I was in a hospital recently, and entered the elevator with another woman. She had a tired look, rumpled clothes and hair that said she'd been holding the hospital vigil for a while. An extra large coffee probably fueled her from a sleep-deprived night. Her eyes had an empty, beyond sadness look.
I got off on the floor before her, and I carried her the entire morning.
I was in the building for a routine exam, on an uneventful day. Yet my mood immediately became murky. I couldn't quite get enough air as I sat in my doctor's waiting room. I felt a mental static, and had trouble concentrating on my book. My heart was heavy for no apparent reason. I went through the motions of small talk with the nurse.
The doctor wanted to change the protocol on one of my meds, and I was in such a weird place that I let her.
I had an uneasy feeling the entire drive home.
LETTING GO WHAT WASN'T MINE
Then I got home and realized that the image of the woman in the elevator was lurking half-seen in my mind. I was carrying her at a level I wasn't quite aware of until then. The feelings were my reaction to having taken on her energy. The confusion, the just-below-the-surface feeling of almost panic, the denseness.
This wasn't mine.
Then, with great relief, I let her go. I visualized stepping into a divine white light that rained on my heart, my mind and washed away anything that didn't belong.
My boundary was back intact. I called my doctor and told the nurse I had changed my mind and didn't want to change prescription. And that, was that.
I've always been way more sensitive than I realized I was. I could feel other people in a room immediately on walking in. I never learned how to shield from other people's overwhelming energy and emotions, so I never knew anything other than an ever-present sensation of almost-drowning. It was my normal.
My edges were more than porous, they were downright holey or non-existent. As a defense, I learned to shut people and stimuli out when I could. So there I was for a while, see-sawing back and forth between merged with everyone to isolated from all. It was exhausting and disorienting.
Until I learned the true power of boundaries. Wait, I could actually decide what to allow in and what to let go of? This changed everything. It allowed me to be in control! It was the difference between being carried in a strong riptide against my will and being able to choose my own direction.
This is what it means to be free.
BEING IN MY POWER
So here's the powerful part of all this: setting boundaries is an inside job. That's key.
I had to learn to not only not take in other people's stuff, but to also set limits against what was harmful to me. I could not wait for anyone else to do it for me.
Setting healthy boundaries is ALWAYS my responsibility.
And when my boundaries are strong, my energy and heart is clear, and I can make the best choices I can with the information I have at the time. Freedom.
SIGNS YOU MIGHT NEED HEALTHIER BOUNDARIES
Maybe you recognize these feelings. Maybe it feels different for you. In my experience and in my prior therapy (and now coaching) work with clients, I've seen these over and over:
- Instead of feeling JOY in a relationship, you feel dread, overwhelm or even exhaustion.
- Instead of feeling POWERFUL, you feel like a victim or helpless, at the mercy of other people, places and things.
- Instead of being FIRM and GRACEFUL in your boundaries, you have to be mean or harsh for fear of being taken advantage of.
- Instead of feeling STRONG, you dread conflict or confrontation.
- Instead of being ASSERTIVE, you don't ask for what you need or want.
- Instead of ENJOYING what you do, you feel resentful for over-doing and over-giving.
- Instead of having CLEAR BOUNDARIES, you just avoid certain people and situations.
- Instead of feeling CONFIDENT in your "no," you feel guilty, guilty, guilty.
- Instead of being your AUTHENTIC SELF regardless of the situation, you find yourself being someone you aren't or wearing a mask.
- Instead of BEING YOU, you people please, appease, or become a chameleon.
If this describes you in any area of your life, then commit to giving yourself the gift of learning how to set good physical, mental, emotional and energetic boundaries. Do it with a sense of conviction that says, "my energy and well-being are my responsibility to uphold and nurture." Learn to say and really mean "I matter."
Because you do.
You've got this...