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Best Advice I Never Got: Girls Need To Develop Bo...

Best Advice I Never Got: Girls Need To Develop Boundaries

Photo on 8-19-13 at 11.09 AMThis month here on middleSage our topic of choice is “The Best Advice I Never Got”.  We’ll be talking about the lessons we learned later in life, lessons that would have saved us a whole lot of heartache had we learned them earlier.  In the spirit of “I wish I knew then what I know now”! Today I’m talking about Setting Boundaries…. Boundaries aren’t fences that keep us in, they’re not lines in the sand that require permission to cross and they’re not walls built to keep other people out.  Boundaries are the area we create for ourselves that determine our safe area…inside these boundaries is the arena where we are only treated the way we wish, we only handle as much as we can handle and nobody does anything to harm us.  Having healthy boundaries means knowing and understanding what your limits are.

“In order to take good care of ourselves as we move through life, girls need to develop sound boundaries between themselves and others. They also need to be able to state what they need in relationships.”  Dr. Karyl McBride, “Will I Ever Be Good Enough”.

When you don’t know how to set boundaries, you’re continually making excuses and exceptions for people who treat you poorly. You don’t want to make “more trouble” so you give ‘these people” a pass, You don’t want to make mountains out of molehills, so you excuse their behavior, & you think focusing on your own hurt is self indulgent so you deny the feeling and broaden the lines to acceptable behavior.  It’s so easy to become desensitized to people crossing an imaginary boundary line because it’s become the rule rather than the exception.  Before you know it you’ve erased any boundary line that was preexisting, giving you a member of the human race and people who you have a relationship with the right to treat you any way they like…do anything to you, say anything to you, treat you any way their perverse psyche dictates.  And you begin to willingly accept it. You find yourself in a relationship where you’re physically abused.  Emotionally beaten.  Or even just being the sole mother at the PTA Carnival again.  Sometimes we are the ones that need to see our own boundaries. There are a lot of lessons I’m learning in mid life that I wish I had learned at a much earlier age.  Setting boundaries is one of those “life lessons”.  I didn’t catch on to this ability until much later in life.  I was engineered to think about the needs of my mother first, that later translated to an INABILITY to think about myself first.  That worked out well for both of my ex husbands….their needs always came before my own.  Of course a mother is going to think about the needs of their children first….My lack of boundary knowledge explains why I married these first two men in my the first place.  Both were physically and emotionally abusive.  I didn’t even realize it was abuse until my mid life and I learned where those boundaries should be.  Till then I had no boundaries.  I didn’t even know you COULD draw you’re own boundaries.  Because I was never taught about setting personal boundaries, I was always exhausted, my focus was always shifting, and I felt consumed by my environment – both at home and at work.  As I result, I dealt with a lot of conflict, working feverishly to make those around me happy and thinking the ability to focus on myself was self indulgent. Since learning about the abilities to set boundaries, I have come to believe that setting healthy boundaries is akin to putting your oxygen mask on first, just like the stewardess tells you before your plane takes off.  You don’t really believe it at first, but then you realize what good am I to my child if I fail to take care of my child’s mother.  Setting boundaries is just like that – if I let people treat me with no dignity, no respect, no love or support – what am I teaching my children? oxygen-mask1 So the lessons I’ve learned about setting boundaries come from three different sources – I think of them as my “Three Wise Women”.  Dr. Karyl McBride author of “Will I Ever Be Good Enough”, Gretchen Rubin author of “The Happiness Project” and Brene Brown, author of “Daring Greatly” Dr. McBride’s book taught me I am good enough. I can expect to be treated fairly, and it’s up to me to set the rules and teach people how to treat me.  Because setting boundaries starts with the fundamental belief that you are worthy, and we must make choices to get the treatment we deserve. At first you feel like a victim, but so many of us are actually volunteers.

Dr. McBride says:  you will learn to say it like it is. No more pretense, no more facade, no more inauthentic representations of ourselves.

The book is for daughters of narcissistic mothers, but I’ll just bet there’s a lot of lessons in there for every woman. Grethen Rubin talks about treating herself as a toddler.

“Gretchen gets cranky when she’s over-tired. We really need to stick to the usual bedtimes.” “Gretchen gets frantic when she’s really hungry, so she can’t wait too long for dinner.” “Gretchen needs some quiet time each day.” “Gretchen really feels the cold, so we can’t be outside for too long.” The fact is, if you’re dealing with a toddler, you have to plan. You have to think ahead about eating, sleeping, proper winter clothes, necessary equipment, a limit on sweets, etc. Because with a toddler, the consequences can be very unpleasant. In the same way, to be good-humored and well-behaved, I need to make sure I have my coffee, my cell-phone charger, my constant snacks, and my eight hours of sleep. I mentioned this new approach to a friend, who laughed and said, “As a toddler, I don’t handle noise or crowds well. I can’t be in that kind of situation for long.”   It’s easy to expect that you “should” be able to deal with a particular situation, and of course, to a point, it’s admirable to be flexible, to be low-maintenance. But I realize that I’m much happier — and more fun to be around — if I recognize my limits.

