“Give yourself permission to live a big life. Step into who you are meant to be. Stop playing small. You’re meant for greater things.” – unknown
Once upon a time, there was a twenty-something year old woman. She was passionate, charismatic, and fun; she was independent, opinionated, and driven; she was hardworking and ambitious. She was excited and hopeful about all of the possibilities her future held and went after her goals, one by one. Others were drawn to her energy and passion, and as she worked hard to achieve her goals, inspiring others along the way. Without a doubt, she could be too much for some people, but she didn’t worry about them – they weren’t her people. In fact, she enjoyed being a contrary force and an independent thinker. She had a clear vision for her life, her career, her relationships, and went after it.
At the same time though, she privately battled against debilitating insecurities and automatic negative thoughts and beliefs about herself – she wasn’t “good enough”; “not worthy”; and “who did she think she was anyway” to want success or the life she desired. As she got “bigger”, her deep-rooted fears and beliefs became stronger, pulling her down to keep her in her “place”. Fortunately for her, her clear vision of her life and ambitious nature were strong enough to propel her forward despite those negative beliefs. She especially found her stride in her work and her career flourished.
Then, over time, she began the habit of shrinking and becoming less of who she was meant to be. Those powerful automatic negative habits of mind provided the ideal rationale and justification for her to begin not partaking in her life path. She compromised her dreams and plans to avoid confrontation so others would feel more comfortable. She put her gifts, innate needs, and desires behind the needs of others, not wanting to upset others or deal with the push back. She became a shadow of her true self.
This isn’t a unique story, especially for women. Women have been socially-conditioned to put the needs and desires of others ahead of their own. Once in a relationship, or when children come along, many women put their dreams, desires, and goals on the backburner, sacrificing their innate needs and desires in the “best interests” of the family, conforming (or contorting) into ideals of being the sacrificial wife and mother.
Such was the case with this woman. Not nurturing ourselves or living authentically can trigger our self-protection system, erode our self-esteem, and cause feelings of unhappiness and psychological distress. If you are someone who has felt like you’ve shrunk yourself to live life for the betterment of others, for the family, then you know how uncomfortable and confining it can be to live such a life. When we aren’t living as the best version of ourselves or living to our full potential, we are doing a disservice to ourselves and our loved ones.
So what do we do when we find ourselves in this situation? How do we go about trying to figure out who we are and what we want?
Here are the five steps in the SSPS* to activate yourself:
Self-awareness. Learn about your personality, your strengths, weaknesses, likes, and dislikes. It helps to recognize when you are stressed and how your behaviour changes during such times.
Current state analysis. Reflect on your current state and where your needs are being met, and where they aren’t being met.
Imagine the life you what. Envision, or re-envision, your future state, your dreams and possibilities. Define what it looks and feels like.
Identify your automatic negative habits of mind. Uncover your dysfunctional patterns of behaviour, and; your fears and underlying beliefs and assumptions.
Create a strategy and plan. Identify actions and experiences of how you will move from your current state to your desired future state.
We’re all worthy of the amazing journey of finding our purpose, discovering our passions and, living our most fulfilling life. If you, like this woman, would like to start your journey back to finding yourself again and living more authentically, I’d love to help you. Start by completing the SSPS assessment by contacting me.
Now, it’s your turn.
Do you remember your twenty-something dreams? Have you shrunk yourself for “the betterment of others”? Are you currently living to your fullest potential? Share in the comments.
“I allow myself to set healthy boundaries. To say no to what does not align with my values, to say yes to what does. Boundaries assist me to remain healthy, honest and living a life that is true to me.” ~ Lee Horbachewski
In my previous blog post I discussed how healthy boundaries are essential to our overall happiness and well-being. They’re also key to the well-being of those close to us. While we may all agree they’re important, the difficulty is actually establishing and holding others and ourselves accountable to them.
What is a personal boundary?
Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave towards them and how they will respond when someone passes those limits.* Boundaries help us feel comfortable and to develop confidence and positive self-esteem.
Why we need boundaries
We need to set boundaries because the way we treat ourselves sets the standards for others around us. If we don’t put the effort into getting clear about what we really want and don’t want, then we can’t expect others to know how to treat us. And if we don’t define them, then someone else will do it for us. Without awareness or consideration of our boundaries, they can be crossed, forgotten, overlooked, or rejected. This, in turn, can make us feel invalidated, confused, hurt, or all of the above. And if this happens long enough, these moments can alter our reality and affect the relationship we not only have with ourselves but with others as well.
