How to Create Healthy Boundaries
Letting go of shoulds
Learning how to create healthy boundaries has taught me a better way to navigate through life. Letting go of shoulds became an essential activity on my self-healing journey. Most of us don’t realize how unhealthy our relationships are until they start wreaking havoc in our lives. Perhaps I can save you a few painful steps along the way by sharing my experiences and thoughts.
When giving advice, we are crossing boundaries
Back in my codependent days, as a mother of young children, I was overly immersed in all my friend’s lives. We each felt entitled to unload our problems on each other and to give each other advice. It became so frustrating to give people advice that they never took. Somehow, I believed that my advice would save them if they would only take it. My friends and I considered ourselves experts at giving advice and telling each other what we should or shouldn’t do. We didn’t know at that time how to create healthy boundaries or to let go of shoulds.
It wasn’t until I found the book, ‘Co-dependent No More’ by Melody Beattie and started reading through all her lists of codependent behaviors, that I had my lightbulb moment. I began to realize that it wasn’t helpful or healthy to give people advice or to expect people to take your advice. It would be years before I realized how much of my energy I had given away and how poorly that had served me.
Learning how to create healthy boundaries is key
While numerous human behaviors are considered to be codependent in nature, my main concern was to learn how to develop healthy boundaries in my relationships. Healthy boundaries are difficult to maintain when we allow others to impose on our lives. Giving advice to others is one of many ways to breach a healthy boundary.
Are you distracted by other people’s problems?
It seems like a simple thing to do, to stop giving unwanted advice; however, it is just the tip of the iceberg in those dark waters. To give someone advice, you need to spend a lot of time hearing about their life, their ups and downs, their complaints and struggles. Then, after getting the whole picture, we begin to feel obligated to give them advice on solving their problems. Before we can stop this repetitive pattern, we need to stop being a dumping ground for other people’s problems.
Sharing your problems isn’t always healthy
How do you feel after someone tells you all their troubles? We usually feel weighted down, overwhelmed and stressed out. And how do you think the person feels that just dumped their pile onto you? They usually feel better, they’ve lightened their load for the moment. It doesn’t really solve their problems to wallow and complain to others about them, but it does take the pressure off for a short period of time, which feels better temporarily.
You may understand your life once you find your answers within
Most of us have difficulty understanding our own lives but we are the ones who have the most insight about it. Your best friend is going to look at your problems from their perspective, which is not your perspective and is not helpful. Hence, why all that good advice they share goes to waste. In our codependent mind, we truly think we are being helpful by listening, caring and giving advice. The reality is, that we each need to find our own answers. Or we need to find a competent therapist* that can help us find our own answers. Unfortunately, as friends, we get very attached to the advice we’re giving, combined with expectations of success once it is followed.
*(Reiki, counselor, cranial sacral therapy, bitfield tuning, acupuncture, etc.)
Respecting boundaries may provide more family time
It’s almost painful for me to reflect on how I used to function in the world and to realize how much time and energy I wasted. Time has always been an important commodity in this world. We need to protect our energy and keep it safe for ourselves and for our families.
Once I split off from my codependent web of friends and started to lead a more solitary, contemplative life, it amazed me how much more time I had available to spend with my family. We don’t realize how much time is taken up by our friends when we are over-involved in their lives.
When ‘Codependent No More’ fell into my lap, my self-healing journey and search to heal my overactive emotions had already begun. It was the perfect timing. Receiving regular energy work/body work revealed the existence of trapped emotions inside my body, mind and spirit. And, being receptive to this new information about codependence helped to further my personal transformation.
It’s challenging to change your unhealthy codependent behaviors when all your friends are still exhibiting them
The unexpected cost of pursuing my self-healing path was to leave many dear friends behind. A belief that they would discover their own self-healing in their own time sustained me. It’s highly unlikely that all your friends will choose to stop being codependent at the same time. And it’s challenging to change your unhealthy codependent behaviors when all your friends are still exhibiting them. Understanding this reality helped me to continue my own personal journey. For my survival, my highest good, I really didn’t have a choice. I had to pursue my self-healing and build up my self-worth.
Ways to ward off codependent behaviors
After reading Melody Beattie’s book, I became hyper-aware of my codependent tendencies in the early 1990’s. I remember asking my higher self to get my attention whenever I exhibited any codependent behaviors. “Please wave a red flag in my peripheral vision, to get my attention, to stop me in my tracks if I start to step on the codependent path again.” That was my plea. That intuitive idea about the red flag was incredibly helpful. In my mind’s eye I would notice a flash of red periodically, which would startle me to re-evaluate my actions in the moment.
The road less travelled may feed your soul
One of the benefits of stepping away from your mommy groups, your tribe, your support system, is that there’s nobody left to tell you what you ‘should’ do. It was a necessary break for me, that may have been painful for my children, as it also meant leaving behind their friends. Sometimes in life, we must follow our gut, our inner knowing and take the road less traveled. It may be months or years before you confirm your choices served you well. Having faith in your intuition and having helpful spiritual advisors around you is essential. I was lucky to have both.
Staying in the now becomes easier when we let go of shoulds
Dwelling on what we should do (in the future) distracts us from the now. Spending time filled with regret about what we should have done or said also takes us out of the present moment. While it is important to plan for future events, it is important that it doesn’t become out of balance. Glancing back at our past may be useful to help us realize some of our choices weren’t the best. It’s important not to get stuck there. Maintaining balance in all things and keeping your focus in the present moment is the ideal.
Is it time to consider ‘should’ as a ‘four-letter word?’
It helped me to treat the word ‘should’ like a ‘four-letter word’ and not allow myself to use it. Gradually, I developed the positive habit of avoiding that word completely and I happily stopped ‘shoulding’ myself and others.
I have shocked a few people by stopping them immediately from trying to use the word ‘should’ on me. I consider myself the ‘poster child’ of self-improvement; to encourage others that anyone can change negative patterns in their life. After all, if I could be successful at this, anyone could.
Creating healthy boundaries is the gift that keeps giving
- Notice discomfort in current relationships
- Explore self-healing books like ‘Co-dependent No More’ by Melody Beattie
- Begin to recognize your codependent behaviors
- Begin to change these patterns through self-growth work with healing mentors
- Reap the rewards of feeling more at peace with yourself
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