in the new way of being and make the old way less tempting.
These plant medicines each have their own unique properties. A supportive way to use them for boundaries would be to apply them up the spine as a type of energetic shield. You may also apply them to wrists, over the heart, in elbow creases - choose to apply them in the way that you will do most consistently. They are especially cogent when combined with affirmations. Words are powerful architects.
Oils & Affirmations
Clove, the oil of boundaries. Use when you feel like a victim, dominated by others, codependent or controlled. Affirmation “I am empowered.”
Cassia, the oil of self assurance. Use when feeling embarrassed, shy, insecure, too timid to assert yourself. Affirmation “I am confident.”
Tea Tree, the oil of energetic boundaries. Use before interacting with people that tend to take advantage of you, who you feel drained around, who are emotionally toxic to you. Affirmation “I have strong boundaries.”
OnGuard, the oil of protection. Use when feeling vulnerable and/or manipulated.
Affirmation “I have clear boundaries.”
Yarrow/POM, the oil of energetic safety. Use when feeling unsafe, energetically weak, or overwhelmed. Affirmation “I am safe.”
I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic! Comment below or message me.
*As with everything I share, I am not an expert. I am simply a woman on her own healing journey sharing my ever deepening and expanding Truth.
**My suggestions and recommendations are based on doTERRA essential oils. Here's why.