The Year of Boundaries (A Lesson in Taking Up Space)

Human relationships are all about good budgeting. We budget our time, our mental energy, and, perhaps most importantly, we budget pieces of ourselves. All of our friends get little pieces of us, it’s how we make friends in the first place. We have to decide what pieces to give away, and what pieces to keep for ourselves.

Back in December, I decided that 2018 would be the Year of Boundaries; which has almost nothing to do with 2018, but almost everything to do with 2017. I started the year as what can only be described as a complete and total doormat. A desperate need to be needed (read: liked) had driven me to set no boundaries for myself. Anything anyone asked of me, I would make happen. I made little time for myself, and spent less time with the people I loved and more time doing things I didn’t enjoy or benefit from. In short, I gave all of my pieces away. Eventually, as all things do, it caught up with me: I began to feel incomplete. A part of me was missing, but I couldn’t name it, and I couldn’t even tell you where it would go if I were to find it again. It felt silly and dumb to feel that way, so instead of addressing the problem and my frustration around it, I ignored it. My frustration came out in terrible ways: I became flakier, more stressed out, and I lashed out at people who didn’t deserve it.

And then I moved to Montana. And it was a whole new, undiscovered place for me, where I thought that everything in my life would be different just because my mailing address had changed. I made no effort to change myself, or to find my missing piece, because who would need to in a place like Montana? Everything is perfect and amazing in Montana, just being here should solve all of my problems. For a while, I felt complete again, and I thought Montana had saved me. But the more settled I felt, the more I lost that sense of being right and whole. For the first month I was out here, I didn’t know anyone, and so of course I felt complete – I wasn’t giving any pieces of myself away. But then I got a job, and made some friends, and since I hadn’t learned to set boundaries, I gave 100% to each and every person that came my way.

There are a few major problems with that, not least of which is that some people just don’t jive well with other people. And giving 100% to a person who you don’t like that much is no way to live. If you throw your all into a friendship that will fizzle out in a couple of weeks, you open the door to one of the most toxic emotions you can feel in a foreign place: rejection. At home, rejection stings, but life goes on. 3,000 miles from a support system, however, rejection can overwhelm a person. Rejection by a person can, in almost no time at all, feel like a rejection by your entire workplace, city, state, and coast. Rejection can have you running for the hills. Luckily, I had people to gracefully tell me I was blowing things out of proportion.

Eventually, I found friends that have stayed friends, and an unsuccessful friendship has gradually felt like less of a sweeping loss and more like striking out. But that doesn’t solve the greater problem at hand: I was still giving all of my pieces away. Until I got in a fight with an old friend back home, and struggled to cope. Suddenly I wasn’t speaking to someone who had countless pieces of me. Suddenly I felt completely vulnerable in Montana, like my whole support system had gone with it. Homesickness raged through me, worse than it had my first week in Montana (which seemed impossible). But I figured out that it wasn’t about being home, it was about the feelings that being home gives a person: feeling safe, protected, and loved. And usually once I suss out the underlying cause of something, I can get over it quickly. It mostly became a game of talking myself down whenever I felt so homesick I could cry. I knew it was really just because I missed my friend.

I had pieces of myself back, though. And I didn’t want to give them away this time, probably out of fear that the person I gave them to would hurt me the way my friend had. Some acquaintances in Montana were eager to take them, though. Some wanted to be in my space, or wanted my time. For the first time, I had the idea to say no. I set my first boundaries, and while I feared backlash for some reason, I felt better. I felt relief at not having to uncomfortable just so someone would like me. It did not take long for me to realize that there was a pretty linear arithmetic going on: the more pieces of myself I gave to virtual strangers, the more incomplete I felt. The more I carved out space for myself, the more right I felt in my own skin.

I’ll say this once in no uncertain terms, just in case there’s anyone reading this who needs to read exactly this:

You should be comfortable in your skin.

There are places where it’s okay to compromise your comfort level, but your body and your head are not on that list.

The majority of boundaries I’ve set have been for myself, rather than other people. They’re things like not making time to give someone a ride to work when they texted me ten minutes before I needed to leave and I’m already running behind. It’s unreasonable to expect anyone to do that for me, so why would anyone expect me to do that for them? Who cares if someone doesn’t like me because I didn’t let them make me uncomfortable, whether they meant to or not? I no longer need to be liked more than I need to feel safe. 2018 being the Year of Boundaries is more of a reminder than anything else. It’s a mantra, something to hold onto whenever I feel myself slipping.

Plenty of people have noticed a change in me. One woman called me out on it today: “You don’t seem like yourself!” But the majority of people haven’t, and probably won’t detect much of a change. Because the majority of people I see in a day are, frankly, strangers I’m paid to be nice to. They weren’t getting pieces of me to begin with.

Keeping pieces of myself has encouraged me to be more outgoing, and, possibly counter intuitively, to make more friends. The danger of having a lot friends and no boundaries is that you, like me, will become bankrupt. Having boundaries allows you to have friends, and stay whole. It’s the trifecta: you get to occupy space without feeling guilty about it, you get to have a social life, and you get to feel good in your own head.

2018 is the Year of Boundaries. It’s taking a lot of practice. 2018 is the Year of Boundaries. It’s only an experiment. 2018 is the Year of Boundaries. It’s not a masterpiece. 2018 is the Year of Boundaries. 2018 is the Year of Boundaries.
2018 is the Year of Boundaries.
2018 is the Year of Boundaries.
2018 is the Year of Boundaries.

One thought on “The Year of Boundaries (A Lesson in Taking Up Space)

  1. To thine own self be true…Shakespeare wrote that and in truth we have few true friends in life but many acquaintances…

    Be safe sweet girl…know that you are well loved…I had lunch at the Coffee Pot a couple of times last week…Lynn and I spoke of you and your courageous life change.

    Love you to pieces


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