Years ago, when we were newly married and living overseas, a friend of my husband's came to stay. He arrived with his girlfriend, which was a bit of a surprise, but we said nothing - after all they were only staying for two nights and we had the room.
That someone treats you badly is their responsibility, that you allow them is yours.
A week later when they had eaten us out of house and home, borrowed money and even helped themselves to clothes from our wardrobe for a smart lunch they'd been invited to,
During her research on shame and empathy author Dr Brene Brown discovered a group of participants who displayed extraordinary levels of compassion. Curious to know what it was that enabled these people to live so open-heartedly, what she discovered was truly enlightening. The people who were able to show deep compassion were the same people who had very clear and definite boundaries! It would seem that caring about yourself is the secret to truly caring about others.
When being liked, not wanting to make a fuss or the fear of creating conflict is greater than your courage to say no, you build your life on very shakey ground - one upset too far and the whole thing comes tumbling down. Learning to build healthy boundaries is like creating strong foundations for life. It can be hard work to begin with as you overcome your fears (of rejection, conflict, self-doubt) yet it is only way to build a strong, stable, confident, loving, wholehearted life.
If I had had the courage all those years ago to say 'Well, I'll admit I was only expecting one of you, but you're welcome to stay for two nights' there would have been very little room for misunderstanding and any over-stepping of boundaries would have been easier to address. However, at that time I had no idea how to process my discomfort, let alone communicate my boundaries. When I did finally erupt I was driven by feelings of resentment and communicated so poorly I was left feeling just as bad after they'd left as I had when they were staying.
Courage is the ability to speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.
Compassion is a practise, it requires careful attention to the inner dialogue and to the uncomfortable feelings of vulnerability. Compassion is an act of courage, it asks us to acknowledge our vulnerability and speak up. We demonstrate compassion by caring about ourselves, it allows us to create more honest relationships because when we put boundaries in place we are really saying 'it is important to me that I am authentic with you'.
Having clear boundaries shouldn't be mistaken for meanness, or being selfish. There is a difference between boundaries and defences. Selfish, self-centred behaviour is driven low self-worth and makes others feel the same. Healthy boundaries are established by someone willing to invest in their own self-worth, who also believes that others are deserving of the same.
Healthy boundaries are a sign of love and compassion for yourself and others. Healthy boundaries are the sign of a loving heart.
Want to learn how to build loving boundaries? Contact Kim for coaching or sign up for the next Family@Heart training course.