Want to be safe? Articulate your Personal Boundaries

This article is not about kidnapping or car-jacking or burglars, although these are relevant topics in our world today.

This post  is about emotional and intellectual safety. In other words,  personal boundaries – the invisible lines you set around yourself that people are not allowed to cross. These lines  define us as individuals and are important for healthy relationships. Many people are not consciously aware of their boundaries and sometimes need coaching to help them identify them. When boundaries are strong,  events, situations, your environment, time, and other people’s desires lose their impact and their power over you.

In the words of Kathy Wilson, boundaries are “part of living your life from the inside out, and this begins with what’s most important to you – your life values”. When you honour your life values by enforcing your boundaries, you are centred, balanced, and in the place of power – the place where you choose what you want to do, think, and feel.

It is important to let others know what your boundaries are, and when they have violated them. Parents are generally mindful of the importance of setting boundaries for their children, but many adults fail to exercise the same care with their peers.

Boundaries should be robust, but not necessarily permanent.  If, for example, you have a boundary around being called about work when you are at home, you may accept such calls if you had to stay home suddenly and had no time to complete a hand over.

Here are some  observations about boundaries:

1. Money – you fail to indicate to relatives and friends what your values and principles about making and using money are.  You feel constrained to give or lend them money, then you are upset about the way they use it.

2. Lateness – someone turns up late for pre-arranged appointments.  You are seething inside, and other plans get messed, but you say nothing because you do not want to appear rude.

3.Personal space – a colleague at work stands too close, and touches you inappropriately (even if not sexually) , you say nothing because you do not want to cause a scene.

4. Friendship – a ‘friend’ calls only  when she wants something from you.  You complain about this to other people and say nothing to her.  In fact, you continue to take her calls and give her whatever she asks for despite your resentment.

5. Disrespect – a family member shouts at you whenever something isn’t going right. It leaves you feeling resentful and disrespected.

Hair salon – your hairdresser starts a long procedure on someone a few minutes before your appointment. You wait and do not complain, but feel angry.

How Strong Are Your Personal Boundaries?

Take this quick quiz from An Inner Journey: Living your life Purpose by Kathy Wilson, to discern if your personal boundaries need to be stronger.  In front of the number for each question, write “Y” for yes and “N” for no.Do other people such as your spouse, co-workers, friends, and family, always seem to be telling you how to live your life?

-Do people often tell you how easy you are to get along with?
-Do you suffer from stress related diseases such as high blood pressure, ulcers, or eating disorders?
-Are you often made to feel small by other people?
-Does everybody like you?
-Do you often find yourself telling other people what they need to do to fix a situation in their lives?
-Do people sometimes seem to be put off by questions you ask them?
-Do you often feel that other people take advantage of your kind and generous nature?
-Are you the one at work who always gets the least desirable assignments?
-Do you often feel angry after an encounter with another person and aren’t exactly sure why?
Now give yourself 1 point for every YES answer and add them up.

1-3 points: Fairly strong boundaries, although they could use further strengthening.

4-6 points: Your boundaries are a little flabby and need work to get them muscled up.

7-10 points: Your boundaries are easy ‘kama-mboga!’ Start now to strengthen them!

Healthy vs. Unhealthy personal boundaries

In medieval days people built moats around castles to make it harder for the enemy to invade.  Today people install electric fences.  A friend once remarked that the grill door that keep invaders out will also keep the good neighbour out when you have a fall and need someone  help.

This is also true of personal boundaries.    Tighter boundaries may make you feel safer, but they can also isolate you.  And so in life coaching we speak of healthy and unhealthy boundaries.

Here are some Characteristics of Healthy Boundaries

  • You say “yes “ or “no” without fear or guilt/acknowledges “free choice” in decision-making.
  • You accepts “no” from others.
  • You share personal information gradually in a mutually trusting relationship.
  • You expect reciprocity in relationships and share personal responsibility.
  • You identify  when the problem is “yours” and when it is not.
  • You do not rescue others from taking responsibility.
  • You do not tolerate abuse or disrespect.

Unhealthy Boundaries

  • Gives a “no” response if the request involves close interaction.
  • Avoids intimacy at all costs and may even sabotage a relationship to do so.
  • Does not share any personal information in a relationship.
  • Has difficulty identifying wants, needs, or feelings.
  • Has few or no close relationships.