Thankfully, with time, you can develop the boundaries that are considered non-negotiables to create a healthy and happy life. According to Dr. Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist and author of Joy From Fear, you want to set boundaries to create a sense of internal and external security. “Boundaries allow us to be clear on our own needs and preferences, and this helps us maintain clear limits with others,” Manly said. “While some boundaries may be rather flexible in nature, our non-negotiable boundaries are absolutely essential to our sense of being honored and respected.”
Boundaries can be defined for every area of your life. When you have them, you’ll no longer wonder what to say when your friends ask you to go to a place you don’t like, or when your colleagues guilt you into joining another project team that you don’t have the time or energy for. You’ll no longer feel the urge to react to the comments on your life choices or opinions by your well-meaning friend, partner or family member. With clearly defined boundaries you will know what to say without being reactive or impulsive (previous post). How many times have you felt like saying no to a social engagement or a work assignment but instead you heard yourself agreeing because you didn’t know how to get out of it. We are prone to over-committing because we either feel uncomfortable saying no or we’re afraid that we’ll come across as rude or because we don’t want to upset other people. That’s why having healthy boundaries can really help you navigate life situations without feeling this way every single time.
3 Steps for Establishing and Honoring your Boundaries
Step 1: Identify your boundaries
Reflect on the areas in your life where you need to create boundaries the most. Then identify what you want these boundaries to help you with. For example, navigating your work environment better, improving relationships with friends, or feeling more valued at home with your spouse or children. It can be anything really and there are no limits so list as many as you like. You can meditate on this and then write down everything that comes up for you. Once you’ve identified these areas and situations you can move to the next step in the process.
Here are a couple of questions to help you get started:
When and where expressing your needs and desires feels most challenging?
In which situations do you find it difficult to be fully yourself?
When do you hide your voice or opinion the most?
When are you putting your needs last?
What makes you put other peoples needs first?
Step 2: Establish your response
Next, write down a sentence or two for each one of your chosen areas. These sentences will be the basis of your boundaries. Now, come up with a response for each of them.
Here are examples for a few areas in your life:
Your friend: Your friend wants you to go out on a Saturday night but you feel really tired but you don’t want to hurt her feelings and say no, so what do you do? You can say something like, I would like to spend some time with you but I’m not feeling well right now and I don’t want to ruin your evening so I’d rather spend it here and take care of myself. I really hope you understand. Keep your language simple expressing gently but firmly your needs and desires, while showing empathy, understanding, and compassion for your friends needs.
Your spouse: You and your spouse are having a disagreement and the conversation escalates to the point where your spouse becomes condescending and critical of you. This is making you very uncomfortable. Be very strict with your spouse and tell them that, “If you criticize me any further, I’m will not discuss this with you.”
Your work: Your boss asks you to join another team project but you don’t have the time or energy. You are very committed to your job and you don’t want to disappoint your boss by saying no, so what do you do? You can say something like, I really appreciate you thinking about me for this project but I already have a full plate with my current work load and won’t have the time to take on more and do a good job. I really hope you understand. Depending on your circumstances, you may be able to negotiate your current workload and take on the new project.
When you set your boundaries you don’t need to explain too much or get into detail of why you are choosing to do something. You want to show that you’re confident in your decisions and that your needs are valid. So make sure you don’t get into saying too much, backtracking or changing your mind. If you have an instinct to start with “I’m sorry, but…” it’s important to get out of this habit because you don’t need to apologize for feeling the way you feel, or for the choices you make. This is especially common for women as we’ve been socialized to put others needs first.
Step 3: Honour your boundaries
Once you’ve identified your areas, and set your boundaries, you’re ready to go. You need to be very consistent and firm with them. This, by far, is the most difficult step because it requires a lot of courage, pushing past fears and developing your self worth.
