Setting boundaries

“The nature of conflict means you can’t set a boundary in your life and take care of someone else’s feelings at the same time.” ~Martha Beck

Setting (and sticking to) good boundaries is something that I really don’t do well at all. I think Martha’s quote has finally helped me to understand why this is the case.

I was raised to believe that it is my job to take of the feelings of everyone around me at all times. In fact, any lapse in taking care of others’ feelings was proof that I was undeserving of being loved. (No, those words weren’t literally spoken to me, but that was the message that was acted out.)

This means that in order be deserving of love, I must take care of the other person’s feeling, but if I am taking care of someone else’s feelings, I cannot also set a boundary at the same time. Thus, I must choose to be loved or to have boundaries. I can’t have both, according to my upbringing.

Talk about a catch-22! It’s no wonder I never feel safe.

Of course, it’s rather easy to decide now that this choice is unnecessary. It is (at least theoretically) possible to still be lovable even if I am not taking care of the feelings of everyone around me. But long-held beliefs like that are hard to shift, especially when those beliefs tend to stem from experience and when those beliefs tend to cause me to re-create situations in my life that will re-validate those experiences that created the beliefs to begin with.

This is not something that is likely to change overnight, but recognizing the nature of the problem and deciding that the current pattern is unhelpful are the first steps. I really don’t want to continue to live with the level of anxiety that stems from constantly feeling unsafe anymore, and that is motivation enough to choose change.

Perhaps by starting with small things in (relatively) safer environments, I can learn that it is indeed possible to be loved even if I stop taking care of everyone else’s feelings. If I can manage that, maybe I can then move on to setting boundaries.

I know there is no such thing as absolute safety in this world, but perhaps I can find some relative sense of it that will free up some of my energy to do more of things I want to do instead. I suspect this is going to be a marathon of baby steps.

A Note on Comments: A chrysalis is by nature a fragile and vulnerable place to be, so I am committed to keeping this a safe place for me and for my readers. Comments sharing your own journey, even if your experience is different from mine, are always welcome and encouraged. Expressions of support or encouragement are also welcome. Comments that criticize, disparage, correct, or in any way attempt to undermine the validity of another person’s experience or personal insight are not welcome here and will be deleted.