This week my friend and favorite blogger Therese Borchard wrote a powerful piece about self-compassion and setting boundaries. The whole piece is a must-read. But it’s these words that struck me, because they’re all too familiar:
Only in the safe place of therapy did I discover that much of my rescuing others had more to do with a fear of setting boundaries than with my generosity. Yes, I have a good heart and am extremely sensitive to the hurting people in this world. But I am also scared to death to say, “Stop. I’m sorry. I can’t help you.” Because every time I did that growing up, the emotional consequence was brutal. It hurt so much that it was much easier to give in to the needs to those demanding something, than to try to fight back for my own needs.
It is easier to just give in, isn’t it? It’s easier to stay quiet when someone oversteps, when someone makes a ridiculous comment or asks you for help with something you clearly don’t have time to do or don’t want to do.
It’s easier to stay quiet in the moment. But then after that fleeting moment, we realize we should’ve just said no or stood up for ourselves or made a certain request — all things that I know can feel physically uncomfortable if we’re not used to setting boundaries (like a firecracker exploding inside your body).
Therese’s post reminds me that even though setting boundaries can feel physically and emotionally awkward or even draining, when someone breaks the rules — the rules of the group (as in Therese’s case) or your rules — it’s important to speak up.
You might worry that by setting boundaries you’re being rude or selfish, too sensitive or unkind or ungrateful.
Therese’s sister-in-law shared this passage with her, which comes from Sanaya Roman’s Living with Joy, and speaks to these fears:
The path of compassion does not obligate you to love everyone regardless of how they act or who they are. It is a path of seeing the truth of who they are, acknowledging all their parts. It is the path of looking at people and asking is there anything you can do to heal, assist, or bring them in touch with their higher vision? If there is not, then you are pulling down your own energy by spending time with them.
Remember that your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health matters. You deserve to have needs and to speak them. You deserve to speak up when someone has crossed the line.
I’ve been thinking about Therese’s post for a few days now. Because I try to make sense of most things on paper, I wrote down some ways we might set self-compassionate boundaries, big or small, internal or external.
- telling someone you won’t talk about your weight or anyone else’s.
- reminding yourself that you’re not responsible for someone’s feelings.
- requesting a friend not talk about calories or their latest diet with you.
- not letting someone’s opinion on dieting or weight loss color your own (i.e., being firm on your stance that dieting isn’t for you and you don’t need to be convinced otherwise).
- declining an invitation to hang out with people whose behavior is toxic.
- telling a doctor or another practitioner you don’t want to try interventions that focus on weight loss because they don’t work. (See more here.)
- walking away when someone is yelling at you.
- telling someone when they’ve hurt your feelings.
- not answering calls during the day when you’re working (or when you’re relaxing).
- declining to help someone out because you’ve scheduled something else (whether it’s a work commitment, yoga class or an evening alone to catch your breath).
People may not understand your boundaries, and that’s OK. I’m not sure that it’s our job to make them understand. We can explain where we’re coming from (if we want), and leave it at that. We don’t need to convince others or wait ’til they “get” it.
I think that’s one of the most important points about boundaries: We don’t need others’ permission to create or maintain them.
Here are other pieces on boundaries with expert tips, which you might find helpful:
- setting rock-solid boundaries
- therapists share how they set and sustain boundaries
- maintaining boundaries with difficult people
- myths about boundaries
What do self-compassionate boundaries look like for you?