How Boundaries Can Set You Free

How to set boundaries to free yourself and to deepen your relationships.

Posted Sep 14, 2020

Sincerely Media/Unsplash
Source: Sincerely Media/Unsplash

“I don’t want to be too mean,” is a refrain I hear a lot from my clients.

Women in particular are often afraid that if they set a boundary with someone they will be hurting the other person’s feelings. Think back to the most recent time when you pushed yourself to connect to a friend or family member you really did not feel like seeing or speaking to. 

  • Remember the dread as the call or hangout approached?
  • Remember the pit in your stomach when you connected?
  • Remember how you counted down the time until the date ended?

And you did all of that because you did not want to hurt your friends feelings.

So, your goal of not hurting the person may have been successful, but what about you? Did you hurt yourself by pushing yourself to do something you did not want to do?

I, and Nancy Levin, the brilliant author of Setting Boundaries Will Set You Free, would say yes! In fact, you just broke the most important boundary: yours.

In her groundbreaking book, Nancy Levin shares that for women in particular it is incredibly important to exercise the muscle of setting boundaries. As she explains it is “near impossible for women to self-locate and know their individual boundaries.” Adding that often women are living and loving “other referenced by engaging in people pleasing behaviors and repressing their needs for the good of the other.” 

This martyrdom or self-sacrifice deeply impacts women and pulls them further away from knowing what they need. What I love the most about Nancy’s work is that she suggests a radical idea: “It's a myth that other people cross our boundaries. If your boundaries are being crossed, you're the one crossing them.” 

In Nancy’s work she encourages people to move out of blame and into responsibility. But how do you do this? In her book Nancy shares three steps to setting boundaries that will set you free, but she emphasized, when we spoke, about the importance of simply starting with step one. 

Step one of setting boundaries is to spend deliberate time turning inward and asking yourself three essential questions: 

  1. Will I consider myself at least as much as I am considering others?
  2. Will I consider myself more than I am considering others?
  3. Will I consider myself first

Nancy brilliantly points out that while the last question might make some people gasp and think she is suggesting they should be selfish, that considering yourself first is actually a gift to the other person. 

Think about it for a moment. If you know exactly how you like to spend time with people, what you want from a specific experience and what your goals are, then you can share it with the person you are interacting with. 

As Nancy explains, you are essentially saying, “here is a page from my operating manual.” By sharing your boundaries with another person you can have a deeper connection. 

Recently a divorced client of mine was preparing for a mediation meeting with her ex. When we first started planning for the meeting, she was completely focused on how she would make him feel comfortable and make him agreeable to her terms. Reflecting on Nancy’s work I suggested she immediately stop thinking about what he needed and instead focus on what she needed to make the meeting helpful, peaceful and rewarding for her. 

Her face lit up. She chuckled and said, “Wow, I have really been focusing on him through all of this and not myself.” After a few days she came back to me and shared a comprehensive list of what she needed to get out of the meeting, where she needed it to be held and how she needed to be taken care of before and after. 

The tension in her face was gone and she described feeling more relaxed leading up to the meeting. This is a great example of how setting personal boundaries allows you to feel free. As Nancy Levin beautifully states, “I take the stand that boundaries are expansive and they inform us on what we are constantly choosing and curating. Boundaries will set you free.” 

Can you imagine giving yourself two to three minutes before interactions with friends, family and co-workers to ask yourself what you really need? If you do, I promise your experience will be greatly impacted. 

Let me know in the comments if you try it.