The #1 question I get asked about is how to set boundaries.
They are so important and so powerful, and yet they are so hard to set. We dive into the power of boundaries in this episode and I guide you through a real time exercise on taking that first step no matter what you are facing.
- Why is it so hard to set boundaries?
- What is the primary purpose of boundaries?
- What 2 skills does boundary setting require?
- What is the first step to setting boundaries?
- What does the Bible have to say about boundaries?
- An exercise to help you take a first step.
Key Take Away:
Boundaries are not primarily about saying no to other people. Boundaries are first and foremost about safeguarding the heart, mind, soul, and body God has given you.
Questions for Reflection:
What is it you need to say yes to in your life?
What are the good things you need to move toward?
Boundaries by Cloud & Townsend
Try Softer, by Aundi Kolber
Boundaries for your soul , by Alison Cook and Kimberly Miller
Genesis 1 - God dividing day from night / land from sea
For more on how to set boundaries see my course, Boundaries for Women
Dr. Alison: Hey everyone. I'm Dr. Alison, and I'm so glad you're here to discover what brings out the best of you. This podcast is all about breaking free from painful patterns, mending the past, and discovering our true selves in God. I can't wait to get started as we learn together how to become the best version of who we are with God's help.[00:00:26] < Music >
Hey everyone, I am so glad you're back for this last episode in this series on psychology buzzwords. So today's word is probably the most common topic I get asked about, in all of my work as a counselor, as a writer, and everything that I do. And the topic is Boundaries.
So here are some questions I've gotten just this week on the topic.
"How do I set boundaries with my narcissistic ex?"
"How do I set boundaries with my mom?"
"How do I set boundaries with my kids this summer, so I don't lose my mind?"
"How do I set boundaries with a friend who is making everything about her?"
"How do I set boundaries with my boss who is controlling and manipulative?"
Bottom line, it is hard to set boundaries. And in my two decades of counseling, it's a topic we come back to time and time again. In fact, the groundbreaking book Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend, it's an amazing book. This book was written over 20 years ago and it is still a bestselling book.
Why is this topic so important? And why is it so powerful, and so necessary in our lives? Finally, why is it so hard and how do I start setting them? We're going to get into answers to all of these questions.
But I first want to say the following, there's a reason I saved this word for last. I believe that boundaries flow from a strong sense of self. There's a healing process that goes into the work of setting boundaries, as you heal from all of these things we've been talking about in this series.
Heal from trauma, from codependent tendency, from the tendency not to love and honor yourself. As you heal that inner young one, that inner child who has been wounded inside of you. All of that work goes hand in hand with setting boundaries. We tend to want to jump right to the boundaries.
But the reality is boundaries are the guardrails. They're the protection that we need as we heal, so that we can stay healthy. So that we can turn away from toxicity and become the people God made.
But the problem is we move so quickly to the guardrail. And we do that before we've done the work of envisioning, and claiming, and healing the life that we want. And it's a little bit like building the guardrail on a highway before you've, actually, built the road.
We want to put those guardrails in place before we, actually, know the road of our own life. The road that we want to go down. You are the road you are the life that those guardrails are there to protect. Your soul, your mind, your heart, your body, you are what matters.
Those guardrails are simply there to ensure that you stay on track, to becoming the person God wants you to become. All right, so with that in mind, why is it so hard to set boundaries?
I believe it's hard to set boundaries for one simple reason, and this is especially for women. You've been taught, always, to focus on others. You've been taught to put others first always be nice, to always be kind, to deny your own self in order to please, perform, produce, show up for others.
So if that's what you've been taught. How in the world, would you know how to set boundaries? It goes against everything you've been taught, boundaries are about protecting you. Like those guardrails on the highway, boundaries are there to ensure that you're staying on the path of the life God has given you.
Boundaries are about you honoring your own health, your own heart, your own mind, your own body. Even in the healthiest of relationships, boundaries, allow you to honor your own integrity.
They are about protecting you. So they require two skills, the first is they require self-understanding.
What do you need?
What do you think?
What do you feel?
What do you want?
What's your purpose?
What are you wanting to do with your life?
And number two, they require the ability to assert yourself, you have to assert yourself. You have to speak up. You have to use your actions to establish healthy boundaries with other people. And most of us haven't been taught, A, how to know ourselves?
Or B, how to assert ourselves?
If you've only been taught to look to others, to care for others, to only think of others. How would you know how to set boundaries when you don't even know what it is that you want?
What you need?
What you need to do to protect yourself?