I had to spend some time getting to know myself – I know that may sound strange to those of you who did that in your childhood, but for those of us who weren’t taught those skills it’s hard.  I had to learn to be present in the moment and stay conscious of my feelings at every turn.  Good.  Bad.  Indifferent.  Just like food that caused me grief, I had to resolve to stay away from people and situations that made me miserable.  I had to learn my limits.  Being the only working mom and taking on the school project when you’re already stressed to the max, doesn’t allow you to take care of yourself.  I had to stop saying “yes”. Brene Brown, researcher and author taught me…

Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others. We can’t base our own worthiness on others’ approval (and this is coming from someone who spent years trying to please everyone!). Only when we believe, deep down, that we are enough can we say “Enough!” 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you’ve never learned how to set boundaries, you’re not alone.  Margarita Tartakosky, M.S. wrote a great article 10 Ways to Build and Preserve Better Boundaries on one of my favorite sites – Pysch Central.  Check it out for a great starting point.  Make your own list!

Additional Resources:


  1. Pam Houghton

    1 October

    Good! I don’t know that I’ve had trouble setting limits to the degree you experienced, but I can still relate. I like the toddler approach, and will keep that in mind.
    Pam Houghton recently posted…Ireland – Part OneMy Profile

    • Barbara Coleman

      1 October

      Yes, the toddler approach has been really helpful to me…. I know what makes me cranky and now try to avoid it… Ahhhhhhh.

  2. Lee Aldrich

    1 October

    If I would have know how to set boundaries and stick with them my first marriage would never have happened. It seems we as women are conditioned to try to fix everything, overlook things that we should not, and try to be liked by everybody. That is just nuts! We need to do a better job of teaching our kids – our girls particularly – to be self assured enough to set limits and stick to them.

  3. Susan Bonifant

    3 October

    I’ve tried to leave this comment a couple of times, but it won’t take. Still, I want you to know: I really love how you are improving every moment of your future by understanding the past they way you are trying to. I admire you. (Hopefully this one goes through) 🙂
    Susan Bonifant recently posted…Adventures in hair and make-upMy Profile

    • Barbara Coleman

      3 October

      Thanks for the words of encouragement, Susan! Like Rocky said; “it’s not about how many times you get knocked down – it’s about how many times you get back up!”

  4. Sue Shoemaker

    4 October

    Little girls are raised to be compliant and “nice” ( whatever “nice” means)…and then we wonder why they have difficulty creating boundaries. They need to be encouraged to say NO and have their own opinions early on.

    On the CBS This Morning, it was mentioned the other day how we don’t use the word “bossy” to describe little boys’s behavior, but girls get that label frequently. The guest said that she thought that Norah O’Donnell used a much better descriptor when referring to her daughter. Norah says her daughter is exhibiting “executive leadership skills.” I like that too!

    • Barbara Coleman

      4 October

      You speak the truth, Sue! As always, you’re right on the money…so glad to hear your take on this subject!

  5. Merry

    21 October

    Yes, yes and yes on the crucial importance of learning this as a first step to healing. Boundaries can be completely utterly crushed by a NM. Recently I had a eureka moment when someone trampled over my daughter’s boundaries in front of me. I was livid, rageful and barely in control. I would’ve excepted such treatment, but I have been highly protective of my children. It then dawned on me that I need to treat MYSELF the same way. So this is no. 1 for me in the beginning of the real process of healing. Not just band-aid work. Im not exactly young myself, but gotta start now. Things a toddler would naturally know and do!

  6. Merry

    21 October

    PS I find it interesting that “functional” people naturally feel the sense of entitlement of having their boundary limits adhered to by others and those of us with NM backgrounds find it just so hard, certainly NOT a given! It seemed like… a somewhat magical elusive gift they had and was unreachable for those that didn’t have it!

  7. misssrobin

    9 November

    I love this line: “At first you feel like a victim, but so many of us are actually volunteers.” I grew up with a mother who lived in a victim mentality; she still does. There are so many things wrong in her life and they are all someone else’s fault. I had probably been in therapy for a year or two before I really understood that I had some responsibility for the abusive relationships I’d been in. It seemed contrary to everything I’d ever known. But until we acknowledge that we could have changed things we are powerless to improve our own lives (we can’t change people, but we can refuse to stay with them).

    Boundaries are super hard for me. I was never taught anything about them or that I had a right to them or that they were a good thing until I was about 35. It’s tough to completely change what you believe about yourself and the way you interact with people after so many years. I still have a hard time sometimes, but I’m much better than I used to be. I notice the discomfort or pain in myself, but it can sometimes take a while before I understand why a situation bothered me. Too many years sacrificing everything I wanted and felt to others because it was the Christlike way to be. That took a long time to unlearn.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog. I loved reading what you had to say about boundaries. I’ve heard about the books you mentioned but haven’t read them. I’ll have to check them out.
    misssrobin recently posted…Rerun: Taking Pleasure in Another’s PainMy Profile

    • Barbara Coleman

      13 November

      It’s always interesting to me how many women I “meet” that have a similar experience. Finding Gratitude in the internet allowing us to share with each other and “Move On”. Thanks for taking the time to come over and read and especially commenting.

      • Cindy

        30 April

        I don’t even know what to say, this made things so much eaesri!

  8. Wander Juli

    22 February

    I love how you are trying to understand the past in order to improve your future. I admire you for this because you are a role model to me.

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