Hope and Boundaries – A Dynamic Duo

9 January 2023 | General

As you stand at the starting block, another year ahead, are you hoping at to improve at least one area of your life this year? I hope so! That is, I hope, you hope to make some form of positive change. In an earlier blog (Response-ability) we touched on the idea of moving hope from being a feeling to a process. How do we move feelings of hope into actions, to make them our reality? This month, we hone in on boundaries as one of our hope activation tools. Yes folks, somehow my inspirational new year blog about hope morphed into one about boundaries. It wasn’t where I expected to land, so let’s look at how I got here?

I started brainstorming for this post at the end of a massive year. Most items on my move to Townsville to-do list have been ticked off. I’m exhausted, but hopeful that this big move will pay off. As I flirt with these feelings of hope, I remind myself, to create meaningful change, I also need to change, not just my environment. So just when I thought the hard work was done, I realise, it has only just begun. Big situational change or not, there are some challenging questions that I (and you) need to answer. What behavioural change do I need to make, to create the life I want? How am I going to show up differently this year?

Are the first things that come to mind habits like; I need to eat healthier, exercise more, drink less alcohol, watch less tv or get off social media? Identifying these self-care needs is a good place to start. However, remember, we reach for food, alcohol, TV binging and social media (to name a few) to self-medicate. They are our painkillers. We can’t simply take away the painkiller and not address the pain. So, what is the cause of your emotional pain? I’m going to hazard a guess that relationship issues (aka The Drama Triangle) are major contributors. Is this true for you? If so, to make meaningful change, you will need to change your unhealthy relational habits.

This is how we arrive at boundaries. Boundaries are our self-care tool for relationships. A boundary creates a separation or division. In relationships, a boundary separates I from Us or me from you. This separation is not designed to take away from your relationships. Instead, it helps you define what your individual needs are and how these can be met within the relationship. The problem is, you don’t always know your boundaries until they have been crossed. You are alerted of crossed boundary by a negative physical or emotional feeling. Your threat response will be activated, and your instinct will be to react with aggression or avoidance (fight or flight). These behaviours set up fertile ground for conflict, disconnection and dysfunctional relational patterns.

This is because our tendency to bring up boundaries in the heat of a conflict leads them to feel controlling, confronting and counterproductive. Your persecutor in these moments is effectively saying you are not good enough; you need to change. Boundaries are not about changing other people’s behaviour. Trying to change others in pursuit of your own happiness puts you in a hopeless position. You are not in control. Boundaries can influence others behaviour; however, the crucial part is deciding how you will interact with the problematic behaviour differently. What protective measures are you going to put into place to meet your needs?

It’s probably easiest at this point to provide an example. Imagine you have a friend or family member contacting you at inappropriate times (e.g. during at work hours). This is becoming problematic for you as you are getting distracted and making mistakes. When you reply with a brief message or end the phone call, they get angry and upset. In some cases, simply asking to be contacted at a more appropriate time may be enough, except we all know people who push the boundaries. In other words, you can influence when someone contacts you but not control it. The part you can control is how you interact with their communication. You can choose to respond at times that are more appropriate for you and let them know that this is what you will be doing from now on. While there may be push back to begin with, if you maintain this boundary, you will hopefully get your needs met and improve the quality of interactions with this person.

Let’s look at how we can apply this more directly to you. What are your hopes for this year? Are relationship issues creating barriers to you achieving this? Can you identify the problematic behaviour attached to the issue? Why is this behaviour problematic to you? Has a physical, emotional or resource boundary been crossed? Have you communicated this issue and if so, was it brought up during a conflict? Are you focussing on what the other person needs to change? How do you interact with this problem? Finally, how can you reduce the impact by changing your behaviour? Once you identify what you can do differently, communicate this (calmly) so the others understand how you are maintaining this boundary.

It’s a challenging exercise, isn’t it?! Boundary setting is a huge topic that I have crammed into a short blog post. There is a lot to get your head around, but hopefully I’ve spiked your curiosity. Two books I would highly recommend on this topic are Set Boundaries, Find Peace by Nedra Glover Tawab and How to Do the Work? By Nicole LePera. If you are more into Podcasts, Nicole LePera also covers each chapter of this book in her podcast called Self Healers Soundboard. Better yet why not kick start your year with a therapy appointment and we can work through it together. I’d love to help you get this year started on the right foot.

Book an appointment or get in touch michelle@bluewrentherapy.com.au