"If you are an adult, you are responsible for your life and well-being. No one owes you the fulfillment of your needs or wants… If you respect the principle of self-ownership, you understand that no one else owns you and that you do not own anyone else. Only on this understanding can there be peace on earth and good will among human beings."
My setting of boundaries is one of the greatest gifts that I can offer to my 4-year-old Nicholas.
They give him a sense of safety.
At times he is “in danger” of experiencing a mounting sense of emotional overwhelm, whether due to feeling restless, tired, or experiencing difficulties with calming himself, I notice how my setting of boundaries helps to settle him. They could be something as simple as my insisting that he picks up a toy that he threw in frustration.
He learns to internalize these and similar limits/boundaries and self-regulate. This can appear surprising as it may intuitively seem that those times Nicholas feels tired are the “worst” to enforce boundaries. Nevertheless… without them, his distress is more likely to escalate and further negative emotional states unravel, such as an experience of feeling overwhelmed.
Whereas, ultimately, adults have the responsibility to protect and enforce the boundaries of the children under their care (due to children’s their limited cognitive abilities like abstract thinking and foreseeing consequences); as children mature we allow them continually more responsibility and influence, until they are capable of fully embracing their freedom and responsibility as adults.
1. Awareness of our boundaries frequently facilitates an experience of safety and
confidence in others
There is nothing so nourishing to our self-esteem and our sense of inner value and worth, as our ability to make self-directed choices that we ourselves approve of, that echo the voice of our intuition and our inner wisdom.
It is within our boundaries that such echoes of our intuition, inner wisdom, values, and the consideration of our inner experience, are encircled.
It is our awareness of our boundaries that points us towards choosing optimal ways of coping that enrich our confidence, ones that embrace self-care as well as the consideration of others.
2. Boundaries nourish our relationships and protect our freedom
Within Christian philosophy, respect towards personal freedom (i.e. one's decision making) is considered to be one of our defining attributes, a part of our great sense of dignity that comes with being a creation of God, and created in His image.
For example, consider 2 Corinthians 3:17 (NIV):
"17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom."
People who take responsibility for their choices and behavior, and allow others to do the same, experience the ultimate celebration of their human freedom and self-esteem.
They can internalize and savor the rewards of their choices, enjoying the full potency of their power around embracing full responsibility for any successes and failures (or lessons) these entail. They feel a sense control over their life.
"If you face life without confidence in your own powers, you succumb too easily to setbacks and adversity; you lack the will to persevere."
3. How to respond to others in a way that helps them to contain themselves within their
How can we, then, support others to nourish their self-esteem by embracing control over their choices, as opposed to projecting their expectations onto other people?
Generally speaking, our society can be violent towards the boundaries of individuals, attempting to seduce us into finding approval/self-worth and a sense of well-being through consuming goods and services that are outside of ourselves. We are generally more encouraged to satisfy our comfort and obtain a quick emotional lift/fulfillment through consuming and looking towards something outside of ourselves, than we are encouraged to look inwards and ground ourselves in our internal point of reference, inner clarity, and meaningful passions.
For many people, looking to outside of themselves for fulfillment feels ‘automatic,’ including looking towards other people to meet their needs or fulfill their expectations.
However, disconnecting ourselves from our point of reference, through looking to outside of ourselves for fulfillment, is likely to lead to a decrease in self-esteem, an experience of a lessening of control and chipping away of independence.
Persons who look to others for fulfillment are more likely to also experience a heightened sense of anxiety, due to associating their well-being with factors outside of their control; and frustration around blaming others if they fail to meet their expectations.
In terms of nurturing someone’s independence, generally speaking, it may be more helpful to consider how to support them through exploring their own choice options, as opposed to accommodating to their outward search for fulfillment/instant fixes, and rushing to offer advice.
Offering support in encouraging someone’s steps towards independence sends a clear message that we believe that they themselves are responsible for their well-being, and are the experts in knowing themselves.
All of us could benefit from tapping into a space where we are able to offer to ourselves the gift of empathy by being available to, within a loving presence, to listen to and understand our inner experience.
Perhaps we can use it to soak up the wonder of the world around us, pray, offer thanks, or clarify our goals and intentions for the day and the future.
We are then more likely to feel centered and less likely to look to outside of ourselves for approval, or fulfillment.
In addition, modelling our own self care, the awareness of our boundaries (e.g. through not being afraid to let someone know whenever their expectations are not a good "fit" for us), and mutual consideration, fosters an experience of safety and relationship satisfaction (reducing our experience of resentment)…
In many cases, feeling tempted to do something for someone who is capable of doing it themselves, can rob them of experiencing the rewards of their choices, being responsible for their success, and celebrating their power and responsibility.
I finish with these like-minded motivational quotes:
"Persons of high self-esteem are not driven to make themselves superior to others; they do not seek to prove their value by measuring themselves against a comparative standard. Their joy is being who they are, not in being better than someone else."
"Within you is a void that should have been filled by self-esteem. When you attempt to fill it with the approval of others instead, the void grows deeper and the hunger for acceptance and approval grows stronger. The only solution is to summon the courage to honor your own judgment."
"To lead people, walk beside them... As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence… When the best leader's work is done the people say, We did it ourselves!"
"Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend."
"Most of us are taught from an early age to pay far more attention to signals coming from other people than from within. We are encouraged to ignore our own needs and wants and to concentrate on living up to others expectations."