Do you feel like you have strong boundaries? Maybe a self care practice that you won’t let anything else interrupt, or turning off your phone when you’re not at work. Do you recall what led you to implementing those boundaries? Or what about what happens when you realize that you don’t have a boundary, or it’s not in the right place?
How do you know when your boundaries have been crossed? Imagine you’re sensitive to caffeine. You know you shouldn’t have a cup of coffee after midday, and generally you don’t. You haven’t really thought about this as a boundary or rule, but it’s a simple habit that you’ve formed over time.
One afternoon you meet a friend for coffee and they’ve already ordered for you when you get there. Time is short, so you drink what they’ve ordered and reassure yourself it’ll be fine. You don’t even blink. You don’t want to offend them and they have somewhere to be afterwards so you don’t want to take up more of their time.
Later that night, you’re still wide awake and you’re starting to feel anxious about getting a good night’s rest. You snap at your husband. You slam the dishwasher door and break a glass, and you start to feel useless and unworthy of anything. You realize you’re angry but aren’t sure why or who at. Small things are frustrating you. When your friend messages to meet again next week you ignore it, noting your slight anger at them as well.
Eventually you realize it isn’t just the caffeine. As you listen to the stories in your head you realize you’re angry you drank the coffee, you’re frustrated you didn’t order another drink, and you’re annoyed that your friend doesn’t realize what they did wrong. You start to realize that you might need to change how you react in these situations and maybe even realize you’re angry at yourself.
Recently, I allowed someone to massively overstep my boundaries, and I hadn't realized at the time (my reaction was not immediate) because I‘d been completely unaware there was a line there to cross. My eventual reactions came slowly over the following days:
I got angry - seemingly for no reason at stupid little things, and took them out on completely unrelated and unexpected people
I could not for the life of me figure out why I was so angry
I felt less than, unworthy and unlovable
Other past issues/unresolved tension were triggered
Even with all my experience with boundaries, it took me days to figure out where these feelings were coming from. I didn’t think anything had happened, so I pretended it was just because I was feeling unwell. I resisted the need to dig into them and feel them, everyone else was being mean and I was a victim, I’d done nothing wrong.
When we feel this way, we often put it down to external things - the moon, our period, other's actions or maybe we're just run down. We try to explain them away or think our way out of them. But these are amazing warning signs for us on where our boundaries have been crossed. They can tell us what people we may need space from, or what types of activities we are available for. They can help us understand where we need to establish a line between helping others and sacrificing ourselves.
When we recognize boundaries in this way, we often respond to them from a place of reaction. We use that realization that someone or something went too far and try to prevent that from happening again by fighting back, or restricting something later on. This is one way to ensure your limits or space is kept, but it is exhausting.
Enforcing boundaries from a place of restriction, elimination or confinement can be exhausting.
Alternatively we can use the experience to understand the boundaries that got crossed. We can feel the emotions and sensations that occurred in this circumstance and ask some deep questions of ourselves. We can seek to understand what about the experience we are no longer available for.
Once we know our limits, we can work to embody, plan for and fulfill that boundary - allowing a sense of ease to creating borders around our availability and giving us the energy to communicate, fortify and maintain it. Embodied Boundaries can take the complexity and severity out of creating boundaries and instead empower you to hold them steady in a surprisingly easy way.
Having recognized where this happened and allowed my reactionary feelings space, I’m definitely feeling less angry and less sorry for myself.
I know how not having this boundary makes me feel and I’m confident that I will not allow it to happen again.
If you’re interested in learning more about Embodied Boundaries, or any of my work - contact me!
Cover Photo by Erol Ahmed on Unsplash