Having the right level of personal boundaries is a key step to harnessing your energy positively.

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 Lift Your Authentic Voice

When your authentic self is in play, you decide what matters to you, and then set standards for yourself to live up to in those areas.  We all sometimes  try to live up to the opinions and expectations of others, and because it does not come from our place of power, it remains a struggle and we are then often seen as not good enough in the eyes of others.

When it truly matters to you the struggle is lost. It is the way you are, and therefore requires little effort.

So, how do you know you are not playing to your authentic self? Here are some pointers:

  • You put on your ‘best face’ and hide any feelings of unease, or disagreement.
  • You make vague hints about what you really want without saying it clearly.
  • You are “tactful” and “polite”, but go away feeling bad because the problem has not been resolved, and not good because you were so nice.
  • You begin to make long-winded statements in generalized and abstract terms – ‘you know, some people in this family think that only others have money’.
  • You talk about past circumstances or stories that somehow relate to what is happening – instead of actually talking about what is happening.
  • You “give-in” or “play nice”, often agreeing to something that you truly would not prefer – for the sake of ‘ keeping the peace.’ And then you hate yourself for it.
  • You dispense the silent treatment.
  • You hide your true motives because you believe it gives you an upper hand in eventually getting your way.

In other words you avoid, you hold back, you give in.

  • You make up your mind about what you want before any discussion and are determined to have it.  So it doesn’t matter what the other person says or does.
  • You express strong emotions, such as anger when people disagree with you.
  • You make demands and ultimatums – if you don’t do this then forget that!
  • You make short, generalized, absolute value judgments, like ‘short men have issues”.
  • You try to beat down disagreement, crush the competition, and win the discussion at any cost.
  • You resort to insult, tantrum, or shouting when the going gets tough – like a child.
  • You are used to either getting your way, or alienating other people – with little or no middle ground.

In other words you get pushy.

Whether you are bullying or avoiding, it is very likely that you are driven by fear, self-victimization, and a compulsion to try to control and manipulate others.

What’s the cost? Loss of connection and trust, bitterness and resentment, loneliness and isolation.

Is this who you are?

To communicate authentically you need focus on mutual understanding. This suggests understanding self, and trying to understand the other.  When you are having an authentic conversation you move back and forth from revealing yourself to listening. “My friend, you promised to pay that money last month, and you haven’t.  What is the problem?”

Authentic communication focuses on honest self-expression – you know yourself and are confident in who you are.  You are not afraid to express your feelings, you do not expect others to share your feelings, but you expect them to allow you to have them.  And you do the same for them.

And authentic communication is the most powerful manifestation of playing to your authentic self.

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Creating The Dots

 Creating The Dots.

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Creating The Dots

Creating the Dots

Remember joining dots to complete the picture when you were a pre-schooler? Some pictures were super-easy to discern even before you joined the dots, while others required a little more thinking. As you got older the exercise was made a little more complex so that even finding the next number sequentially wasn’t so easy. Whichever way, all the dots needed to make the complete picture were on the page.

Life’s not like that. We are constantly making dots, and the picture can only be completed when we are gone. But the more purposeful your life, the easier it is to determine what picture the dots will create.

Our parents and care givers play a big role in placing the first dots, and in some cases that foundation makes it easy to pick up the responsibility when you are old enough to continue making your own dots. For some, it is seemingly easy to guess what the full picture might look like from an early age, – like the child whose parents say ‘ she loves taking gadgets apart, I think she will be an engineer of some sort’ and they are right. For others, it isn’t easy for themselves, let alone others, to figure out what the picture could be.

How do we create dots?

Every time we make a choice we leave a dot. And we are making choices all the time, even if we don’t realise it. The more conscious we are of the choices we are making, the more likely it is that our lives are purposeful.

One thing that illustrates this is the Curriculum Vitae (CV) or resume. Everyone has personal details to fill up that part, but when it comes to educational background and work experience, for example, you cannot create the content at the time you are writing the CV….if you haven’t done it, it is not part of your CV.

You may talk about your plans, or your vision, but that is only part of the story that people use, rightly or wrongly, to judge your suitability for a position. There is greater dependency on existing dots to help people make a judgement about what the future could look like. And recruiters need to see that the potential picture fits it with their desired future, in order to include you in that future. So, if your content, or whatever you have created, to date does not fit in, you lose out. Maybe not fair, but that’s how it is.

