“If you could say anything to anyone, what would you say and to whom?”
This question from Melody Beattie, a mother of the self-growth movement and expert on boundaries, helps us identify the boundary that is missing from our life.
Boundaries are the clear limits that keep us safe - physically, emotionally, and psychologically. (And spiritually, if that’s your thing!) This question helps us become aware of where we are not keeping ourselves safe.
The list below is taken from Melody Beattie’s ‘The New Codependency.’ The bullets are common barriers we may experience that keep us from implementing boundaries in our life. It’s no mystery why Melody’s books are best-sellers - most of us don’t know how to set boundaries! We were never taught how to! So as you read through the list and recognize some of them in yourself, be kind to yourself. These behaviors are learned, and yes, they can be unlearned if we choose to.
Repressing old emotions. When we stop denying how we feel about something that happened, but we didn’t like or that hurts us, we’ll know how we feel if it happens again.
Not knowing our feelings. Emotional awareness is key to boundaries. We can't set limits unless we know how we feel.
Dependency on people. If you’re not afraid of being abandoned, we won’t tolerate bad treatment to keep people from leaving.
Having our boundaries violated as children. When we see our past clearly, inappropriate or unhealthy behaviors will no longer appear “normal “. Will trust a part of us that says this isn’t right or something is wrong.
Abuse. Repairing the damage from abuse heals our boundaries and our hearts. Well no love doesn’t equal being hurt, controlled, or abused. We deserve love and kindness from others and ourselves.
Not understanding limits. We need to know what our rights are in order to get them. We need to understand boundaries in order to set them.
Poor parental role modeling. We can stop and unconsciously repeating destructive family traditions when we understand what really happened. Then we can let go of being victims when we deal with our feelings and achieve true forgiveness.
Low self-esteem. When we love and appreciate ourselves, we’ll give and receive respectful treatment.
Poor communication skills. When we can open our mouths and speak our truth freely, we will be able to tell people our limits.
Shame. If it’s OK to be who we are, our limits will be OK too.
People pleasing. Stop pleasing others so that we can please ourselves.
Codependent caretaking. Setting boundaries means we stop taking care of others and start taking care of ourselves. Often we can’t do both (set boundaries and take care of people's feelings) at the same time. 1
“Boundaries aren’t something we just ‘get.’ They come from inside of us as honest expressions of who we are. At first setting limits is hard, but it becomes easier with practice and time. We open our mouths and say what we mean instead of saying what we think people want to hear.” 2
If this topic struck a chord with you, there is a whole universe of stories and wisdom on boundaries, and Melody Beattie’s work is a good place to start. So is Dr. Nicole LePera, AKA, the Holistic Psychologist.
1 Beattie, Melody. “Breaking Free from the Control Trap.” Essay. In The New Codependency: Help and Guidance for Today's Generation, 27–28. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010.
2 Beattie, Melody. “Breaking Free from the Control Trap.” Essay. In The New Codependency: Help and Guidance for Today's Generation, 25. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010.