The word boundaries comes with multiple meanings. The overarching concept of boundaries is that they provide limits or a dividing line. This can be in the form of a visible physical barrier or line or fence, or it can be more abstract in the form of setting limits to someone’s behavior or actions.
Either way, boundaries are important and necessary for providing guidance and offering a sense of safety. They can help countries and individuals alike feel a sense of control.
That sense of safety (as well as control) is what I want to talk about today. As it relates to intuitive eating anyway.
Boundaries in intuitive eating help you protect the work you’ve done to repair all the hurt from dieting and diet culture. They defend the victories you’ve achieved with healing your relationship with food. They preserve the work you’ve done towards mending your relationship with your body.
Boundaries. Are. Necessary.
Failing to set boundaries can leave you vulnerable to what feels like an attack. SEriously, they can feel like someone just punched you in the gut. Or they may be more subtle and you may not notice them at first, but when they’re there, they’re eating away at a part of you and so watching out for them and not just blowing them off is still important.
These gut punch attacks and sneak attacks will come from all the same stressors that led to the poor food and body image relationships in the first place. And they will come from sources you never dreamed would try to hurt you. For the latter, hopefully it’s an oversight and ignorance.
When you’re experiencing having your boundaries crossed, it can create a low level simmering anger inside you that you may not even realize is there. Until one day when you can’t take it anymore and you go off on your best friend or you find yourself wadded up into a ball on your bed in tears. AND you don’t know why or what happened. It feels like it came from nowhere.
Where this usually goes wrong.
Most of the time you’ll be told that you need to communicate your feelings, tell others what hurts you. I love this advice, and I get into that in the next post, but first I think it’s important to not gloss over the step before that. The step where you identify your boundaries. You have to know WHAT you’re communicating right?
What if I were to tell you that I believe you already know your boundaries and you have already set them. Setting boundaries is different than communicating them. Setting them means identifying them and also identifying what it looks and feels like when they’ve been crossed. It’s creating a clear line, an ability to say, “this is ok, this is not.”
How do you recognize your boundaries and get to that point?
First, you should understand that most boundaries are already a part of you and they come from your survival instincts.
You know that sick feeling you get when someone says something you find hurtful, like “are you still eating?” or “are you really going to wear that?” That hurt or sick feeling is telling you that this person found your boundaries (even if they weren’t looking for them) and they totally crossed them.
Shame happens when boundaries are crossed.
And in some cases, trauma happens when boundaries are crossed.
If you feel “off” or resentment about something, but you can’t put your finger on where it’s coming from, you likely have boundaries that are being crossed. Feeling quickly overwhelmed, easily frustrated, drained, or exhausted often indicates routine crossing of your boundaries.
Other times you will need to learn where boundaries “should” be. Most of the time I really hate that word. Yes HATE. It’s strong and it’s appropriate. I tell my clients to stop “shoulding” all over themselves because it usually leads to guilt and shame. But in this case, it’s appropriate when it helps you draw a line about boundaries that when crossed have the potential to erode work and progress you’ve made.
Identify your own boundaries.
To help you identify your boundaries, I’ve included a list of questions to ask yourself. For some, you may know right away what and where your boundaries lie. For others you may need to journal or sit with them for a while. And for others you may need to ask for help. A coach or mentor or trusted friend might help you with this. Be sure to consider all aspects of your life, personal and professional when answering these questions to really identify as many boundaries as you can. Keep in mind that not all boundaries are likely being crossed and many won’t necessarily need much for communication. You’ll know those that need the most attention and protection by how they make you feel. Do this with as much curiosity as you can.
Questions to ask yourself to help you establish your boundaries:
- What are the roles you play in your life? In other’s lives?
- What roles do you WANT to play in your life? In other’s lives?
- What roles do you NOT WANT to play in your life? In other’s lives?
- Are there situations where your role changes?
- How do these roles contribute to (or diminish) your sense of self worth?
- How do these roles contribute to (or diminish) your sense of self awareness?
- What is happening when you feel happy?
- What is happening when you feel sad? Angry? Annoyed? Uncomfortable?
- Where are you and who are you with when you are alerted to these feelings? Do you have these feelings regularly when you’re in these locations or around these people?
- What is going on inside of you and your life when you experience these emotions?
- How will you handle the possible judgement that comes with these boundaries? How does the judgement make you feel?
Now, take your answers from these questions and formulate some boundary statements. I have some examples here:
- “I will not allow others to make comments about my weight or food intake or food choices.”
- “I will remove myself from situations where others (not close friends or family) are doing or saying things that make me feel uncomfortable.”
- “I will ask close friends and family to stop doing or saying things that are making me uncomfortable.”
You get the idea. Yours may be much more specific like, “I will remind my mother-in-law each time she offers candy as a reward to my children that I am their parent and we don’t use food that way. I will be polite and thank her for her efforts, but stand firm in my choices. I can offer alternative suggestions like giving a hug or reflecting back to my kids how their accomplishments made them feel.”
Either way, you will end up with a list (maybe a really long list) of boundaries that can then begin communicating to others and working on respecting yourself.