I've always struggled to set boundaries. I've been a mother since I was 16 years old, I've been living independently since I was 13 and I spent much of my childhood shouldering responsibility for the feelings and behaviour of adults.
The sum total of these experiences is a tendency to take on things that aren't mine, which is a fast track to feeling burnt out and resentful.
Choose guilt over resentment
Of all the reading, thinking and experimenting I've done around boundaries, the most impactful I've encountered is in Gabor Maté's book When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress.
When I read the following excerpt, I stopped cold. I paused. I underlined. I wrote it down, and text it to three close friends. Then I read it again.
"A therapist once said to me, “If you face the choice between feeling guilt and resentment, choose the guilt every time.” It is wisdom I have passed on to many others since. If a refusal saddles you with guilt, while consent leaves resentment in its wake, opt for the guilt. Resentment is soul suicide."
Choose boundaries for compassion
In her social science research, Brene Brown discovered that the strongest commonality between people in various caring professions is the quality of their boundaries.
“Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.” ―Brené Brown
I love the idea that we can banish resentment and curate compassion by setting clear boundaries. If you too have struggled with taking on more responsibility than you should, this might be a useful reframe.
Making intentional choices about what is your responsibility, and what isn't, means being OK with upsetting people. Their feelings and how they choose to handle them are their responsibility, not yours.
Things that are your responsibility: Living in alignment with your values and integrity, how you spend your time, energy and effort, what thoughts, relationships and activities you allow into your life, how you manage your emotions, what you believe in, the contribution you make to the world, the way you communicate and treat others.
Things that are not your responsibility: how anyone else feels, about any of the above, or anything else for that matter.
Til next week,
PS - We tackle our boundaries and set new ones as an assignment in Week 2 of Not An MBA. Enrolments are currently open for the June intake, which starts on Tuesday 28 June 2022. We're currently offering all interested students the opportunity to check out the full curriculum for 24 hours for just $1 before they sign up. If this sounds like you, grab the offer here.