In the midst of an argument a few years ago, the phrase “drawing a line in the sand” was used towards me. Smack.in.the.face. The phrase conjures division, separation, black/white, a dualistic mindset. It feels like “you’re either with me or against me.” Not a phrase that builds relationships.
So, when I’ve thought about boundaries, line in the sand came to mind. But Brené Brown writes about boundaries and during Dare to Lead™ training, she spoke about them being one of the elements of Daring Leadership. Ok, fine…I’m paying attention. Turns out, boundaries are not only necessary, they’re part of authenticity and courage.
Yet, being an Enneagram 9 a people pleaser in recovery, boundaries feel difficult. How will I keep people happy, keep the peace, if I have boundaries? Don’t boundaries create distance between me and another person?
Turns out, yes and no. Boundaries are essential to our own authenticity. They tell people what is ok and not ok. When Brené talked about it in training, she made it sound like a piece of cake. “It’s ok for you to be frustrated about XX,” “it’s not ok for you to yell at me about it.” Huh. Sounds straightforward to me.
When I think about setting boundaries, it’s less a “piece of cake” and more a melted mud pie. So messy. But the flip side of not creating boundaries is resentment. If we don’t have a boundary around what’s ok and not ok, we give a “dirty yes,” the yes you regret, and resentment ensues. Not a recipe for successful relationships.
Boundaries are not a “line in the sand,” let’s be clear about that. They aren’t intended to keep people away, rather, they’re rules of engagement. For me, for you, to remain authentic, what is ok behavior and not ok behavior.
In order to create healthy boundaries, we first need to get clear on our values. What’s important to us, what guides the way. And from there, determine what behaviors allow us to stay within those values. I’ve learned from experience (and therapy!) that people pleasing only sets you up to lose track of your values, to operate outside of them so that you can keep someone else happy (which doesn’t really happen anyways.)
Once you’re clear on your values, operationalize them. Decide what they look like in practice and what will keep you authentic around values and what won’t. You could create a mantra to remind yourself. For example, integrity is one of my values. A mantra could look like, “integrity takes courage.” In the case of boundaries, courage because someone might be disappointed with me. And that’s ok. It rubs up against my peacemaking self, but peacemaking shouldn’t come at the cost of accepting behavior that pushes against my integrity and authenticity.
I often write about what I also need to learn and this is no exception. So, along with you, developing boundaries is a work in progress. But in order to stay within our own values, they’re necessary, and courageous. What they’re not is a “line in the sand,” challenging us to either be with or against someone. Instead, they encourage healthy relationships without resentment where we are our authentic selves. If you feel they’re hard, just keep practicing. You are courageous and bold, and beautifully authentic.