Your Super Hero Journey: Healthy Boundaries

I recently spoke to a client, who shared a story of how she set a boundary with her employer. When she was hired, she told her new boss that she could work three days each week. She already had another part time job, and was enrolled in a Master’s program. She informed her employer of both of her prior commitments and obligations. So, when the boss asked her to pick up a fourth day, because the company really needed her that week, she said no. Sounds great, right? It would be, except that instead of just saying no, she said she had to meet with advisors the day she was scheduled. She told a little white lie to stick to her boundaries.

            “Lying isn’t setting boundaries,” I said, “it’s avoiding them.”

            This woman could have just as easily said, “thank you, but I can’t. Don’t hesitate to ask me for extra shifts in the future, but right now I do not have the bandwidth to take on another shift this week.”

            Many of us like to think that lying to set boundaries is okay. Much of what people say falls into the category of little white lies. I can understand and even appreciate the need for a little white lie here and there—to not cause unnecessary pain, for instance. But one has to be careful. White lies can become addictive, and white can get dirty so easily.

            Setting good boundaries doesn’t involve justifying the no or creating excuses. Oftentimes, I hear complaints that someone in a person’s life keeps crossing boundaries. But then it comes to light that the other person was not even aware that they were crossing a boundary, because it was never established or agreed to. Although not all boundaries needed to be stated outright, those in close, deep, ongoing relationships should clearly state boundaries, like expectations. These things need to be discussed and agreed upon. Otherwise, you won’t know when you’re crossing one, and you won’t have the right to call someone else out for respecting a boundary that they didn’t know existed.

            Most of our boundaries are internal. For instance, in this woman’s case, she didn’t state that her boss couldn’t simply ask her if she could work an extra day than what was previously agreed upon. He did not explicitly cross a boundary there. Her boundary was internal. She set this schedule limit for herself, knowing that she had other obligations to balance. This is good, and easy to do. The hard part comes in when our internal boundaries are tested. When asked if she could work an extra shift, she didn’t feel she could outright say “no, it’s not in my best interest,” without excuses and lies.

            We have to be careful: that boundaries aren’t solely internalized, not clearly expressed, ignored by the person who sets them, and/or entwined with issues of self-worth, the need to please, or victim mentalities.

            Setting boundaries is important, but even more important is understanding why you are setting them. What’s most important? Stepping into those boundaries in a way that ensures others know and understand what they are. You are not setting good boundaries by lying, making excuses, becoming passive aggressive, or turning into a bully when boundaries are crossed. If you are a parent doing any of these things, you are sending all the wrong messages to your children. If you’re uncomfortable with a boundary, figure out whether it’s something within you, or something within the boundary that needs to shift. Then, shift it.

            Empowerment is the power to be uniquely who you are, without apology. True power comes from an inner sense of self. And true power, lived daily, evolving with wisdom, becomes a super power and to someone—many someones—you get to be the hero you came here to be. 

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