Boundaries. Are yours strong or flaky?

Who’s the ringmaster?  You are.

One of the things that comes up time and again in clinic is the pain and anguish we feel when we are poorly treated by friends and/or family who have no real understanding of the burdens we live with.  Sadly, it seems this treatment often occurs when we are at our most vulnerable, which of course, understandably, leaves us feeling overwhelmed, betrayed, angry and ready to give up.

So why do we accept this treatment?  Well, often it’s because we haven’t established our boundaries, or if we have, they are wishy-washy and we don’t exercise them consistently.  If you consider healthy boundaries as akin to freedom, then you will recognise when your freedoms have been impinged on.  Your boundaries are your road map to negotiating life’s events and clearly knowing your boundaries simplifies everything.  If they are well defined, you will form a comfortable relationship with yourself, which will boost your confidence in your interactions with others.

If haven’t groaned or scrolled past, it may surprise you to know, most people, even those in good health, have little insight into the amount of personal power they hand over to others by simply being polite, and putting up and shutting up, when they would really rather just tell someone to mind their business.

If you’re still with me, I’d like to offer you a technique I recommend to most of my clients about boundary setting.  Now it takes a little time to do, but it can be so worth it if you really want to take the lead in your life and kick that helpless feeling to the curb.  You could wait until you are having a good day, or you might be more honest with yourself if you are in that angry or hurt space.

This exercise is designed to raise awareness of your emotions and to help release them and expectations we all have.  It may also help you better understand your relationships and their role in your life, release a little victim mentality, and to regain some strength and sense of self.  Lastly, you may just become aware of your limits and establish some healthy boundaries.

Grab yourself a piece of paper, bigger is better, and draw 7 concentric circles, you know small in the middle, getting larger on the outside.  Number the circles from 1 in the centre, your inner circle of most trusted people, to 7 on the outside.  Place yourself, your family, friends and acquaintances within these circles.  Remember the circles are fluid and represent the present, so if you do this exercise in the future, you may find that someone previously held in circle 7, is now in circle 3, or perhaps is no longer within the circles at all.

Now take a different coloured pen and consider each person while answering, How do I feel when I am in the company of this person?  How honest am I with them on a scale of 1-10?  In their company, do I feel safe and comfortable?  Do I freely share my emotions/thoughts with them?  Is our relationship balanced?  Do I act differently around them?  Do I wish they behaved different in some way?

Complete honesty is required for this activity.  Don’t judge closeness by the amount of time you spend with someone.  The circles are not about blame or punishment, they are about healing, understanding and acceptance.  As this is for your own emotional clarity and awareness, there is no right or wrong, and family does not necessarily go in the smaller circles.  Also, don’t forget to place yourself within the circles and you may not feel like you belong at the centre.

Now this may not be for you and that’s fine.  But maybe, just maybe, if you’re truly tired of being walked over and you persist, it may offer some perspective, and help you to put those people causing you torment where they belong.

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