External Boundaries - Speaking your Truth
Forming and setting external boundaries often requires two parties. The person setting the boundary and one who they are setting it with. The number of times I've heard people say, "I can't say that" when setting boundaries is mindblowing. More times than not, most of us are walking around talking ourselves out of setting boundaries because we are worried about what other people think - Hello People Pleasing.
Seriously that bad boy is everywhere.
Well, unfortunately, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but when it comes to external boundaries you do actually need to step up and say something. Otherwise, they are not going to work.
External boundaries are about voicing our preferences to others, so they understand who we are and what we do and don't like. For example, I was always the first person my boss would call if someone called in sick to work. This was when I was in my early 20's, I was studying art and pretty much had no social life. I needed every dollar I could get to pay for rent, food, buses and of course nights out on the town.
Over the years my boss learned that I was pretty quick at my job, she loaded me up with the biggest section at the restaurant I worked at, huge big tables to manage and of course long hours. I kept saying yes, and I kept stepping up to show her that I was capable of such a thing. My people pleasing self did what I could to show her that I was a badass at my job, and I would do anything to keep it. And that even meant waiting to go to the toilet even when I was totally busting because from my past experience she didn't let me go in the middle of the dinner rush.
I remember one night getting sick during work from something I had eaten that day. I actually snuck myself off to the toilets which we shared with the diners, hence that is why they didn't like us going in there. I spewed my guts up, it was bad, I had a lady ask me if I was okay. I was white as a ghost, and I walked over to my boss to tell them that something made me sick and that I had just been sick, and she asked if I could hold out another hour or so before I could go home as it was a crazy night it was heaving.
Of course, I said yes, however, as time went on with this job, I soon learned that I was given loads of extra responsibility and worked my butt off and all to my own detriment. My school grades and assignments were no longer my priority, my job ate up every ounce of my energy and creativity. I knew that I had done this to myself. At the time, what was important was that I could prove to myself that I could do this grown up thing, pay my rent, my bills, earn money - and I could do what I want whenever I want. Well with the exception of school and work.
I failed one of my assignments and it was the low blow I needed to see that something needed to shift. You see, I had never in my life failed anything before. Like ever! It hurt, and it was a totally rude shock, usually I know how to get myself just across the line to pass. Well, not this time. This now meant I had to pick up my grades for the rest of the semester. Realising what was more important I had to make some changes. I needed to set some internal boundaries with myself but also with work.
After washing up the last of the glassware I walked over to my boss and sat down. It must have been 11.30pm at night, I was exhausted, she was smoking a ciggy while counting the cash from the night. She wanted to go home just as much as I did. They were long days. I was nervous, scared and totally worried about what she might say if I asked her to reduce some of my hours. Because if she wanted to punish someone she would give them one two-hour shift a week for a month. Which is obviously not sustainable for a student paying rent. I had seen her do it in the past.
I called in all the confidence I had and shared with her that I needed a few weeks to catch up on schoolwork and would need to lighten my workload during the week. I knew asking for weekends off wasn't going to be a thing, but I also knew I could make tips those nights too. So if I let a few midweek nights go, I could hustle a little more on the weekends. It took everything in me to share. I remember sitting there blankly at her, worried with what she was going to say and as it turned out, she had a total soft spot for me and simply said no worries, what would work best for you over the coming three weeks and we will get your roster sorted now.
How had I not done this earlier, asking for what I want? My time was important and I knew those time boundaries were essential for my school work that needed to be done. As it turned out my boss kept throwing work at me because she thought I needed the money. Once I articulated where I stood, things changed, and it helped me to build my confidence and speak up more. Daunting but so worth it in the end. Because I did pass my class, and I received great grades, completed some art I still have today and am forever thankful for the time I shared my needs.
Setting boundaries (with others) is paramount to developing healthy relationships - the first with yourself and the second with others.
What is an external boundary?
External boundaries are boundaries we set with others about what we will/won’t tolerate from them. These are the boundaries that require us to speak up and to communicate. It's where big conversations happen, explaining how we value ourselves and educating the other person/s about our limits, demonstrating how we wish to be treated.
External boundaries are powerful in that they reaffirm who we are, when we stand up for ourselves and others. That's because we can't assume others know our rules for life, so it's our job to enlighten them.
Boundary setting is for the courageous and maintaining them is for the self-assured soul who's finally got life all sussed out. They are the ones that trust themselves enough to prioritise their happiness. And that my friend is powerful.
What external boundaries look like:
- I don't like when you talk about body image and your weight as I find it triggering
- Saying No to an extra shift on Friday because you have other plans
- Sharing that you don't like to be hugged or touched in a particular way
- That you can't make it to a party because you have a date with yourself
- That you don't tolerate people who are not open to equality
- Speaking up when you see something that you don't agree with
Mastering External Boundaries
There is a real art to boundary setting and the simple key holding most people back is communication.
Generally, we all know what we should do or say, but we hold ourselves back, out of worry. What is required is willpower to drive us forward, to boost our confidence and courage. When we are rich in these two resources, we are no longer second-guessing ourselves. So in order to set and maintain our boundaries we need to be strong and trust ourselves. This takes work, because in order to take baby steps in the right direction to build our confidence with boundary setting we first must set a boundary. Once we create one, they get easier and easier to do. We become more and more confident through building our self-esteem.
By setting one small boundary and slowly expanding we grow personally. It can be as simple as saying no, or speaking up. But starting small enables us to test the waters, and to try out new skills.
And through communication, we are able to set boundaries like a total boss. Which promotes happier and healthier relationships, one where you respect yourself enough to stand in your power and to lay the law out for others. Demonstrating what it means to you to live by your set of guidelines.
When External Boundaries need to be set
This is where you need to ask yourself what are your limits. What are you happy to tolerate? What is a hard no for you?
External boundaries come in all shapes and sizes - time, money, political, physical, mental and emotional boundaries. It's up to each individual to determine their own guideposts, and where they stand in life. It's painting the world in black and white and knowing, what they are willing to let go of while others need to be addressed.
When I talk about tolerating - for example - one might tolerate their child asking for money each week, and have no problems handing some over, but they draw the line at the sum that is asked. One might tolerate their friend who swears a whole bunch because their heart is in the right place and is a loyal companion.
A limit is - a hard NO. It's what you don't want. For example, you are not on extra responsibility at work at the moment because you now have a newborn in your house. You don't like it when people just assume you want a hug when they say hello, its now how you roll.
External boundaries need to be set when your limits are being crossed by another person. You'll know when hands down. Usually, big feelings and emotions come up, they stir that you have been wronged and that perhaps this is not how you want to be doing things.
- Step up your communication skills. Learn to ask for help - Read this article on How to Ask for Help in a Good Way and How to say NO without the Guilt.
- Know that other people don't know your limits or what you are thinking. So it's your job to communicate with them your guidelines. Especially when you feel that they are being taken advantage of or not respected.
- Setting boundaries is a six-part process - Knowing your limits, cultivating awareness, conjuring up courage, being assertive, pausing and receiving - Read more from this article.
- Trial and error come with the territory, so start small, build up your confidence as you work on laying down the rules for others.
- Boundaries are for you, and in order to maintain them you need to put the work in. They are there to improve your everyday life, so give yourself some respect.
At the end of the day, the one thing you need to know about external boundaries is that in order to set them you need to speak up and share your truth.
I hope this little article helps give you a nudge forward to setting some guidelines with those that might currently be taking advantage of you.