“‘No’ is a complete sentence.”
Every few months my life requires a major overhaul.
From the outside it may not look like much is changing at all, but internally I’m getting out my ninja moves, rolling up my sleeves and going back to the drawing board on everything from work to relationships, health routines to hobbies.
“Why?” You may ask. “Isn’t that a lot of work? Do things really change that much for you? Are you out of your mind?”
Although fair and reasonable questions, my dedication to this consistent re-evaluation of my life comes down to two words:
I was recently reminded of the creep in a session with a mentor of mine who was helping me to sift through some challenges.
The silent creep is the incremental and often subtle build-up of stressors that has the potential to take a major toll on our energy, mood and sense of well-being as women.
The creep appears when boundaries have worn thin.
The creep can include anything from those clothes that you never wear and don’t really like that are still sitting in your closet to an unaddressed relationship dynamic that creates stress and discord and everything in between.
It is the accumulation of seemingly small little boundary crossings whether with yourself or with others, that tear away at the fiber of your being and eventually add up to create overwhelm, depression, anxiety, confusion and many other symptoms.
It might look like agreeing to visit with a friend when you really needed alone time, not speaking up to your partner about something you’re feeling because you’d rather not have to deal with a difficult conversation, forcing yourself to exercise when you really need rest, or staying frozen when you really need to move…whatever shape it might come in, the silent creep can hit you like a ton of bricks in the form of resentment, health issues and irritability, all cries from your inner wisdom, signalling to you that something is off and requires attention.
Each of our lives is a living, breathing ecosystem with multiple parts and priorities. We are dynamic and evolving beings that require different types of activity, care, systems and routines depending on a myriad circumstances.
If we do not consistently practice setting boundaries, trust with ourselves and with our loved ones will erode over time. For love without boundaries is not love at all.
Without frequent reflection and honoring of what our true values are and how to conduct our lives rooted in these values, the silent creep kicks in and we find ourselves going through the motions of everyday life without a lot of satisfaction or gratitude.
It’s in the nitty gritty details of our everyday lives where what matters to us most has the potential to either thrive or to crumble. And what I have found over the years is that if I do not consistently re-orient myself to my true values, life has a funny way of slipping in the priorities and values of other people and the culture at large, eating away at my own fulfillment and often causing quite a bit of confusion along the way.
Here are some simple steps to guide you back to your values and clarify your boundaries
1. Identify where a boundary got crossed
If you are feeling out of sorts in yourself, perhaps angry, irritable, easily judgmental and reactive toward others, anxious, over-extended or overwhelmed, most likely one of your boundaries has been crossed. Reflect back on the last week or two and start to consider where things may have started going off course and write down as many as you can identify.
2. Clarify what you want and need
What types of activities and relationships do you truly want to fill your days with? Identify and write down not only the activity or relationship, but also the big WHY underneath each one. For example, if you want to move your body in some way everyday, the big WHY underneath that might be that you value your health and well-being. If you want to make more time for your spouse or partner, the big WHY might be that you value quality time with loved ones and are aware of the impermanence of life.
3. Take ownership
Focus on your personal role and how your thoughts, actions or behaviors may have contributed to the boundary violation. Even if you’re dealing with an interpersonal exchange with someone else during which you feel that they stepped over your boundary, notice and take responsibility for whatever your part in the interaction may have been.
4. Make amends
Depending on the particular boundary that has been crossed, you may want to make amends with another, or simply with yourself. For example, if you recognize that you have said ‘yes’ to too many things where your truth was actually a ‘no,’ re-commit to yourself that you will pause, go more slowly and evaluate every choice before giving someone a response. If you are dealing with an interpersonal situation, you might go to that person and let them know directly that you aren’t pleased with how something went and you want to start by taking responsibility for yourself and how you handled the situation.
Now that you have gone through the process of identifying, clarifying, taking responsibility and making amends with regard to whatever boundary violations you may be struggling with, it’s time to course correct. In this stage of the process, I encourage you to roll up your sleeves, put on your best intuitive and scientific hat and examine what patterns, systems and structures contributed to the vulnerability that led to the boundary violation in the first place.
For example, you may start to examine how you structure your work day and choose to eliminate social media/email/text distractions so that you can feel more focused and productive during the day and more capable of spending present-centered time with your family in the evening. You might realize that you need to take Sundays as a completely unscheduled day and for some period of time if someone asks to make a date on a Sunday, your answer is ‘no.’
Although some of these examples might seem small or insignificant, the same tools and philosophy can be applied to some of life’s most challenging quandaries and relationships.
You are the expert on your own life and I know that if you give yourself a little bit of time and space to go through this process, there will be powerful insights and answers waiting for you on the other side.
And remember, boundaries are not in place to make us increasingly rigid, self-centered and hyper focused on every tiny last drop of time, energy, money or effort that we are allocating to things in our lives. To the contrary, clear and consistent boundaries are precisely what allow for the freedoms of adaptation, spontaneity and generosity. In other words, the more clear and respectful you can be of yourself, your time and your priorities, the more space you will have to be in the flow and to follow your instincts when it comes to new opportunities, work, play, community, family and friends.