When Boundaries Feel Selfish or Mean
By Z Zoccolante
Boundaries are a word that’s thrown around a lot in adulthood. For some of us, the concept of giving to others is something we were taught to do, even to the point of over giving ourselves.
One of the most important phrases I learned in my late 20’s was:
“Just because I can do something it doesn’t mean that I should.”
For example, just because I can tolerate a lot of negative energy it doesn’t mean that I should stay and tolerate it. It doesn’t mean I should stay if someone is being disrespectful to me.
One of the things I’ve heard from lots of people is that they feel guilty, or selfish, or mean when setting a boundary with other people.
This is what I tell people. I might come home one day and ask my roommate Kati if I can have a hug. Kati (as her own separate person) gets to check in with herself and see if she is able and willing to provide a hug for me. There might be some days that Kati, for whatever reason, is not willing to give me a hug. (Maybe she had a terrible day, maybe she’s triggered by something, maybe she has zero space for anyone else in that moment).
So, in this moment Kati tells us, no, she can’t give us a hug.
Then here’s what often happens. We think. Well screw Kati. It took a big brave step for me to ask for my need to get met and now I’m feeling rejected, vulnerable, maybe angry, and clearly some type of way.
In addiction, the next step is to channel all that discomfort into reaching for whatever poison we use to hurt ourselves.
The point is that we can only make requests of other people and then other people can decide if they are able and willing to meet that request. Just because we ask for something it doesn’t give us the absolute right to receive it – no matter how vulnerable we have made ourselves, or how brave we were for asking for our need to be met.
The next step is to learn how to self-soothe first, because we are the only person who lives with us every second of the day. I personally practice healthy self-soothing techniques so that I have at least a few that really work. Some of mine are journaling, taking a walk, listening to music, taking a drive, screaming in my car, or crying it out.
Once we have some tools for us, then yes, it’s also ok to reach out to someone else and ask for that hug or ask for someone else to help you meet a need. But the most important person is ourselves and to know how to take care of ourselves first.
The second step to this is boundaries. If we are almost empty and running on fumes then sure, we might be ABLE to pick someone up from the airport, or ABLE to pick up that phone call from the friend or business partner that drains you . . . BUT if you are running on empty, is that kind to yourself?
In my experience, it’s not. When I’m empty I give only out of obligation or guilt or because I feel as though “I should” (p.s. I highly dislike that word).
On the flip side, when I am nourished and full, I give to others out of joy and love and because I can and WANT TO. I give because I choose to. I want to choose to give out of the overflow.
The whole point of boundaries is not to create a fence that says to people, “F U RESPRECT MY BOUNDARY.” The point of boundaries is to say, “Hey, this is where I am and this is what I like and prefer. If you get closer, I’ll take a step back. This is who I am and where I’d like to be.”
The point of boundaries is that with them comes so much CHOICE. We can choose to give to others out of love, not out of obligation. We can be so joyful about giving time or resources to others and we can be so joyful about taking care of ourselves.
We can say to someone, “Hey I really care about you and what you want to tell me, and right now I don’t have the space to listen. Can we talk about this in a few hours? Thank you so much for understanding.”
Boundaries can be peaceful. Boundaries can even be silent (for example, the way we back up when someone steps too close into our personal space). Boundaries can be peaceful, loving, and kind. Boundaries keep us safe and they allow us more choice and possibility.
All these things changed my entire life and view on that word “boundaries”. If you’ve got to the end of this, I hope that you’ve found a nugget of helpfulness for you too.