Tanya Younce, M.Ed., LPCC


Drawing Your Line in the Sand

“The most important distinction anyone can ever make in their life is between who they are as an individual and their connection with others.”    –Anne Linden

A common issue that has been brought up in my therapy sessions with clients these past few weeks is the concept of building and maintaining appropriate boundaries in one’s life, without sacrificing relationships.  Some clients are getting overwhelmed by care-taking responsibilities, others are resentful for being asked to do things they don’t want to do, and still others feel their significant others’ needs have been outsourced to other individuals or activities, violating their vows of trust and fidelity. 

All of them have this in common – that they feel violated, taken advantage of, or taken for granted.  It’s a feeling of betrayal and hurt that others have not valued and respected certain boundaries.  But my first question to them is…

”Have you made your boundaries loud and clear?”

All too often, guilt and fear keep us from defining where we end and another begins – guilt that we are being selfish and uncaring, and fear that others will be angry and reject our new-found bravery.

Limits promote and preserve our very INTEGRITY.  Cells hold their shape because of their membranes.  Skin holds our body together, distinguishing and protecting us from others and our world.  These barriers determine what can and can’t permeate them.   And so it is with personal relationships.  Our integrity would die if we let toxic people or behaviors past the membranes of our lives.

A strong deterrent from declaring when enough is enough, is the feelings of guilt and shame for wanting a little something for ourselves.  Mothers overextend and exhaust themselves, caring for their children, without taking time to rest or rejuvenate.  Professionals rack up vacation or sick time because they feel guilty about taking time off.  People will tolerate indiscretions by their spouses, because they don’t believe they deserve 100% of their love and devotion.  We will go to various family functions we don’t want to attend, to avoid the negative assumptions that may ensue about us if we don’t. 

For some of my clients, defining their edges, firmly and distinctly, means that they are isolating themselves and that no one will want to connect with them.  They’ve learned somewhere in their lives that to be in relationship means to mergewith another, not stand side-by-side.  In their eyes, being a solid and distinct person with clear boundaries means being ALONE.
Another fear is that others will see the new boundaries as challenges to break through, walls to tear down, or power to extinguish quickly.  Their loved ones have gotten used to their adjustable margins and want to keep them that way.  They will try to snap them back into that role, time and time again.  Though they may say they love them, they are not respecting these clients’ limitations or integrity. 
But here’s the TRUTH…
There’s a beautiful balance you can find between both your integrity and your connection with others.  When you can establish, communicateand then consistently enforce boundaries, the ones who matter will eventually get it and respect you.  The ones who don’t, need to be re-evaluated and possibly extracted from your life.  It makes for a more authentic and healthy connection with others and your world, because you are being HONEST about who you are and what your mind, body and spirit can handle.

You are no longer living by the belief that you deserve any less than that of others. 

Think of how much more meaningful that kind of connection would be, if you could hold your own shape and be completely in charge of which people, feelings, thoughts, values and behaviors you let in.

So….where do you start?

Get out your journals, drawing pads, notebooks, pens, markers, paints….whatever!  Make it as creative a process as you’d like.  Then ask yourself:

What makes me survive?
What makes me THRIVE?
What makes me crumble?
What kills my Spirit?

If this doesn’t come easily for you, having a good therapist can be a helpful addition because there may be certain people, beliefs, values, or emotions you THINK are protecting you, when in fact they need to be challenged and redefined.

For example, you may believe:
…it’s better not to rock the boat      .
…everyone deserves a second (third, fourth…) chance.
…you don’t deserve the good things
…you have to say yes to make certain people happy.
…you have to be perfect, pretty, rich, etc.

Protect your Self as your skin would protect your body.  You can still have strong connections with others, but you have to be loud and clear about what you expect, how much you can do, and where you have to draw the line in the sand.

For further reading on this issue, check out:

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