State the consequences you will enact to create safety for yourself. Pay attention to people’s reactions. If your boundaries make someone mad, then that person is abusing you. Be aware that the urge to slip back into old habits will be strong at first, so you need to show that you are absolutely serious about your boundaries and you’re willing to honor them no matter what. The tough part is when the people in your life don’t want you to change. They will resist and fight it because they simply aren’t used to the new you and your boundaries. They will test you and trigger you and it will be difficult at first but it will pass. As long as you are honoring your boundaries they will eventually get the message and let it go. Until then, stay firm. People will start respecting your boundaries when you really show them that your new boundaries aren’t going anywhere. Be patient with your self, and the people around you.
It’s important to be aware that you will most likely feel guilty when you exercise your boundaries, and it may take some time to fully release this feeling. This is especially true if you’re used to putting yourself last. This guilt will likely show up in the third step when you are honoring them. The more we remind ourselves that there is nothing wrong or bad about valuing our self-worth and taking care of our overall health and well-being, we will feel less and less guilty. When we define and honor our personal boundaries we show up as authentic and confident, which ultimately improves the lives of all those people around us.
I hope this helps you set your own healthy boundaries, feel more confident, and makes your life easier and more enjoyable.
And if you’re needing a bit of a confidence boost when honoring your boundaries, change your body language by doing a power pose, as described by Amy Cuddy in this Ted Talk video.
“Daring to set boundaries is having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others.” ~ Brene’ Brown
I struggle with boundaries in certain areas of my life. And I’m quite certain that I’m not alone. I believe that a lack of boundaries is at the center of so many of the issues and relationship struggles I discuss with clients, co-workers, friends and family. Both personally and professionally, having healthy boundaries are essential to our happiness and well-being, and can help transform our lives.
Establishing healthy boundaries can be very difficult. It can feel extremely uncomfortable upsetting or disappointing others. Putting their needs before our own and ensuring their happiness seems like, on the surface anyway, the best way to keep the peace. But taking responsibility for everyone’s happiness while ignoring our own needs doesn’t actually make others happy. Nor does it make us happy. In fact, you’ll actually become very unhappy. In her book “The Gifts of Imperfection” Brene’ Brown describes that before she established healthy boundaries she was “sweeter on the outside” but “judgmental, resentful, and angry on the inside”. I can relate. Can you? Because really, can you truly be happy if you’re always trying to please others? I mean, I’m sure you don’t believe that people are responsible for your happiness, so why would you believe that you are responsible for their happiness? At the end of the day, no matter what we do or don’t do, I know we can’t really control the happiness of others.
“When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated. This is why we sometimes attack who they are, which is far more hurtful than addressing a behaviour or a choice.” ~ Brene’ Brown
The way we treat ourselves sets the standard for others around us. If we don’t put the effort into clearly establishing what we want and don’t want, then how can we expect others to know what we want. They can’t read our minds so if we don’t define them, then someone else will. Having healthy boundaries in place will help you realize your self worth, and demonstrate that your needs and feelings are valid and important. You’re worthy of being seen and heard and of putting your needs first. You deserve to have a voice and an opinion. Of course, for some, it may be a bit more difficult to find your inner power and firmly define your boundaries, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t do it. There’s no doubt that it’s hard but anyone can do it with time and practice. At first you’ll feel uncertain and a bit scared, and your boundaries will feel a bit shaky, but the more consistent you are, the easier it will feel. In the beginning you’ll likely feel bad or guilty if others aren’t happy, but you can’t please everyone.
Just like other people can’t read our minds, we can’t read theirs. It’s not our business to try and keep them happy or avoid disappointing them. In fact, in doing this, we also kind of take away their power from them by trying to avoid upsetting or disappointing them. We don’t need to filter ourselves for the sake of others. We’re allowed to feel what we feel and it’s not our place to manage other peoples emotions, even if it comes from a caring place. We may think we know what’s best for everyone but sometimes we need to take a step back and allow other people to decide how to feel for themselves. All we can really do is have our own boundaries in place, honor them, and express what we need and how we feel.
Having healthy boundaries can help change our lives. They can help you express your needs and desires without feeling pushy, rude or guilty, and they help you strengthen your relationship with yourself. When you get clearer about what you want, what you are here for, you’ll no longer feel the need to hide or filter yourself. The more self-aware you are (see previous post), and the better you understand your Striving Styles predominant need, fears and triggers, you be able to identify who you’re meant to be and know that you’re worthy of feeling good and honoring yourself. Your well-being doesn’t have to come last.
