Internal Boundaries - the power of unspoken promises
The greatest challenge I have faced when it comes to setting boundaries is that in order to communicate my needs I had to speak up. I once believed that creating boundaries would be a really simple feat, decide in my head what I needed to do and that was it. Well, I was wrong. It takes two to tango. However, I have come to realise that there are two kinds of boundaries we can make. One with ourselves and the other with a second person or group. The latter does one hundred per cent need us to step up and say something and I will share more on that one next time.
Today, I want to introduce you to internal boundaries.
New year's eve rocks around and little ol' me has decided to take life up a notch and commit to creating a get-healthy regime. It sounds lofty but it is also a must-do, but this year I know that I am going to take it seriously. Right? Each year, around the same time I declare that it is finally time that I looked after myself, and improved my health because I ain't getting any younger. Of course, the first couple of days are easy peasy - I promise myself that I am going to move my body for an hour each day, to eat healthily and practice more mindfulness. As the days pass by I seem to be doing really well, I've kept my promise. And this weekend I get to take these new promises out into the world. We have been invited to a BBQ. I'm feeling great, the daily walks have been a total game-changer to my day and I've not eaten a drop of sugar, touched a glass of alcohol or even thought about a piece of bread.
Arriving at the social, I poured myself out a gin and soda with cucumber, aka no sugar. I've got this people. Before long, snacks are being passed around, and I am not tempted. But then the waft of the bbq tickles my nose and I just can't get the thought of food out of my mind. My stomach rumbles in delight. Holding out until dinner is announced ready, I line up among my friends chatting happily with my paper plate in hand. I let my eyes gaze over the table and access the options for my meal ahead. Piling the salad high with a few morsels of delicately smoked meat on the side I was now a happy camper. This being healthy thing was a sinch.
That was until the sugar-laden, mouthwatering tropical pavlova sensation was brought out and cut into slices that were quickly handed out among us. And without even thinking I held my hand out to receive a small plate of pav. I held it there for a few moments, watching as everyone gushed over it's deliciousness. Observing the eyes that were now on me, as if they were questioning if I was going to eat this thing set out in front of me. After all I did take the plate.
I ate that pav. it tasted great. It felt like it was the thing I had been missing all this time, well over the past two weeks anyways. And why the fuck shouldn't I eat it, right.
Well, what then unfolded was an internal dialogue about how could I let myself do that. Then I started to take out my frustration with my husband who didn't stop me from eating the god damn pav, he knew I was trying to be healthy but he did nothing about it. I was annoyed that I took a plate without even thinking from my best mate Kate. The next two weeks I was a grumpy ass bitch all because I had promised myself to look after my health and I was tempted by a piece of cake. WTF. To be clear this is an example of how I crossed my internal boundary, and ended up frustrated with my inner critic piping up to tear me down. It sucked balls. The internal boundary packed a punch when I crossed it and it was my own doing.
Internal boundaries can also look like not biting when the conversation turns to a subject we just don't want to argue over say - politics and money. I promised myself that I would never have a conversation about political issues with my parents. Why? It just saves me the heartache of conflicting views of how we see the world. There was a time when I would get really worked up about how the world was changing and how they didn't see the possibilities that I did. I would argue to the death but it only caused tension. One day I wanted to change the dynamic of our relationship. So I decided to promise myself that it wasn't worth the arguments we were having. This was a personal boundary that didn't require much action but a conscious choice to not engage in particular conversations.
Firstly I want to introduce you to internal boundaries. These are the boundaries we set for ourselves, they are our guidelines to living life, what we will and won't tolerate. In the past, I've called them my non-negotiables. Little did I know how much power these promises I've made to myself had on my overall emotional well-being.
Internal boundaries are executed in our minds. However, in the past, I've also hung them on my wall as a reminder for what I stand for until I have embodied them completely. The truth is, we can save ourselves an incredible amount of time, energy, and difficult conversations by getting better at honouring our own internal boundaries first.
What Internal Boundaries Look Like:
- I don't use my phone until I get to work in the mornings
- I don't take phone calls after 8 pm
- I don't go out when I'm tired and desperately need rest
- I won't engage in conversations about body weight
- I will move my body daily
- I wont talk about politics or money with my parents
Generally, our internal boundaries are not shared with others, however we often find ourselves at a crossroads with them. It's too easy to over-commit or over-give to others. Say for example you were out with your friends for a nice meal and you had promised yourself that you would be home in time to say goodnight to your kids. Yet you stayed out past that, completely ignoring your internal dialogue and violating your own boundaries. (Okay, so perhaps your friend encouraged you to stay for just one more drink. It wasn't them who broke your internal boundary it was you - because you chose to stay, that's not on them it's on you for agreeing).
Ironically many of us become resentful at others when we are the ones who crossed our own boundaries.
No one wants to admit that. But it was a hard truth that I needed to uncover in my own exploration of boundary setting. Why was I still getting upset when making boundaries? Turns out the ones that were triggering me the most were the ones where I promised myself something, and I didn't respect it.
Mastering Internal Boundaries
We first must take sole responsibility for ourselves. If we are going to set an internal boundary it is down to us to honour it.
This is where I find calling in the help of an accountability partner. Just like setting external boundaries with others, I find that sharing my internal boundaries with others helps me to follow through with them. My partner is my confidant in many crazy internal boundaries I have set. From sharing with him that I am no longer going to eat gluten to then being called out two days later when I'm questioning the thought of a cheese toastie. It comes in handy to have someone on your side to cheer for you in the choices you make.
You can stretch this further than just food, perhaps you hate having conversations about money. This was a deal breaker for a long time for me, It made me feel so uncomfortable openly talking about money, how much I was making and how I was making it. I use to instantly give myself permission to change the subject to honour my internal boundary to avoid the discomfort of feeling guilty.
Maintaining your internal boundaries comes with self-discipline. This is a practice in itself to trust and value our own needs. Nothing is more important than our emotional wellbeing, so why be so relaxed about your boundaries? They are your guideposts so stay between them. We all make mistakes, feel guilty and struggle that it's not easy. That is why they are to be mastered, through patience and persistence.
SIDENOTE - when we do find ourselves frustrated at crossing our internal boundaries, its also up to us to acknowledge that we are now letting our minds get the better of us. And that it is equally not healthy to allow these thoughts to consume us.
When Internal Boundaries need to be set
When the source of your frustration or resentment is caused by your own actions of over-giving, over committing or sacrificing yourself.
When you take on other people's emotional baggage and energy and find it overwhelming
When external boundaries are not working but you still need to ensure that your needs are being met (this can look like creating distance away from the cause)
Your internal boundaries can be set simply by brainstorming your limitations. Grab a notebook and pen and answer the following questions.
Q - What are my personal values
Q - What are my personal truths
Q - List out activities that fall under those categories.
- I will not be the middle person between two people - friends or family members
- I will not invest in friendships that suck my energy away
- I don't over-commit to social activities because I value my family time
At the end of the day, our internal boundaries are little promises that pack a lot of power. They determine how much we value ourselves and what we are willing to do to maintain our own emotional wellbeing. It comes with practice like all things. When mastered these power bombs are what define us - they make us strong, confident and completely unstoppable.
I hope that this post helps you to set and establish your own internal boundaries to deepen your connection to yourself.