For so long, I chased the gold star of other people’s approval. As a reformed workaholic, I can look back with empathy and kindness and fully understand that external validation was my drug of choice at the time. ‘Hello, my name is Nicky and I am a workaholic.’ With other’s opinions and feedback as my North Star, I became too flexible and fluid with my own needs, allowing behaviour that now elicits a ‘hell no’. The boundaries in my life looked like smudged chalk lines on the floor. Over time, those boundaries had been scuffed and faded to such an extent that no one could be sure that they were ever even there – implicit permission to overstep the mark and I’d facilitated it. And because I was allowing this in so many areas of my life, the few areas that I felt like I could hold space for myself were protected with the fierceness of a mother lion defending her cubs. I vacillated between pushover and walls worthy of Fort Knox. As I started to become centred in my life and more sure in my knowing and self-worth, no longer outsourcing my validation, I realised that my own approval was the only gold star that I needed in my life. The vague mistiness created by my lack of boundaries started to clear as I began to set small delineations daily around what was and wasn’t acceptable for me.
Boundaries are hard, but that is most often because we give up our personal power and assume the role of victim when it comes to holding boundaries. The biggest myth about boundaries is that other people are crossing them, but we have allowed them to be crossed, because it is not anyone else’s job to uphold, respect or honour our boundaries. It’s up to us. Where we have porous boundaries in our lives it can mean that we are unwilling to stand in our truth, and we need to continue to reframe that it’s brave and empowering to say no. It’s our way of holding space for ourselves and reclaiming our power.
Our boundaries shouldn’t change direction or shift with the wind. When we hold our boundaries consistently in all scenarios, they create clarity for others but they also send a message that we want to feel valued and we are worthy of feeling valued, and often this message is most important for ourselves. Boundaries begin with our intentions when we are grounded in our intrinsic sense of worth because creating and holding a boundary isn’t selfish, it’s an act rooted in our self-worth and self-love as we have to put our own well-being first, in order to show up for ourselves and others in a better, more aligned way. As with the oxygen masks on a plane, we have to take care of ourselves first. It’s a fundamental energy shift within ourselves.
We need to reframe boundaries as badass and one of the most kind and loving things that we can do for ourselves. It’s kind and empowering to say that something no longer serves us. For this change to happen and long-lasting boundaries to be formed, we need to clean up what made us boundaryless in the first place. Did you not value yourself enough or give over too much power to others, outsourcing your own approval to others or a perceived authority in your life? Ask yourself what gold star you were chasing for a sense of worth in your life. Where we feel resentment, it is the number one sign that a boundary is needed in that space in our lives. Where we have no boundaries, we effectively block and override our own desires we say that someone else’s agenda, needs, wants and desires are more important than our own. Boundaries are the limits that we set for ourselves and others about what we will not do, accept and tolerate in our lives. Start small and start to practice holding boundaries in areas of your life that feel safe. Saying no holds space for ourselves, but as important as the boundary is the energy that we bring to holding that boundary. When we are triggered, reactive and feeling resentful (often due to a lack of boundaries), the boundaries that we do hold feel like an electric fence rather than an easeful garden gate. Boundaries are kind when they are clam, clear and consistent.
In life, I have often found that there has been a negative connotation with boundaries. As a woman, if we said no, or held our boundary, we were mean, selfish or a bitch. For a man, this could be perceived as aggressive or overbearing. It all depends on the energy we bring to holding a boundary and whether we are rooted in a more masculine or feminine energy. The energy that we have expended in ‘sucking it up’, acquiescing and being stuck in a feedback, repeat loop of saying yes when we mean no, removes us from our authenticity. And it keeps us small as we subvert our needs to keep the peace and avoid friction and disappointment. This energy often shifts into resentment and a move that we thought would maintain the peace in the connection or relationship, often erodes it. Boundaries create clarity and where they are not appreciated after a calm and kind conversation, we may have to consider if the situation still serves us.
Now, there is only one thing left to ask: How are you going to embrace your elegant power and set a new boundary for yourself today?
Nicky Rowbotham is author of Embrace Your Elegant Power – Your Path to Success with Ease and Steps to Finding Flow – Flip the Script on Stress. Embrace Your Elegant Power is available in all good book stores, Amazon, Kindle, most audio formats and at nickyrowbotham.com.