Signs you lack healthy boundaries
A lack of strong and clear boundaries can result in feeling worthless, weak, or not good enough. Here are some signs that you are lacking healthy boundaries in your life:
you find it diffcult speaking up when you feel mistreated.
you find it difficult making your own goals a priority.
you do things when you don’t want to. You have a hard time saying no.
you go out of your way to please others and seek their approval.
you overcommit and give away too much of your time, making too many sacrifies at your own expense.
you get guilted into doing things for others.
you agree when you actually disagree.
you feel guilty taking care of yourself, and taking time for yourself.
you feel guilty when someone else feels bad, like you are responsible for other peoples thoughts, feelings, and actions. You feel guilty when others aren’t happy.
you feel taken for granted by others.
you give your time away for free.
you do or give away things that you can’t afford.
you feel like you have failed someone or guilty if you say no to them.
you feel resentful and complain even though you agreed to the request or the expectation.
you are what others want or need you to be, and not what YOU need to be.
you are almost always comply with those in superior positions (boss, parent, etc.)
you have toxic relationships or stay in unsatisfying relationships or situation.
you attract people who try to control or dominate you.
If you identify with any of these then stay tuned for my next blog post where I’ll be discussing strategies and tools you can use to define, develop and honor healthy boundaries in every area of your life. While initially it won’t be easy, having healthy boundaries can really help you navigate life situations without feeling guilty or bad every single time. By leaning on the understanding that ultimately everything you do is for the sake of yours and others well-being and that you are always doing your best, you will soon realize that you’re worthy of taking care of yourself and that there is nothing wrong or bad about it, and eventually you’ll feel less and less guilty.
Healthy boundaries* include:
saying no to things you don’t want to do or don’t have the resources to do.
leaving situations that are harmful to you.
telling others how you want to be treated.
being aware of your own feelings and allowing yourself to feel differently than others.
not trying to change, fix, or rescue others from difficult situations or feelings.
allowing others to make their own decisions.
sharing personal information gradually based on how well you know and trust someone.
recognizing which problems are yours to solve and which problems belong to others.
communicating your thoughts, feelings, and needs.
having personal space and privacy.
pursuing your own goals and interests.
in the following video clip, Brene’ Brown explains, in her typical humorous style, how to let go of the person we think we’re supposed to be and embrace who we are. And when we have the courage to set boundaries, we engage with our worthiness.
Now, it’s your turn.
What you would really want to do if you knew that it wouldn’t disappoint others? Which area(s) of your life are boundaries the most difficult to maintain? Which of the unhealthy sign(s) did you identify with? I recommend journaling or mediating on them. Of course, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.
Photo source: Susan Wheeler (view of Stanley Park from Ambleside Beach, West Vancouver, BC)
“Maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming anything. Maybe it’s about un-becoming everything that isn’t really you, so you can be who you were meant to be in the first place.” ~ Paulo Coelho
Do you know who you are? What your unique gifts are? Each of us are born perfectly unique. We can see this unique beauty in babies and children who are happy and free within their own skin. Then, over time and as we grow up, social and cultural conditioning, the need to fit in, to get along, and to be liked by others, slowly erodes our uniqueness, and in many ways, encourages us to be who we think we should be rather than who we actually are. This experience of being removed from our true self can leave us unsure of ourselves and lacking in confidence, energy and motivation. It can also rob us of the peace that comes from being ourselves and being comfortable in our own skin.
Knowing who you are meant to be starts with knowing what you are born as. Too often people try to figure out what they are meant to do without having any idea about who they really are. This disconnect causes them to look outside of themselves for answers to questions that can only be answered from within. It also causes us to strive to be what others expect of us and to give up on ourselves and instead try to live up to an ideal, to be the person that we think we should be, rather than based on who we authentically are.
We’re are all driven by powerful, instinctual needs that we’ve had since birth – our predominant style or Striving Style (SSPS). These needs are the source of our motivation for our behaviour, social interaction, and influence how we behave and how we feel about ourselves. When our predominant need is met, we are poised for growth and development.
However, when our predominant needs are not being met, we will feel threatened, frightened or anxious, leading to self-protective or survival behaviours. Fear and anxiety override rational thought which will profoundly influence our behaviour, often without our awareness, thus undermining our success and effectiveness.
