Find out who you are and do it on purpose.-Dolly Parton
I grew up in a dysfunctional family system with emotional abuse and neglect. I quickly learned to stay small, even invisible, and put others’ needs ahead of my own. I grew up feeling uncomfortable in my own skin, like there was something wrong with me, a fatal flaw.
In high school, I discovered the power of alcohol to heal my feelings of discomfort and deficiency. Suddenly, I said all the right things, met all the right people and could share my thoughts and feelings.
My alcohol dependency worsened when I married someone who confirmed my belief there was something wrong with me. His constant criticisms and emotional neglect felt like home to me and I stayed married to him for more than ten years.
When the marriage ended, I began a journey away from self abandonment. Less than a year later, I faced my alcohol abuse problem and entered a recovery program.
I learned that addiction recovery is much more than stopping drinking. It’s about getting honest and digging deep to understand yourself and acknowledge what you’ve been through and how that impacts your behavior.
It was there that I learned how to implement healthy boundaries in my life. Before that, I thought I owed everyone whatever they wanted from me. I did not feel I had the right to say no to anything.
Slowly, I realized it’s not selfish to set boundaries or eliminate toxic people from your life. Here are three things I learned about boundaries that surprised me:
1. Setting boundaries is authentic.
It means being clear about what you want and don’t want. It’s honoring to both yourself and the people around you. People aren’t mind readers. That’s why you need to tell people how to treat you.
“People-pleasing” sounds nice, but it’s a form of deception because you’re not being honest about what you want. You internalize that self-abandonment and do things like drinking or eating too much to try and feel better.
2. Setting boundaries increases confidence.
My confidence grew as my choices aligned more with my desires than trying to please other people. My opinion about myself changed when I stopped putting myself last.
When you set healthy boundaries, you begin to believe your needs matter. As you fulfill those needs, you rely less on unhealthy coping mechanisms to feel okay. And you feel better about yourself in the process.
3. Setting boundaries helps you discover your values.
When I got more intentional about how I spent my time and energy, my values became clear to me. As I focused more on doing things that fulfilled me, I used those values to help me make decisions that would keep me on track for the life I wanted.
As a result, I spent time on things and people that made me feel most like myself. In the process I gained clarity over what mattered most to me, and those weren’t material things.
Knowing my values has helped me live a more intentional life, one aligned with my passion to share knowledge about healing from childhood trauma. Rather than hiding my past, now I use it as a way to reach others.
I no longer react to life but am actively creating one I love. I’ve made intentional choices to use my gifts to serve others and to live simply and compassionately.
In the past, I’d wake up dreading each day because it meant merely surviving and getting through. I knew my needs would take a back seat to what I thought everyone else wanted.
Now I wake up excited at the prospect of another day doing what lights me up and makes me feel authentic and true. This is how healthy boundaries have helped me create a life aligned with my values and purpose.
Have you experienced the power of setting boundaries? How has that made a difference in your life?