Boundaries and Judgment as a Harbinger of Growth - a reminder for the holidays

It is a challenge to maintain our centers during the holidays when our physical (and emotional) boundaries are being tested by all of our loved ones, friends, and coworkers. All the togetherness can also bring scenes of judgement and criticism that can feel especially challenging when we’re burning it at both ends and stressed or depleted. While this all sounds like total gloom and doom, we can also reframe these as positives - harbingers of deep personal growth and grounding.

Photo by Yann Allegre on Unsplash

Boundaries and Judgment as a Harbinger of Growth - a reminder for the holidays

By Ingrid Cordano

December is a busy time of year for most people but it seems even more intense in my house. We have several birthdays, some Scandinavian holidays, and a whole lot of traditions that we uphold. All this to say, some years it’s really, really hard to do it all and be it all. This was especially true when my kids were younger and I was holding up an impossible mirror - reflecting all of the ‘shoulds’ that I was trying uphold. I.e. this is what it means to be a good mother, partner, daughter, community member. You know the toxic sludge that we call cultural expectations mixed with codependence….

And for so many years, I drowned in that sludge. I would hear other people’s judgement (imagined or real) ringing in my ears and I simply let myself bleed into all of these roles that were not serving me. I felt resentful and yet compelled to continue - it was a really confusing mix. And not once had I considered boundaries as a realistic tool. I didn’t even understand the concept until far into my parenting journey.

It can be really scary to commit to setting boundaries, both because we’re afraid of the judgement or hurting people near to us, but, I believe, even more because we are scared or tired to look inside, to actually dig through the deep recesses of our souls. However, in times of stress and intensity (hello holidays) turning to boundaries and dealing head-on with the emotions that are triggered when you’re judged, can be an enormous relief AND a monumental growth moment.

Boundaries 101

Perhaps the best way to start talking about boundaries is by recognizing that we all have them, even if we’re not always conscious of them. Like while I’m standing in line at the grocery store and the person behind me brings their cart right up to my back. I haven’t clearly stated a boundary but my body sure knows that one’s been crossed. I tense up. I feel agitated and even a bit overwhelmed. Those feelings are a key part of learning to identify boundaries, especially for those of us that don’t have much practice. If you feel disorganized, irritable, or like you’re being taken advantage of in a situation, it’s likely that there’s some kind of boundary issue at play.

Sometimes the first step in identifying your boundaries is by sensing when a boundary has slipped or been broken

image by via giphy

What’s most striking, and perhaps also most liberating, is this notion that boundaries are neither kind nor unkind. They are neutral statements of what you will and won’t tolerate. I.e. I will not let someone hit me. I do not respond to text messages after 8:30 pm. I need thirty minutes every day to meditate in a quiet, private space. You get the idea.

Now while that all makes perfect sense, we often get tangled up in this notion of neutrality. But what if my boundary makes someone else feel badly about themselves? When I enforce my boundary I am, after all, telling them that they’re in the wrong and they will likely get upset. Did your brain just do a little anxiety zap like mine? That feels uncomfortable, for sure. But just because someone is unhappy about your boundary, it does not mean that your boundary is the problem. When we get pushback about our boundaries it can be tempting to just back off. “Oh, that thing? Yeah, it’s not that important.” However, when the discomfort of not having a boundary outweighs the discomfort of enforcing one or changing, it’s time to hold our ground. Which brings us to the next topic…

Judgment - the scary mirror

Sometimes when we communicate our boundaries, it can be met with hostility or judgement. This can feel really hard because it often triggers us deeply. What’s that about? A little tip I’ve picked up in therapy along the way is this idea that ‘the things that bother me in others are the things that bother me the MOST about myself’. Essentially, if you feel judged about upholding your boundary, it’s most likely because you are already judging yourself about that boundary.

The path forward? Dig into that, get curious. Why am I feeling so triggered? What am I holding onto? Use it as a learning opportunity and don’t forget to fold in the self compassion as you learn. Remember, you can either be broken or broken open when it comes to judgement. The latter is infinitely more life-affirmative.

Once you have come to grips with why that other person’s judgement triggered you, it’s time for a conversation. You can acknowledge their feelings but also remain firm that your mood and feelings are your own. Perhaps you were unkind in your delivery? That can be amended. But the actual boundary and your choice to have it is your own.

Tread lightly, go easy

So maybe you’re reading all of this and thinking — I’m just too tired and frazzled to do any of this right now. We hear you. If that’s where you’re at, the most important thing you can do is to give yourself a break. Maybe it’s not the best season of your life to go on a spiritual deep dive. But at a minimum you can start practicing how you communicate a few of your needs to your family. It can be small stuff. “I need you to be home ten minutes before I need to leave so we can go over the dinner plan.” It can be big stuff. “I need to find an office space outside the home so I can work uninterrupted.” But the key is to practice clear communication. As Brene Brown says, CLEAR IS KIND.

So, if you find yourself irritable and complaining a lot this season, maybe take a look at your boundaries. Or at least file that project (and this post) away for the new year.

Resources about boundaries

Boundaries 101 - a YouTube video made by Trisha that discusses identifying and setting boundaries

How do I know if my boundaries have slipped? - a YouTube video from Trisha discussing how to tell if a boundary is broken

How to connect in the face of judgement - a YouTube video from Trisha about that scary mirror - judgement