You might not even know what toxicity is, as we talked about in the episode of Trauma. You might not even know you've been conditioned to expect certain behaviors from other people, and you don't even know that it's causing harm to you.
You might not even know what your own core sense of self is, and what it feels like to protect it. That goes back to episode five, on Codependency. Where you've been taught so much to focus on others that you've lost touch with your own sense of self.
So how can you set boundaries to safeguard yourself if you don't know who you are?
What you need?
Where you're headed, or what you want out of this God-given life you've been given?
And then when it comes to assertiveness, even if you are on the journey of starting to learn about yourself. Starting to get a sense of what you need and want out of your life. You still have to figure out how to assert yourself, and this is hard, it's challenging, it doesn't magically happen.
In fact, assertiveness stirs up a fair amount of angst inside for many people. It stirs up guilt, it stirs up feelings of anxiety, of stress, we don't want to hurt anybody else. A lot of us are high in empathy, we don't want to hurt anybody else. And, so, the idea of asserting ourselves stirs up a lot inside of us, so much that sometimes we avoid the work altogether.
It goes a little bit like this, "We're exhausted, worn out, feeling like a doormat." You're frustrated, maybe even a little bit angry, you might even go all the way down the road of realizing you want to do something differently.
But that moment comes when you need to say NO, or you need to turn in a different direction, away from a toxic behavior. And you get anxious, and you can't do it, and you find yourself putting your head down and just continuing to take it instead.
You can't send that email, or you can't find your voice to just say, "I can't do this anymore." In the moment, this is so common. And then what happens is you blame yourself. Shame enters in, and you just go back into this vicious cycle.
The cycle goes back through, you're exhausted, you're worn out, you feel like a doormat, you get angry, you get frustrated you want to speak up for yourself, and then you struggle. You can't do it, you can't overcome that anxiety inside and shame settles in and it continues.
So instead of getting the results that you want, a lot of times, we end up just continuing with the cycle, and beating ourselves up. Because we are not setting the healthy boundaries we know that we need. And I want you to hear me say this is not your fault. This is the result of all these things we've been talking about in this series.
It may be that it's not actually safe for you to speak up, if you've bumped into someone who's narcissistic or who's gaslighting you. So that anxiety you feel is real. So what's the solution? Here's the bottom line - Boundaries are not primarily about speaking up or saying no to other people. Boundaries are first and foremost about protecting you, all right.
So what is the secret? What is the first step to setting healthy boundaries? The number one lesson I've learned in two decades of working with women is these boundaries are not, first and foremost, about other people. They're, first and foremost, about figuring out what you want to say Yes to.
It's really hard to say No to the behaviors around you, if you haven't first figured out, "What do I want in need to say Yes to in my own life."
This is the pre-work of figuring out who you are and what you need. That goes hand in hand with the work of setting boundaries when you focus only on the boundary line, you're focusing on the problem, which creates even more stress inside.
But when you focus on the Yes, that you need to say, to your needs, to your longings, to your convictions, to your purpose, and even to your limitations, you start to move toward the life that you want. And then the Nos start to take care of themselves.
Now, here's an example, let's say you're someone who's trying to learn how to set boundaries with someone who's hurting you. Maybe this person is taken advantage of you. Maybe they don't even realize that their actions or behaviors are harmful.
They're caught up in self-centered patterns of relating, they're maybe not even trying to be a jerk, but they're hurting you. They're manipulating you. They're guilt-tripping you. They're always about them. And maybe you just can't get out of that cycle with them, you're worried about hurting them.
You also understand that they might retaliate. They might retaliate if you start to set boundaries. And, so, you're in that cycle that I talked about, the resentment is growing, but you don't know how to get out of it.
I want you to ask yourself a question. "What is it you need to say Yes to in your life?"
Forget about that other person for a moment. What are the relationships that you're longing to move toward?
What are the qualities that you longed to bring in to your life?
What fills you up?
What energizes you?
What makes you come alive and think about that?
What would it be like to move toward what you need?
What would it be like to move toward the relationships that sustain you, that bring good things into your life?
The more you get clear about what you want to bring into your life.
What brings you life?
What calms your emotions?
What brings out the best version of you?
What brings creativity, and joy, and hope?
The more you focus on that, the more you move toward those good things. The more courage you will develop to turn away from toxicity.
The Nos start to flow from the clarity you get about the life you need and want to protect. Boundaries are not about trying to get the other person to change. They're not about hurting the other person. They're not about trying to get the other person to understand you.
And this is so hard for us to realize, they're really about those guardrails. They're about saying, "I'm moving toward this."
