How To Create Healthy Boundaries That Honour Your Soul.
How skillful are you at creating boundaries, maintaining a compassionate stance, and staying out of resentment?
When I was in my late 20’s, I had two small children, was pursuing a Master’s degree in Nursing, and was working part-time. My dad came to me and asked if I would hold a surprise party for my mom’s birthday. I got this sick feeling in my stomach, and then I said, “Of course, I’d love to do it.”
The problem wasn’t that he had asked me; the problem was that I didn’t know how to say “no” and honour my boundaries based on how I was feeling at the time. It was the perfect storm to bring me up close and personal with resentment.
Although that was many years ago, I vividly remember the resentment that began to build as I began to put all this energy into something when I was already overwhelmed with life.
This was my first introduction to the importance of having boundaries to prevent feeling resentful.
Like many people, I grew up in a family that didn’t have healthy boundaries in place, which emotionally created many challenges for me in my adult years.
I didn’t learn how to distinguish where someone ended, and I started, and this lack of awareness meant that I was overly influenced by other people and had a hard time saying “no” for fear of being disappointed or not being liked.
I was a total people-pleaser! When others were happy, I’d feel satisfied; when others were unhappy, I’d feel unhappy.
We learn that we feel angry and resentful when we don’t set healthy boundaries. The best way to deal with anger and resentment is to prevent them from building up in the first place.
Many years later, I have a different perspective on boundaries.
I’ve found Brené Brown’s wisdom a helpful reminder:
Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.
View boundaries as compassionate space
After having gone through what can best be described as a dark night of the soul, I felt called to let get of the word “boundary” to adopt one that better aligns with my values around compassion.
One of the gifts of the dark night of the soul is a transformation of consciousness. We realize that we have a dual nature that includes the outer garment of our personality and our deeper essence or soul. Boundaries help to protect the outer garment of our personality, but what does the soul have to say about this?
The soul, the organ of meaning, expands when we cultivate greater compassion.
A new word came to me when I was listening to The Kind Mind podcast and the episode on Compassionate Communication. This episode explored a mindfulness-based strategy for resolving interpersonal conflicts. The final step in the “PETALS” process was “space.” I had an aha moment when I realized that what we’re going for with boundaries is “compassionate space.”
Compassionate space reminds us of our intentions not to put up a wall but rather create the right amount of space that enables us to maintain an open heart. It feels more fluid and soul-centred than boundaries.
Here’s a 3 step process to creating compassionate space.
This step permits us not to react immediately and reminds us to check in with ourselves before responding.
How many times have you said “yes” to something and then a short time later regretted it?
I went through years of my life saying “yes” to everything. Some of it I wanted to say “yes” to, and some of it I was afraid to say “no,” so I would say “yes.” I got exhausted by saying “yes” to everyone and everything and began feeling resentful.
When we take the time to pause, we can consider everything and make a more nourishing decision.
As Viktor Frankl famously said,
Between stimulus response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
This step involves connecting with ourselves and tapping into how we feel moment-to-moment.
Whether we say “yes” or “no” is not a black-or-white thing. We need to explore how we’re feeling, what our energy is like and what other things are going on in our lives.
During this step, connecting with the underlying beliefs that prevent us from creating compassionate space is essential. For example, if I believe putting others ahead of myself makes me a better person, I will always say “yes” when I want to say “no.”
A helpful question to ask ourselves is, “What space do I need to create and maintain in this situation to maintain a compassionate stance?”
There’s no question that we feel uncomfortable when we begin to discern what amount of compassionate space feels right for us. Having named that, we know that feeling uncomfortable will pass while resentment festers within us to the point that we don’t even like the person we have become.
Another great reminder from Brené Brown is to use the following mantra as a reminder:
Choose discomfort over resentment.
Creating compassionate space and learning how to honour ourselves enables us to be more sympathetic. We feel a sense of personal authenticity, bringing alignment to our body, mind, and soul.
We begin to thrive!
Did this article support or inspire you on your path? If you feel called, comment below to share with our community.
If you’re looking for practical suggestions about compassionate space (boundaries), you may find How to Set Healthy Boundaries: 10 Examples + PDF Worksheets from the Positive Psychology site helpful.
(Original post, May 17, 2016; Updated post, January 31, 2022)