creating yourself: the art of healthy boundaries
and live on the edges
on all the edges there are.
— Margaret Atwood
You would not have wanted to mess with Mother Teresa.
Her will was powerful, and she got shit done.
She knew what served her purpose, and she could reject or let go of everything else.
Because Mother Teresa knew where her edges were, she could push herself without burning out.
She knew when to draw back.
She gave her love, her time, and her energy without giving away herself.
She knew that you can’t give what you don’t have, so it was important to keep the reserves of her self filled up.
We inherit our boundaries from our parents. If they had walls, we are likely to have walls; if they had holes, we are likely to have holes.
You can tell what kind of boundaries you have by how often you use the word should.
Should is an external voice, imposed from without and internalized within; should cuts you off from the deep and quiet knowing of your soul.
When you slap a should on someone else, you’re falling through a boundary hole. You try to take responsibility for someone else’s reality. You attempt to define it for them.
Should makes you a perfectionist. It makes you grandiose (“I am capable of achieving these impossible standards!”) even as it undercuts your self-esteem (“I did not achieve these impossible standards, thus I am a loser”). We beat ourselves up with our shoulds and because the way we treat ourselves is the way we treat others, we beat our loved ones with those shoulds as well.
What would happen if you:
1. banished should from your vocabulary?
2. paid thoughtful and curious attention to feelings of resentment — before you downplay or dismiss them? or that first glimmer of anger — before you disconnect from it, shove it into that shadow-space holding all the things that, as a nice person, as an unselfish person, you’re not supposed to feel?
Like all emotions, resentment and anger are messengers. They carry important information. They let us know when our boundaries are being violated and compel us to rectify the situation.
When we are afraid to assert ourselves — because we want to avoid conflict, because we don’t want to hurt another person’s feelings – we end up betraying ourselves, which doesn’t serve us or them.
You can’t give what you don’t have.
You can’t protect what you love when you can’t protect yourself.
One of the paradoxical things about creativity is that it thrives when it has edges to chafe against. You can’t break the rules when you don’t have rules to break. You can’t explore the breadth and depth of your territory when you don’t know where it begins and ends. You can’t invent out of necessity when there is no necessity.
If the most creative work of your life is the act of inventing, or reinventing, yourself — and it is — give yourself the freedom of knowing where your edges are.
Listen to your feelings, your instincts, your soul. They will outline those edges for you.
When you’re safe inside them, you can develop a self that is bold and rich and overflowing with talent, love and purpose. Then, no matter how much of it you give away, you can always make more. Much more.