Boundaries is an on-trend topic right now, I see a lot of content out there about boundaries; how to honour your own and how to stop them from being violated. I have myself written about this previously, you can find that here. If you haven’t come across boundaries before I recommend you have a read of that before going any further.
Today I want to think about internal boundaries you have with yourself.
To recap, a boundary is how you allow others to behave towards you. It is often tied to notions of self-worth and self-respect. Everyone's boundaries are unique to them. They are often founded on a mixture of different influences, such as your past experiences, social learnings, your attitudes and your beliefs.
Not only do you have boundaries with others, you also have internal boundaries with yourself. These boundaries require as much, if not more maintenance than the boundaries you have with the outside world. We are the only ones accountable for how we treat ourselves. Most of us are our own harshest critics.
I heard a great analogy recently when it came to internal boundaries. Think of yourself as a house in the middle of a tornado. If you don’t have internal boundaries your bathtub is in a tree, your front door is blown off and your walls are crumbling. You are exposed, without protection and everything is chaos. Internal boundaries are the walls that let you know if you are in the kitchen or the bedroom. They help you make sense of your needs and how you meet those needs.
We all violate our internal boundaries from time to time, for example you may decide to stay up to watch something on the TV or read a book even though your body is telling you to go to sleep. The cracks start to appear when we ignore our boundaries on a regular basis, to continually decide to ignore the need to sleep. This has a knock on effect on how tired you feel, your focus, energy levels and ability to manage life.
Are you a people pleaser? Do you go above and beyond for others to get validation? Is your sense of self worth linked to how good you are in the eyes of others? “People Pleasers” don’t tend to have firm internal boundaries. As a people pleaser you may have a gut sense that you are doing too much for others, that you’ll be exhausted after or resentful and yet you can’t stop yourself. The reason you can’t stop yourself will be unique to you, your belief system and life experiences. The results tend to be the same. Burnout, sadness, resentment, anger.
There are also those who formed distorted internal boundaries as children through abuse and trauma. Often an abuser will ensure that you have a distorted sense of self, or perhaps no sense of self. It ensures you don’t gain a sense of what is right and wrong. With unresolved trauma you tend to experience ‘childlike thinking’, which trends to be very black and white, you believe everything at face value. You take any criticism personally and find rejection of any kind painful. Your sense of self comes from how you are seen in the eyes of others.
I think it is important to pause and acknowledge you could have had the most wonderful perfect loving family and still have experienced trauma and/ or abuse from that situation. It doesn’t have to be unspeakably awful abuse we sometimes hear about to have had an event/ experience be traumatic for you.
Building, honouring and rediscovering internal boundaries can involve dismantling some of those behaviors, beliefs and traumas. That takes time and work, small steps and a lot of self love. Here’s how you start…
Listening to yourself, that gut voice, that feeling that tells you what you need. Often you’ve spent a long time turning the volume down on that voice so it can take time to turn that volume back up. Simple acts like practicing mindfulness, meditation, self care and grounding can allow you to hone in and allow that voice to be stronger.
Know your inner critic. Inner critic is a topic I’ve explored before, you can find that link here. Your inner critic is the more negative voice in your internal dialogue. The inner critic can be very resistant to change, knowing what that voice sounds like will allow you to recognise and overcome that negative thinking. It is helpful to understand that often the inner critic has the role to keep us safe, but it can often keep us stuck. It has a voice in the internal dialogue, but don’t allow it a seat at the table when it comes to your decision making and honouring your boundaries.
Honoring your physical sensations, is a great starting point for internal boundary exploration. Our bodies often give us clear signs of what they need. If you are hungry eat, if you are thirsty drink and if you are tired sleep. Your body is telling you it needs something, listen to it.
Setting and honouring internal boundaries is not always an easy process, it involves asking a lot of tough questions about why we have ignored them in the past. A lot of this work is safely done within therapy. Perhaps after experimenting with some of the suggestions about you deciding to take that journey, it may be worth doing it with a professional.
Remember, whatever you are going though you aren’t alone.