New situations can be thrilling. Every “first” can feel full of excitement, promise, and a glimpse of what is to come. This can pertain to many aspects of life – landing your dream job, meeting your first mom-friend at a baby music class, falling in love. When we find ourselves in the early stages of starting something new that we are excited about, it can be easy to go all in. We are fueled by our natural desire to impress, to overcompensate for whatever insecurity we may be feeling and to give too much of ourselves in effort to win the other person over or even make them feel more comfortable. In fits and bursts, this kind of free fall of giving of ourselves is okay, good even. But, it is not sustainable in the long run, and walking back the line can feel near impossible. Knowing where we stand before we get into those situations can help keep them from steam-rolling out of control.

You guessed it, today we are going to talk boundaries. It is a hot topic and one that can easily divide us, I know. Those that think boundaries are a negative thing and don’t want to be weighed down by them, and those that religiously set them up in an effort to protect and preserve themselves. Like most things in my life, I have travelled the spectrum on this issue. I started out staunchly opposed to the idea of boundaries. I am a free spirit. I am a giving person. I want to make others feel good, happy, welcome. I thought that setting up boundaries would rob me of who I am. Turns out, not setting up boundaries was robbing me of who I am. Without clear guidelines it is easy to bleed into each other, blurring the lines of what defines you.

Setting up healthy boundaries takes a lot of work and can be challenging because it is hard to know where to begin. But healthy boundaries are an incredibly crucial aspect of one’s mental health and well-being. They are essential in establishing one’s identity. A boundary is defined as the clear space between you and another person; knowing where you begin and the other person ends. The idea is not to keep yourself separate, but to define healthy ways to connect and navigate relationships, all relationships – intimate, personal and professional. How many times did you swoon when your girlfriend declared that she doesn’t know where she ends and her partner begins?! But maybe we have it backwards, maybe the key to the gold star relationship is knowing exactly where you end and your partner begins.

Depending on our culture, how we were raised, how we live our lives, it can feel counterintuitive that setting up boundaries can actually bring healthier, happier, and closer relationships. Especially for women, who are taught almost in utero that we are to be the givers, we are to overextend ourselves, we are to be the first to compromise, we are to say yes even if it is something we don’t want to do. We are to show love by giving our mind, body, and spirit. It can be hard to work against what we are taught. Setting up boundaries is not meant to be rigid or black and white. It is meant to be flexible, often reassessed, changed and are different for each relationship – your lover, your boss, your mother. The common ground is that having boundaries makes you a priority. It gives you the space to listen to your gut, the space to say no, the space to sit in your feelings and then the space to speak them.

I did not learn the importance of boundaries until I was in my late thirties. And it is still a hard concept for me to wrap my head around sometimes. I am my mother’s daughter. By observing her in her daily life I learned that she valued putting all other’s needs before her own. In truth, I don’t know if she even knew what her needs were. Or if she knew she was allowed to ask. She never learned to ask herself what SHE wanted. What was important to HER. She never learned to put up one single boundary – with her parents, her friends, her husband, her kids. She just kept giving. I was taught by example not only to do the same, but to value it. And I do very much value it. But the generosity of spirit should just be one aspect of your personality. And like everything else in life, needs limits.

In my adult life, I started to feel like I was losing myself. Like I didn’t even know who I really was. Every relationship is full of compromises, everyone has to give a little. It is necessary. But, if you are giving in a way that is violating who you really are, or the give makes you feel uncomfortable, then it is too much. If you are unclear if you are acting for yourself or for others, then it is too much. That is where I found myself. And these incidents do not have to be something big or even noteworthy – for me, they were tiny, micro compromises that eventually broke me. I lost myself. I became resentful. I couldn’t figure out what was important to me. Death by a thousand cuts, if you will. Giving in just one more time to keep the peace started to wear me down.

Discovering where I drew the line and holding on to it served as an important lesson. Clear and healthy boundaries are essential to establishing yourself and in turn establishing more solid, honest relationships. I am working on this every single day. At the minimum, establishing your own guidelines and defining what behavior is okay to you and what isn’t, will give you more insight into yourself which you can pour into creating, or improving upon, other relationships. Even establishing the smallest boundary can save us from ourselves and help create happier, healthier relationships throughout your life, beginning with yourself.

– Musings by an American born Indian