Growing up in traditional Chinese family, I was not allowed to develop my sense of self, let alone express what I needed. As a result, I did not know my needs and my boundaries. I did not even believe that I had the right to have boundaries. This means:
I’d say yes when I meant no.
I’d not call out on someone who mistreated me.
I’d allow exes, “friends” and people to say things to me that are disrespectful.
I’d try to seek love and approval from people who wanted me to be different and did not accept me.
I’d let others intrude my space…
For years, I believed that something was wrong with me. I’d feel that I was at fault for simply being me. Being the “black sheep” of the family, I felt immense shame and guilt.
A lot of times, I’d deny that I have certain needs because I did not believe that I could have them met. I was in a very painful cycle. Deep down, I was not feeling good about myself and my decisions, and yet I was afraid to listen to my feelings.
For years, I lived with a painful belief. I thought that others’ opinions and needs were more important than mine, because that was what I was taught. As I learned to listen to my feelings, I realised that I abandoned myself by letting others violate my boundaries. This caused tremendous anger within my being. As a result, I did not trust myself.
When I continued to explore my emotions and past, I realise that my life choices were simply an expression of myself and my truth, and that I should not let others’ opinions of my choices affect my self esteem negatively.
After all, why do I have to change to comply to what others want?
Based on my past experiences, here are 4 steps I’ve learned to set healthy boundaries:
#1: Feel Your Emotions
When our boundaries are being violated, we will most likely feel negative emotions i.e. something isn’t quite right. Perhaps you feel anger or sadness, or other forms of emotions. For instance, if you feel “dismissed” when your partner is an hour late for your date, your partner has violated your boundaries.
And, the key to honouring your boundaries is to feel such “negative” emotions, instead of running away from them.
Another example is: if you said yes to an invite and feel bad after agreeing to it, instead of just getting on with life and still going to the event anyway, sit and feel your emotions. Your emotions is telling you that perhaps it is not a good idea to say yes to that invite.
Or, if you feel bad after someone says something to you, he/she has most likely violated your emotional boundaries. Rather than letting your emotions slide, sit with your emotions and ask yourself: What are you feeling, and why is it that you are feeling that way? What do you need in this moment?
I realised that as I learned to honour my feelings, I learned to set better boundaries.
#2: Come Back To Your Body and Breathe
When our boundaries are violated, we will most likely feel “bad.” However, since some of us may have become numb to our feelings given our past experiences, we may be used to feeling “bad” that we don’t quite know what “good” feels like.
Sometimes we can’t feel, because our consciousness is trying to be outside of our body. So if you notice, you may start focusing on the external by fidgeting, reaching for the food/alcohol or other forms of coping mechanisms to avoid feeling what you are feeling now. As you focus on your breath, you can imagine your consciousness coming back to your body and grounding back into our physical world.
As you start sinking into your body, sensations will arise. You may begin to feel emotions such as anger, disappointment, frustration.
The key is to sit with uncomfortable emotions and breathe through them. You can focus on your inhale and exhale breath, as well as the pause in between the two breaths.
Breathing calms you down and brings you back to centre. After taking a few deep breaths, you can ask yourself: What do you need at this moment? Which ones of your boundaries are being violated? How are you letting others violate your boundaries?
#3: Express Your Boundaries
Once you figure out what rings true for you, you can then express your boundaries by firmly stating your truth. Of course, this also requires you to acknowledge that you have rights. Most of us are afraid to voice our boundaries because we do not believe that we have rights.
In order to change the belief above, other than doing shadow work, we can also start taking small steps to express our boundaries with small requests.
You can start with phrases like “I’d really appreciate it if you [XX]”, or “I’d request that [XX]”, or “Please [XX] / Please don’t [XX]”.
For instance, if your friend is constantly making fun of your diet, you can say something along the lines of “I feel quite [XX] when you made a comment on my diet the other day. I value our friendship, and I’d really appreciate it if you could respect my diet and not make comments that mock my diet preference.”
Be specific so others know what you want.
Once you tell the person how you feel, you can choose to continue to engage with the person (or not), depending on how you feel toward the person’s response to you.
I’ve also realised that, in some cases, it is healthier to leave the person or circumstance even after voicing my boundaries, because my boundaries may not be honoured.
Once you start setting boundaries and being firm, some people may leave your life. Accept that some people may not be able to honour your boundaries.
For instance, if the person has adopted a certain coping mechanism, say someone is a narcissist, or is OCD, even if you voiced your boundaries to him/her, he/she may still not listen to you, because he/she may not want to change, or is incapable of changing, at least at this particular time. This means you can choose to accept and engage, or leave.
That being said, if you loved yourself, would you maintain a connection with someone, even if they violated your boundaries after you have voiced your needs to him/her?
And, in other cases, when you speak up, you might just get what you’ve always needed and been afraid to ask for.
Why Setting Healthy Boundaries is Key to Self Love
When I learned to listen to my emotions and follow the path of joy and self-love, I realised that I don’t have to stay in circumstances when my boundaries are not being honoured.
And, when you honour your boundaries, I believe that you’ll attract people and circumstances that allow you to be you.
The process of discovering and setting your boundaries take immense courage—the courage to feel your emotions, face your fears, suppressed memories, and childhood wounds. When we suppress our memories, we live in denial—denial of our needs, or desires because we believed that we were not able to have them met because our caregivers did not meet them.
When we learn to feel and bring our suppressed memories to light, we will gradually learn that our boundaries can be honoured, if we allow others to honour them. And as we evolve collectively, knowing and voicing our boundaries with kindness, as well as respecting others’ boundaries are crucial in conscious relationships. By doing so, our world will be a more connected and loving place, because we are closer to living our authentic truths.
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