"I've got a direction in my life."
"It's clear to me, I'm moving toward the good things I need, and if you can't get on board with that, you're going to have to step back.
Because I'm going, I'm moving, I'm headed out toward this life that God wants me to have, that I'm saying yes to. And man, if you can't get on board, if you can't celebrate that with me, then you're going to go by the wayside. Then I'm moving on."
Boundaries are a lot about action. They're about forward motion, they're less about having this person get you because if this person is toxic, they're not going to get you. And if this person is healthy, they'll get on board.
But they're about you saying, "Yes, to your health. Yes, to the relationships that bring you life. Yes, to work and activities that nourish you."
It's a choice that someone else makes, as you say Yes to this vision of your life, to this road that you're going to take, that person makes a choice in response. And if they can't get on board, they're choosing to be out of your life. They're choosing to have less of a role in your life, they're choosing to step back.
Boundaries are about so much more than saying No. They're about looking at your life and saying, "What do I want to bring into my life? What are the good things that I need?"
If other people can't get on board with that, it's painful, I get that, it's painful. They're making that choice and it's not that there is not pain and heartache involved in that.
My friend and therapist Aundi Kolber, she's the author of the book, Try Softer, says this, "Boundaries work is often grief work." It's hard. We care about people. We want them to get on board this road of our life. We want them to see these good things we're moving toward and say, "I'm in with you and you're in with me." And that's the way it's supposed to work.
But people don't always do that. And, so, there's grief work involved as we claim, as we see this life that God wants us to have and we move toward it. There is sorrow as other people fall by the wayside. That is sad, it's not the way God intended. It's also not your fault. It's a choice they're making.
The heart of boundaries work is saying Yes to the life God wants for you. It's saying Yes to your own emotional and physical health. To the needs of your own heart, to the voice of your own longings. It's saying Yes, to the good things God wants for you.
Of course, you're going to show up for other people. You're going to support people as they're saying Yes to the good things that God wants for them. But you can't do that at the expense of yourself. This is the heart of boundaries work. Boundaries work starts with having a clear sense of what you need and want out of your life.[00:15:55] < Music >
What does the Bible have to say about boundaries? Well, it has a lot to say about boundaries. John Townsend talks about how when they were writing the boundaries book, they found over 300 verses that relate to boundaries. So I highly recommend that book.
I also recommend the book that I wrote with Kimberly Miller Boundaries for Your Soul. Which is learning how to set boundaries with some of these internal parts of us. The guilt tripping parts of us. The shame carrying parts of us. The people-pleasing parts of us. These internal boundaries, that help us set boundaries with other people in our external world.
But here's the thing about the Bible and boundaries. God established boundaries from the first moments of creation. In the very first chapters of Genesis God divided things. He divided day from night. He divided land from sea. He created boundaries to bring order out of chaos.
Boundaries at their best bring order out of the chaos of relationships. They bring order in the best of our relationships. Boundaries are necessary in all relationships. Boundaries aren't just part of dealing with toxicity.
Boundaries create healthy marriages. When two people come together, each with a strong sense of who they are, of what they need and what they want, and they come together and negotiate the boundary lines.
Boundaries bring health to our relationships with our kids. Boundaries bring help to our relationships with our friends, because they help set these guardrails.
As a parent, you want your kids to understand who they are, what they want, what they need, the limits of what they can do. As you help children establish healthy boundaries, they understand how to honor Nos from other people. They understand how to advocate for what they want and need.
As parents, we model this for our kids as we establish healthy boundaries in our relationships.
So boundaries, create these healthy distinctions. "This is who I am, this is who you are." And that starting point allows us to work in harmony together.
But here's the thing, if you can't respect who I am, then we can't be in harmony together. I'm going to respect you, but if you can't respect who I am, we can't be in harmony together. Because I have to bring myself into this relationship. I have to bring my true self into this relationship, and we've got to be able to negotiate those boundary lines together.
Boundaries are necessary even in the healthiest of relationships. Think about that creation story, the sun and moon are different, but they work in harmony, together. The land and the water need each other, together, they create something beautiful.
But if someone else can't honor what you bring to the table, what you need, what you want, what your purpose is. They're making that choice, and they're going to have to move further out from you. You're going to have to build healthy distance between you and them because your job is to safeguard. Your job is to create those guardrails to protect this life God has given you.
