Setting boundaries has been a long time coming for me. Personal boundaries are those rules and limits we set for ourselves within relationships. As a child, healthy personal boundaries were never modeled for me. Because our family system was based to a great extent on fear and secrets and trying to always “look good” to the outside world, there was no internal knowledge of my own feelings and needs. There was always the filter of “what will people think?” that any actions had to pass through. So I grew up “scanning the room” to see what an appropriate, approved of response would be to a situation rather than checking in to see what my own needs and feelings were.
I came to understand in adulthood that I had been a “parentified child.” I was unconsciously responsible for my parents’ emotional well being rather than my parents being in charge of fostering an atmosphere of nurturing love that a small child needs to grow up and be emotionally healthy. If my mom were unhappy, what could I do to make her happy? If the atmosphere in the house were stressed, what could I do to change it? Quite a responsibility for a small child! This was the exact opposite of what a child needs to thrive and grow emotionally. I had no concept that my actions could be based on my own needs, desires, hurts and joys. It was always about meeting the needs of others and what was expected of me. Were my parents horrible, selfish monsters? Absolutely not. They were both very wounded people who had no real knowledge of nurturing a child as they had not received that nurturing themselves.
Setting boundaries first of all involves the feeling that we are worth having healthy relationships. It involves the ability to look within ourselves and name honestly and without judgement our fears, our gifts, our flaws, our joys and our emotional needs. From that vantage point we can begin to establish healthy and joyful relationships with those around us. We are able to accept another’s needs and fears without judgement. From this can come the beautiful gift of intimate friendships and/or the possibility of a loving, respectful relationship with a chosen partner.
For many of us that journey to feeling true delight in our worth of being simply the beautiful child of God we were created to be rather than having to earn our worth through performance is a long, arduous one. It is often filled with pain, rejection, self-judgement and confusion. And it always needs the help of others. We are not meant to travel this journey alone. But if we do the hard work of climbing that mountain, oh, my, the view from the top is magnificent. The gift of being authentically who we were created to be (there is only one of us!) is the deepest gift we can give to ourselves, to the world that so needs authenticity and to the One who created us to be exactly as we are and pronounced it “good.” It is from this place of deep self worth that our boundaries can become a beautiful statement of our authentic self and guide us to safely shine our light in this world that is waiting for our light.