Depending on your personality, and many other factors including the way you grew up, your level of self-esteem, and your ability to speak out about how you feel, creating boundaries with people may be a great challenge for you. I really get that, because I struggled around this issue for years.
What makes it difficult to speak up when you want to? Maybe you’re worried about disappointing other people, or not being able to show up the way they want you to show up. Maybe you grew up and felt you had no impact on the people or the world around you, so it never occurred to you to value or investigate what you felt or what you wanted. Maybe you’ve decided that your worth as a person, a friend, and a partner is based upon how much you’re able to do for the people in your life. And maybe, you don’t know how you feel, so when you come up against a strong-willed person, you let them take the lead.
The thing is, your job while you’re here is to shine. I really believe that; you have something precious and unique to offer that only you can. I don’t think you’ll be able to do that without some belief in yourself and your own value, so I’d look at that first, if you find it difficult to act on your own behalf. If you don’t feel good about yourself, why is that, and when did that begin? Upon what evidence did you come to the conclusion that you don’t measure up, or have anything enormously special to offer? When we don’t stand up for ourselves, it’s often because we’ve grown up feeling powerless. We’ve internalized that, and sewn it into the fabric of our being. When confronted, we collapse in on ourselves. We cope, when we should fight back. But if you’re grown up, you’re not powerless anymore. Sometimes we really have to unlearn ideas or ways of being that are not based in our current reality, and are also blocking our ability to both give and receive love to our maximum capability (which is huge).
A few weeks ago, I took my daughter with me when I went to get my eyebrows waxed. This place is nice, and they have organic cruelty-free nail polish, and they’ll paint your kid’s nails while they wax your eyebrows and whatever other parts you might want waxed. So there we were. My daughter went to pick out a color, but she’s five, so she picked four colors. She wanted a rainbow. They don’t charge to paint your kid’s nails. You tip, of course, but they don’t charge for it. So I was debating whether to tell her that might be asking for a bit much, when the woman called her over, and the waxing woman started talking to me. When I turned back to my daughter, she had pink nail polish on every nail, and was looking down at her hands, and up uncertainly at the woman painting them, and then she looked at me. I knew she was disappointed about the lack of a rainbow. Before I could step in and explain to the woman what it was my daughter had wanted, this grandmotherly woman at the table next to her, also getting her nails done, leaned over and said, loudly but nicely, “She wanted a rainbow. She wanted a different color on every nail.” My daughter beamed at her, and the woman said, “Always ask for what you want, dear. You might not get it, but you definitely won’t if you don’t ask!” And the woman who was painting her nails promptly and happily gave her her rainbow.
Communicating how you feel, what you need, and what you’d like is a gift you can give to the people who are close to you. It’s so refreshing when people are just honest about where they’re at, and what’s happening within them. As my friend at the nail place said, you might not get everything you want, but it never hurts to clearly state what that is. It takes the mystery out of the thing. No one can read your mind, and sometimes we project and assume so much. We think other people must think and feel the way we do, so certain things should be obvious. But you know what? I would take nothing for granted. What’s obvious to you might not even occur to someone else.
So there’s clear communication, and then, sometimes, there’s the need for boundaries. Maybe you have someone in your life who hurts you, intentionally or otherwise. Sometimes, even when it is a family member, your only healthy option is to step away, but there are certain situations where that isn’t possible or desirable, and that’s when boundaries come in. You may not get everything you want in life, but you deserve respect. Ideally, you shouldn’t have to fight for it, but that’s not always how it goes, and sometimes we have a long history with someone, and there are ingrained patterns and dynamics. When we seek to shift that stuff, there’s always resistance. Most people struggle with change, and if you’ve been playing a certain role for a long time, don’t expect to be able to calmly give your two weeks’ notice. People in your life have probably gotten used to you being the way you’ve been. That’s understandable, but that doesn’t mean it can’t change, it doesn’t mean you can’t change. You may lose some relationships if you’re making big shifts in your life. Those close to you may feel threatened, they may feel like they’re losing you. Or they may get angry and say they liked the “old you” better. Of course. The old you didn’t confront them.
Anyway, my point is, there are times in life when you have to stand up for yourself and say, “Enough.” That’s part of the responsibility you bear; you have to be able to protect your, “little spark of madness” as Robin Williams called it. You can’t let people trample on that. If this is new for you, it will take time, like anything else. The first several times you speak up when you’re not happy with the way you’re being treated, it might come out with more force or aggression than you intend. Of course, you’ve been bottling up your voice for so long, it’s not surprising it might explode, but if you stay with it, and explain to the people in your life that you are in pain and are trying to change some essential things about the way you move through the world, the people who are meant to travel with you will support your efforts. Over time, you’ll be able to speak out with confidence, clarity and compassion about what’s real for you. It’s worth the effort. You deserve a rainbow if that’s what you want.
Sending you love,