Remember boundaries are not about trying to change someone. They're not about trying to get someone else to understand you. They're not about punishing someone. Boundaries are about you, respecting the person God made you to be. This unique individual God made you to be. To show up in the world in a unique way and interact from that true self with others.[00:20:02] < Music >
Finally, I want to leave you with an exercise today. As you take this first step toward identifying the, Yes, you need to say to yourself. All right, so I want you to think of a situation where you felt walked on, pushed around, or frustrated by somebody else's behavior toward you. Don't think of your most extreme situation for the purpose of this exercise. Unless you've got someone else to process it with, unless you're in a safe space with supportive people.
So notice what this situation stirs up inside of you. It might be anger, frustration, guilt, fear, just notice those feelings. They're important cues that you want to pay attention to, and write down what the situation makes you feel inside.
Do you feel controlled?
Do you feel manipulated?
Do you feel taken advantage of, what is the feeling?
Now, I want you to shift your attention for a moment. Imagine a future version of yourself, maybe five years out, maybe 10 years out.
Imagine the person you wish to become. The wise, clear, future version of you. And if it's hard for you to imagine this version of yourself, think about a woman you admire.
Think about a woman you have respect for, how she carries herself in the world. What qualities do you notice this woman has? You might notice a confidence. A sense of calm, a sense of clarity, courage, a sense of just being so truly inhabiting herself. That she doesn't even care what other people think. Notice that feeling, you have that inside of you. You might not be that familiar with it yet, but it's there inside of you.
Now, as you imagine this future version of you or this woman you admire; how would she respond in this situation?
What is it that she is clear about that she needs?
That the situation isn't getting her?
What is it that she wants?
What is it that she needs and wants?
What is the conviction that she has?
What is the Yes, that she wants to say to herself, to her future?
That the situation is clouding, that the situation is bringing chaos. What is the clarity that this future version of you brings into this situation?
Stay focused on that. Stay focused on that clarity, that Yes, that she wants to say. She wants to say Yes to listening to her own voice for a second. To trusting an instinct, to honoring the weariness she feels in relationship to this other person. To caring for herself. To moving toward people who bring her life.
Notice what this future version of you brings to the table. The clarity that she has.
Now take a moment to answer these questions. You might write these down in a journal.
What would that future version of you say, if she felt like she could?
What would she want to say in this situation?
Write that down, pay attention to that. What would she love to be able to say or do to bring clarity, to bring freedom, to bring hope, to bring life. And now I want you to take a moment, take a deep breath, invite God into what you're feeling, into what you're experiencing, and notice what fears come up. If you were to allow yourself to speak up on behalf of yourself in this way, and no judgement, no shame, what are the fears that you have?
Because those fears are important. That's where you are right now and it's okay that you have them, they might be there for good reason. This person might be very unsafe, and you may need to get help. You may need to get support to speak up for yourself in this way.
But I want you to remember that vision of that future you who's free, who's calm, who's clear, who's capable, who knows who she is. She's there waiting for you to find her. And those fears are there too, and those fears are okay, get support, talk to someone about those fears that you have.
It's hard to do boundaries work alone we need a committee of people. We need friends to come alongside of you and say, "I'm going to walk with you through this." But tap into that person you wish to become. Start noticing her responses, start noticing what she wants.
Imagine what it might be like if you could say or do what you really want to say or do, deep down in your core, with God's help, with conviction, with purpose. And as you tap into those feelings, deep inside, remember, you'll get there. This is just a first draft, it may take some time, and don't beat yourself up it's going to take you a minute to get there, especially, if you're new to this work.
But for now, notice what it's like to tap into that future you that you are longing to become. Move toward her, move toward the people that help you become her, and you'll start to gain the courage to set those boundaries. To put in place those guardrails that you need and deserve to have in your life.
As we close remember these words from Proverbs, "Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it." That's Proverbs 4:23. Guard your heart with God's help. You're precious, your heart, your soul, your mind, your body, they matter. You matter, you matter to God, you matter to me, and you matter to this world.
Be who you are. Move toward the best of who you are and those guardrails they're going to start to show up, I promise you. I'm praying for you, continue to pray for me.
I'm so grateful you've joined me for this series. Stay tuned next Thursday, we're launching a whole new series buckle up, it is going to be amazing, I can't wait to share it with you. I'm so grateful you're here and I look forward to seeing you next week, right back here on The Best of You.[00:27:33] < Music >
Thank you for joining me for this episode of The Best of You. Be sure to check out the show notes for any resources and links mentioned in the show. You can find those on my website at dralisoncook.com. That's Alison with one L- cook.com.
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I look forward to seeing you back here next Thursday. And remember, as you become the best of who you are, you honor God, you heal others, and you stay true to your God-given self.