Inside: Many midlife women wonder if boundaries are selfish. Boundaries are actually compassionate and in this post I share why.
In conversations with midlife women, a common question that arises is “are boundaries selfish?” We’ve been taught that to be a good mom, a loving partner, or a compassionate person that we should be ‘self-less’.
Here’s the simple truth: boundaries are compassionate for everyone involved. And the only way to enjoy a healthy relationship, to thrive in midlife, or to live healthy and whole, is to learn to name, communicate and honour your (and other people’s) boundaries.
This is not just my opinion. It’s what every ‘boundary expert’ teaches.
Furthermore, I bet that you already have boundaries in place whether or not you’re conscious of them.
So many women arrive at midlife weary and feeling a bit beat up by life. There’s no judgment in this because life can be hard and messy. But midlife is an important crossroad at which we’re invited to either maintain the status quo OR choose a mind-body-soul-honouring way of being in our body and life. Which will you choose?Krista xo
COMMON fears or ROADBLOCKS TO SETTING HEALTHY BOundaries
In this post I shared my community’s biggest struggles around setting and honouring boundaries.
Are boundaries selfish? Feeling selfish or guilty naming and honouring our wants and needs tends to be the fear or roadblock that rises to the top when I speak with women.
- Guilt / People pleasing / Feeling selfish
- Fear of rejection / “Will they still love me?” / Grief from loss of relationships
- Frustration when boundaries are set but not honoured
- Feeling like avoiding conflict is easier than setting a boundary
- Self-doubt, feelings of unworthiness
- Struggling to recognize when a boundary is needed and what it should look like
- Knowing how to communicate a boundary / how to say “no” / how to do it the ‘right’ way
ARE BOUNDARIES SELFISH?
Boundaries are simply a tool. Like any tool, they can be used by the individual in different ways.
Could they be used to harm someone? Sure, in the hands of a person motivated by greed or power or wanting to inflict pain on someone within their circle of impact, boundaries could be weaponized or used in unhealthy ways.
But these are not the people worrying about being selfish by setting a boundary. The people in my circle (work and life) want to live healthy and whole while also caring for others and walking out their values.
Boundary setting can feel risky – but it’s worth it.
Confidence and increased connection come from setting boundaries.I believe maintaining boundaries is one of the most essential ways you can protect your peace and model safety and self-love to others.The Gottman Institute
BOUNDARIES ARE COMPASSIONATE FOR EVERYONE INVOLVED
Here are a few examples of what you might want for your life and why boundaries are the compassionate (and essential) choice:
1. You love your people, want to grow old with your partner, and want your kids to value themselves
First, you can’t pour out what you don’t own. Second, the only way to enjoy a healthy relationship is to practice communicating and honouring healthy boundaries while also respecting other people’s boundaries. And third, if you want to your kids to value themselves and live healthy and safe, then you must model healthy boundaries to them and give them room to practice with you!
2. You want to make space for the things that light-you up, for your creative projects or deep work
It’s non-negotiable; you must learn to name, communicate and honour your boundaries. This means you’ll need to practice letting other people have their own feelings about your boundaries without needing to fix for them and you’ll have to be willing to feel the discomfort of someone being unhappy with you or even judging you. This will stretch you: many of us are adept at people-pleasing, peace-keeping, or jumping through hoops for affirmation and this will no longer work if you want to guard space for your dreams and priorities.
3. You want to live mind-emotion-body-spirit/soul healthy and whole and to thrive in every season of your life
Midlife is a beautiful invitation to meet and befriend your True Self. You’ll need to give yourself permission to have wants and needs (no one can do this for you) and practice truth-telling about what you want and need. You can’t communicate or hold a boundary if you’re not clear about it. And chances are, one of your biggest growth edges will be practicing honouring your own boundaries.
The Midlife Boundaries Workshop: build confidence naming and honouring your boundaries so that you enjoy thriving relationships.
YOU ALREADY HAVE BOUNDARIES IN YOUR LIFE
An interesting assumption inherent in the guilt around setting boundaries (and the question below) is that we don’t all have boundaries in our lives already. They may not be healthy, values-aligned, or intentional boundaries, but they’re there.
One person bravely shared her question with me on one of my social pages. I’m sharing our brief (public) conversation below. I was heading to bed so it was a rushed response but I hope it offers food for thought and encouragement to examine your beliefs around boundaries, where these beliefs come from, whether or not they are serving you, and if you’re ready to build healthier boundary skills.
Q: “I’m struggling right now to reconcile the psychology of boundaries with my Christian faith, which calls me toward boundless, transforming love of the world and other. Becoming smaller in my needs (offering them as sacrificial gifts) allows me to be transformed. I like the CS Lewis quote, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” Boundaries feel a lot like thinking of myself more. Thoughts?”
A: Thanks for your question. It’s definitely a common one. I do have many thoughts and this would make a fabulous conversation (you may want to join my boundaries workshop part 2 in April). I’m going to bed but I’ll share a few observations.
First, I love this definition of boundaries from Prentis Hemphill- “Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously.”
My boundaries help me walk out my values. Contribution is one of my values but if I live without healthy boundaries, I won’t be able to pour out in a meaningful way. We can’t do every good thing or meet every need in this huge, hungry, hurting world, no matter how much we care. Although when each of us offers our gifts from our honest capacity, we can make an impact.
Let’s say you tithe and live generously. But do you keep enough money for food, heat, and a roof over your head? If so, this is your boundary line. Or let’s say you say yes as much as possible in service to others. Yet you are human in a human body so if you push yourself past your limits over and over you will fall ill. There are some boundaries or limits in place simply bc we are human.
Sometimes boundaries are simply to keep us safe. Strangers probably aren’t welcome to enter your home without permission. Or it’s likely not ok with you that someone pushes you, swears at you, or touches you without consent. These are boundaries that keep you safe. You are not less compassionate or humble or more selfish or egocentric for setting these boundaries.
It can be a challenging thing to figure out in some situations – in parenting an adult child who struggles for instance. If their behaviour causes harm to the other kids, or if they are addicted and stealing money for you, is there a point at which you’d set a boundary? We can feel guilt or pain or even shame over needing to set a boundary with our child but is it compassionate to do otherwise?
In my marriage, my husband and I commit to stay faithful to each other sexually and emotionally. Boundary. I like treats but I don’t eat all the treats in the house even if I want to. I like to stay up late Netflixing, but instead get into bed to care for my health. We help my husband’s family in Africa but we are not wealthy enough to fill all the need, and our children also need support, which means we have to set limits on our financial support. In a later season of life the boundary line may change. Sometimes friendships are unhealthy and we have to leave them. We can love someone and choose not to be in relationship with them.
If you’ve ever asked yourself “are boundaries selfish?” you’re clearly not alone. I hope that this post has encouraged you to consider boundaries in a new way.
Boundary work is ongoing work – and it doesn’t have to be about perfection. Imperfectly practicing a new skill is far wiser than avoiding it altogether. Read out if you need further support.
THRIVE IN MIDLIFE: go back to basics
Create space for what lights you up, feel less resentful and depleted, and enjoy thriving relationships. Watch the Midlife Boundaries Workshop Replay.