Have you ever got to the end of the day and felt like somehow your day was hijacked? Or maybe you’ve spent to much time reacting, caught up in some drama or just consumed with a sense of busyness. Do you ever feel uneasy, or have a quiet of rumbling deep inside that something isn’t right. This means you are living out of your self-protective systems. When I have a day (or week) like this I’ll reflect on the predominant needs of my striving style and make a plan on how I need to shift out of my self-protective system. If you’re unaware of your predominant needs you will be at the mercy of your unconscious impulses, emotions and negative habits of mind, leading to reactive, non-productive behaviour, increased emotionality, and an inability to focus on your goals.
The SSPS gets to the heart of the human experience and helps you identify what you need to feel secure and psychologically stable so you can grow and develop. As well, it provides you with insight into the consequences when you don’t get your predominant needs met. The SSPS doesn’t provide a laundry list of strengths and weaknesses but rather, it takes into account the complexity of your brain’s functioning and its impact on your personality.
Coming to understand yourself, recognizing and expressing your uniqueness and who you really are will make you feel more creative, confident, energized and inspired. Your personality, your unique history and story is like no one else’s. Living a life with authenticity, meaning and purpose is ultimately what a happy and fulfilled life looks like.
I love this beautiful (and fitting) song that I have currently playing on repeat. Enjoy!
Now, it’s your turn.
Think about a time recently that you felt really happy and content, like in that moment you had everything you needed. Who was there? What were you doing? How did you feel when you were in this moment of happiness?
How about a time that you felt inspired motivated or purposeful. When you felt you were focused, in the zone. How did it feel to be inspired in this way?
What about a time when you felt moved by something more- a beautiful sunset, a night sky, the ocean an overwhelming experience of love or compassion.
” I can’t think of any better representation of beauty than someone who is unafraid to be herself” – Emma Stone
Inspired by a recent group of my workshop participants, as well as my upcoming trip to Paris, France with my teenage daughter, promoted me to read and reflect on the phrase “je ne sais quoi”, a phrase often used to describe French or Parisian women. I read recently that we spend the first half of our life trying to fit in, while the second half we spend trying to stand out. Inspiring, nurturing, and encouraging our children to have the confidence and independence to fully embrace their unique whole selves and live fully, especially during this first half of their lives, is my deepest desire for them. I think the best way to do this is to do our best and model it for them. I couldn’t agree more with the following quote:
“Taking care of yourself is part of taking care of your kids” – Lenny Lemons
Here’s what I found that best describes someone who embodies “je ne sais quoi”:
Nurtures her internal well-being as much as her external beauty. Life isn’t about impressing others but enjoying herself.
Accentuates her strengths, focusing on her unique characteristics, both physically and personality. Owning what she has, not fixing or changing herself. She shows up as the best version of herself.
Keeps her beauty natural and authentic to her unique physical characteristics.
She finds pleasure in healthy, quality food, indulging in moderation.
She uses her clothing and physical appearance as a tool to establish and represent her state of being.
Brings passion to everything she does, from the mundane to the big things.
Stops trying so hard to impress others. It’s about being you!
She is self-possessed, and builds her life around knowing what she loves, what turns her on, what’s she’s passionate about. She builds her life on inner joy and personal radiance. Finds answers within and shares that passion with the world.
She simplifies her life so she has more space to strive for passionate pursuits and stress-free living.
She savours the moment by slowing down.
While she visualizes and plans her life, and where she’s going, she can let go of control and enjoy her journey. She focuses on how to presently show up in the moment.
She does not take life too seriously, approaching her life with a playfulness and friskiness that delights everyone she encounters.
She continuously learns and grows.
She exudes confidence, intelligence, sophistication, and style that comes from the clarity of knowing who she is!
Understanding ourselves, our strengths, weaknesses, fears and underlying beliefs that get in our way to becoming our best self is fundamental in discovering our je ne sais quoi. The “This is You” workshop and Striving Styles Personality System helps us to further dive into an understanding of our personality, helps us to recognize our innate strengths, offers insight and understanding of ourselves and and how our unique brain works. These are the skills needed to uncover and nurture our authentic self. Contact me if you would like to discover your je ne sais quoi!