Learning about healthy boundaries came late in my life.
I hadn’t noticed the gap.
Boundaries were in that ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’ category.
Riding my life roller-coaster I came to learn what was missing, and to make changes for my well-being.
Along that journey, was a light bulb moment. My friend and I argued about the mantra that ‘the only person you can change is yourself’.
When we left each other that day, I felt saddened by our emotional discussion, and the distress it had caused us both. I also left knowing a little more about myself, and with questions about what I believed.
I knew I had more work to do.
On that day, I had firmly rejected the idea of ‘the only person you can change is yourself’. I completely turned away from the belief.
A belief that I had strongly held in the past.
As a teenager I began to develop my view of the world with a strong sense of self-responsibility. To take personal responsibility, own my mistakes and my actions became embedded in me.
As a young adult I learnt to take my personal responsibility further. In my training, I learnt to take a microscopic view of an interaction. I analysed and reflected on slices of life and with respected feedback, I became increasingly skilled at pinpointing how I could shift my actions. Ultimately, to improve a situation.
With each of these experiences, over time, I came to wear my self-responsibility as a badge.
It became a personal stake of my character, firmly hammered into the ground.
In time, as in all of our lives, I faced my unique struggles. As I faced those challenges, I continued to firmly hold the torch of ‘the only person you can change is yourself’.
And so, when life went astray, I worked harder.
I worked hard to be a better partner.
I worked harder to be a more understanding wife.
I took on the sole responsibility to carry us back to the top of the relationship roller-coaster, every single time.
My hope was if I can change, we can change. Maybe? Surely?
My belief had locked me in and clouded my view.
When I argued with my close friend that day, I pushed the danger of holding the belief that ‘the only person you can change is yourself’.
I worried that she tried to change herself.
To be more understanding, to give more, to be more. In the face of being hurt and unheard.
I worried that the mantra had led her, like me, and perhaps many of us, to believe that because we can only change our own behavior, that we also hold a singular responsibility to improve our relationships with others.
All on our own.
Held tightly, the belief that the only person we can change is ourselves, may mislead us to assume the sole responsibility for change in our relationships.
It took some time before I welcomed back my discarded belief.
To do so, I needed to learn about healthy relationships.
In healthy relationships we listen and nurture. We lift each other up when we are down.
In healthy relationships, we mend the hurts. We show each other kindness and understanding, that can be trusted and relied upon.
To take responsibility truly for myself, I needed to become clear on how I expected to be treated.
To do so, I needed to build healthy boundaries.
When we are clear on our boundaries we notice when something is not quite right. And we are more likely to take an action that cares for our well-being.
A visual representation of healthy psychological boundaries is one approach to help us better understand our boundaries.
Some who work on boundaries, strive to tear down reinforced double brick forts. For me, I started out with fields of grass surrounding my being.
Random stakes of strongly held values scattered in my field of grass. If I noticed they were bumped, I might react with flight, fight or freeze.
For me, where the grass once grew, a pleasant garden, a freshly painted fence and a garden gate now provides a frame. Nestled within, a structure – safe, solid and welcoming. A colorful door, closed; an easy to find door chime. Each wall filled by large bright windows that, on most days, allow the sun in and allow a clear view out.
It’s a work in progress…
I am the only person who can change me. I am responsible.
And my first responsibility is to myself.
Project 5: Your Body Speaks. Toastmasters International CC Manual (2015)