(If you missed parts 1 and 2 of this series, check em out first!)
So we've talked about what boundary issues are, how they form, and what problems they cause, so now what can you DO about it? Here are 4 concepts you can start using to change how you show up in the world.
Practicing Assertion without Guilt
Have you ever apologized for something that didn't warrant an apology, only to feel weird after you said it? For example, you're out to eat and everyone wants a pitcher of iced tea to share. But you really want lemonade, which is outside of the consensus. Do you assert what you truly want, or do you concede to the group + go home craving that damn lemonade?
Now before you get all up in arms, I'm not saying that conceding to the group is terrible. Of course, there are situations were it's healthy to go with the flow rather than disrupting it. Sometimes you genuinely don't have a preference, and so letting others decide is no big deal. But in this series, we're talking about people with weak boundaries - There is an imbalance when a person always concedes, always hides what they want, and always fears what others will think if they say no/speak up/etc.
But, it's just lemonade though! No, not for people with weak boundaries who want to lead more satisfying, self-empowered lives. These seemingly insignificant situations are PRIME opportunities for you to practice asserting yourself. They are perfect practice grounds because the stakes aren't too high. If you get your lemonade, rejoice in the win. If someone complains that you complicated the order, you get your first taste of upsetting someone with your authenticity! Oh joy. Since this will probably happen again, you might as well get used to it in a low-stakes setting.
This practice is hugely valuable in helping you build up to more serious decisions (because remember: boundaries are about identity and choice). For example, letting your partner know you want to live in the city - even when you know he/she wants to live in the suburbs. Or telling your coworkers you don't actually have time for the stressful, gossipy, booze-fueled Christmas party this year ("Whaaaaat!? But you HAVE to come!") No, actually I don't ;)
You have to start somewhere, so start with the tiny decisions - the small preferences that you could easily ignore. Don't tell yourself, "It's no big deal, I'll just have iced tea." That's not practicing! Order the damn lemonade! If it makes you feel better, you can tell those around you that you are practicing asserting your boundaries. You can even say you're simply practicing enjoying yourself more. If someone is especially dominant and hard to deal with, you don't need to have a confrontation OR give in to what they want. Just keep your boundaries firm and stay calm. You don't owe people an explanation, but you also don't need to argue with them. Aim for neutral.
Practicing Detachment from Other's Preferences
Detachment often has a negative connotation. When people are detached, they often seem empty + disconnected from other people. But for those with weak boundaries, there is usually too much attachment. If you identify as an empath, a people pleaser, or just someone who cares a lot about what others think, you're attached.
So the first thing is this: When other people express what they want, need, or prefer, practice not being instantly emotionally involved. In other words, pause and just listen. You don't need to immediately swoop in with support, offerings, changing your plans, or pretending to understand when you really don't. Other people's feelings don't mean anything about you. They don't mean that any action is required from you. You do not need to immediately engage with them emotionally. Wait. Reflect. Practice responding to situations objectively without throwing your emotional self into it.
This is a purely hypothetical practice, as the vast majority of us do not live in a bubble. We live among other people. However, this practice will help you gain immediate insight and clarity into whether you are acting from your truth or people-pleasing. Ask yourself this: What would I do if no one else were on earth? What would i prefer if I were making this decision in private? "In a perfect world, I would.." These hypothetical questions set you up to answer truthfully and authentically. If you still struggle to make decisions with these questions, it is even more indicative that you need to practice this.
Practice Getting to Know Yourself
Simply put, who the hell are you? Start discovering things you enjoy - and why you enjoy them. Oftentimes, people are only aware of their general interests. For example, I love playing music, but so do a lot of other people. If I can uncover why I love music and what it specifically brings to my life, I can understand myself a lot better. This information will help you with decision-making across the board because you start to understand the kind of person you are - not just the surface things you do. This continued self-inquiry will help you narrow down longterm goals + what kind of life will make you happy.
As you might've noticed, all of these steps include the word "practice." As with most things we talk about on Exist Better, healing boundary issues isn't a glamorous, overnight cure. If I said it was, I'd be lying. Instead, it's a day-to-day awareness practice that requires you to sometimes push against your norms + take mini leaps of faith here and there.
In addition, I want to mention one more thing: The importance of exploring guilt.
Guilt can play a huge role for people with boundary issues. In the future I'll do a full post about healing guilt, but just know that guilt is a feeling of having done something wrong - a sense of having made a mistake. Guilt has no place in boundary assertion - There is no legitimate reason to apologize for simply doing what you prefer to do. If you feel guilty a lot, realize that it is a form of self-respect to not allow others to guilt you. Of course, if you've seriously hurt someone, feeling guilt is perfectly normal. But having chronic guilt in everyday situations is not necessary. You do not owe people, + you do not need to accommodate others at your own expense. Also: Realize that your guilt may be toward yourself. In other words, you feel guilty for abandoning yourself time and time again to meet others' expectations. In this case, your healing process will involve building self-trust and self-loyalty.
To find more balance, we may first need to lean in a direction that feels too self-serving. This is only because you are more accustomed to being excessively selfless. But don't worry - You will not become an egotistical maniac. You will become sovereign.