Women and Boundaries
As women we are acutely aware of other people’s feelings.
Opinions differ as to how to define this—call it the magic of women’s intuition, or a finely-tuned perception developed through experience. Whether it’s society’s cultural engineering, instincts emerging biologically from our role as life givers, or a confluence of nature and nurture, as women we are conspicuous of the comfort, and unease, of those around us.
This sensitivity prompts us to try and fix things when we sense someone is sad, angry or hurt. It’s simple and harmless at its base; we feel good when making our friends, co-workers and family feel better. We unconsciously jump in to dissipate tension when we sense it building—with a well-placed joke, a coy smile or a compliment.
But there is a dangerous edge to our feminine gift for lifting people’s spirits—the reluctance to set boundaries when, and where, we need to.
We become so concerned with the comfort of those around us that we overlook our own needs and security. Too quick to people-please, we recoil from standing our ground. We talk ourselves down from asserting our power. We convince ourselves: “he didn’t mean it like that”; “that’s just how she is”; “what if I say something and they take it the wrong way?”; “I don’t want to make it a big deal.”
Our self-talk cajoles us into the lie that it would be rude or unwarranted, and definitely not “lady-like”, to grab hold of our power and adeptly wield it like Wonder Woman’s lasso. The easiest way we surrender our power is by convincing ourselves we have none.
How and Why Boundaries Work
How many times have I let someone walk over me in the past out of fear I’d be labeled weird or a bitch?
Enough that I learned my lesson: What you allow to continue, will continue.
The uplifting thing about asserting yourself is it gets easier the more you do it. It becomes as second nature as our womanly ability to gracefully smooth things over.
The greatest thing about setting boundaries is that if you do it upfront you avoid heaps of toxic drama down the road that will mire you in pitfalls of wasted time and energy.
Boundaries possess the almost magical effect of turning off those personalities that are prone to invading the sanctuary of your well-being. Boundaries brandish the power to push away takers who want to leech onto your goodwill without any intention of reciprocity. And boundaries cast off those who seek easy targets to satiate their malignant pathologies and play out their malicious intentions.
So boundaries are a powerful weapon, but how do we erect these electromagnetic force fields of personal protection?
The first step is to use our heightened powers of perception to sense when something feels peculiar. This sensation in your gut—or in your bones, or wherever you feel you carry it—that something is off about an interaction or behavior should flash a warning signal that someone is about to trespass into your personal space.
The same way kids will test you to see what they can get away with, so will adults with nefarious plans to trample your inner peace.
The moment you sense the chilling ripple that cautions someone is manipulating you—stand up and resist.
It’s not important that you decipher their intentions; they might not be fully aware of their own motives. What is crucial is your confident, unwavering power.
Persistent people will circle back a few times and come at you from various angles, trying to circumvent your wall, looking for any crevice to turn into a foothold. But when they see they aren’t getting anywhere they will move on to an unsuspecting target not yet awakened to the full force of her boundary-erecting power.
Let’s get to a few real life examples. Waste no time setting boundaries if someone is…
- Pushing their agenda but trying to create the impression that they are giving you advice that is in your best interest.
- Trying to hijack your schedule, forcing you to commit to their demands for your time over your repeated statements that you are not available.
- Having a hard time taking “no” for an answer and forcing you to make increasingly stronger assertions to be heard over their flurry of objections.
- Either ignoring or trampling over your words and ideas. They either never hear you or override your wishes and words with brute force (interrupting; raising his or her voice, as if that makes their point more valid; and/or dismissing information or opinions that don’t align, or originate, from their “superior” intellect).
- Using fear, shame, guilt, or other manipulative and demeaning ploys to make you feel inadequate, powerless, or stupid. This is a tactic often used by people who want to control you. Be wary when someone responds negatively when you disagree with them or behave in a manner that conflicts with how they want you to be or what they want you to do. (This is a five-alarm boundary setting emergency! DO NOT walk, RUN to your boundary-building workshop, get the tools you need and go as fast as your flailing arms can build! Make that wall stretch beyond the treetops, top it off with rusted razor wire and make it light up like the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree – with skin-scorching electricity if touched.)
How do you set steadfast boundaries that will get you to the promised land of Live and Let Live?
- To quote the legendary Doc, “Say what you mean and mean what you say, because the people that matter don’t mind and the people that mind don’t matter.” ~ Dr. Seuss In other words, be confident in expressing yourself authentically. It’s not about ego, it’s about a healthy sense of self-worth that is not dependent on external factors, like the approval of others or social status.
- Socrates summed it up in two words: “Know Thyself.” By growing in self-knowledge you can learn to trust yourself. Become that one friend that you can trust 100% in every situation because you know your deepest values and what you will do to protect them. Be wary of those who try to get you to doubt yourself. Do You!
- Always remember you have every right to think for yourself and come to your own conclusions about the world. Never let any person make you feel wrong for being true to yourself. You have the same claim to the pursuit of joy and peace as everyone else. You don’t have to earn your worthiness, it is your birthright.
- Sharpen your intuition. The more you listen to your inner voice the louder and clearer it will speak to you. This powerful source of inner knowledge will protect you by warning you when something’s amiss.
- You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, and know when to run! This is the first time in my writing career I’ve quoted Kenny Rogers, but he says it all in those lyrics from his hit song “The Gambler”. Setting boundaries requires a judgment call of knowing when drawing a line in the sand is sufficient and when you need to retreat because you’re behind enemy lines and there’s no recon team on the way. Practice makes perfect, so the more experience you have asserting your personal power the keener your powers of discernment will grow. Get good at setting boundaries and it becomes a life-saving superpower!
Setting boundaries can set you free to be yourself in a world of competing interests trying to mold you to serve their needs. Asserting your power is part of the process of growing into your own skin.
As women we often shy away from conflict, preferring cooperation and collaboration, but strength is every bit as womanly as tenderness.
Be fierce in your compassion, especially when it comes to extending that compassion to yourself.
It’s crucial to be as fierce in the care and protection we give ourselves as in that we give to our loved ones.
A beautiful contradiction of Life is that the better we take care of ourselves, the better equipped we are to take care of others. Self-care and self-love are not selfish—they are essential to being a whole person and living a fulfilling life.
Setting boundaries is therefore one of the highest forms of self-care and self-love.