Can you imagine going into an interview with a blank sheet of paper for a CV?

When I tell teenagers this, they sit up and listen, because they see that they can still make choices in high school that will influence their dots.

When I tell  young graduates this, they smile and get writing, or they chew their pencils in despair, depending on how they spent 3 or 4 years on campus. They see that they can still make a difference.

And there are many experienced adults who are restless, because their dots don’t make sense, and some of them think its too late.

The good news is, as long as you have life, you can still influence the final picture by making and placing your dots purposefully.

It all begins with having a vision. What do you expect or want tomorrow to look like? What do you need to do today to make it so? Then get working.

It’s really that simple.

However, some people don’t know what they want. And some people won’t invest whatever it takes to make that desired tomorrow.

But you don’t create the dots at the end. You do it as you go along, and only join them later.

Make this the year you take that one step towards the life you really want.

Here’s to 2015.

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Take Time out to be your Best Self

The starting point for being your best self is knowing and acknowledging your own reality, and then forging your own meaning out of your experiences. Meaning is something you create for yourself. Whenever you experience something, you interpret it for yourself, and the meaning you assign to it is influenced by many things, among them your upbringing, your culture and beliefs, your schooling etc. You can choose the extent to which any of these aspects influences the meaning you create.

We all make choices all the time, whether we are conscious of it or not. And the more you make conscious choices the more of your best self you bring to bear. That means nothing really has to be ‘a certain way’ if it does not really connect with you, no matter who told you or who does what or what the trend is.

This idea that it is up to you and that you have the choice is at the heart of my belief that you cannot be your best self if you are not living authentically. And that is why taking time out to be in touch with yourself matters.

Taking time out will aid you  in reviewing beliefs that hold you back and re-assess unhealthy boundaries while helping you to relieve stress,.  Time out helps you come to terms with the idea the ‘you cannot do it all’, nor an you be-it-all. Well spent, this time can lead you to choose who and what you would like to be. This choice leads to  purposeful living.

Purposeful living is balanced because it is premised on a heightened self-awareness, and propelled by appropriate skills.  When you live purposefully you are more likely to have healthy boundaries, which allow you to acknowledge your needs and those of others.  It is maintained through continual learning, because your best self is not static.  Purposeful living is also authentic living because you cannot live another person’s purpose.

Why not take some time out this week to get in touch with your best self?

Here are some ideas:

  1. Go on a nature walk.
  2. Spend time at a beach
  3. Practise yoga, meditation or other gentle exercise
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Take a walk on the other side

I drive past a certain building several times a week, but it wasn’t until i walked past, on a different side of the building, that I noticed a new restaurant.

When we are stuck it is difficult to get moving because we are rooted to our habits, and we respond to and see things the way we always have. If we can break this cycle and take a walk on the other side we will see things differently, or see different things, and this often provides the momentum to get moving again.

How can you take a walk on the other side?

You could ask yourself “if I was in the opposite camp, how would I defend my position?” or, if I wanted the opposite of what I want now, what would it be?”

Asking such questions can help you test your ‘rootedness’ to a position, and help you clarify your stand. This is because being stuck is often a consequence of seeing only one solution, and, being unable or unwilling to implement the solutions you see.

Movement or growth, on the other hand, requires flexibility and a willingness to put several parts together in, often, new ways.

When you are feeling stuck, try taking a walk on the other side.


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You cannot get to a new shore if you don’t depart the old

We are coming to the close of 2014 and the end of year presents a natural transition, a good time to pause and reflect on the year gone by as you look forward to the next.

You probably already have a way to do this, but if you need some inspiration here’s my list of favourite end year lists that you could try.

  1. Gratitude list. Here have all the things you are grateful for, and it doesn’t have to be ‘big’ things
  2. Appreciation list – I reserve this for all the people who in one way or another have loved me, kept me going, told me some hard truths, helped me see things differently, made me laugh or laughed with me, walked with me and held my hand, inspired me from near or far.
  3. Accomplishment list – you have achieved something this year. Make a list of all the things you got done, especially those that you doubted you could, and those that marked a turning point for you, or for someone else.
  4. Letting go list – for things that take up precious positive energy and give nothing in return, for commitments that no longer old meaning for you, pains that continue to hurt because you keep them alive,
  5. Wish list – yes, for things that you would like to accomplish next year, for your dreams and your plans.

You could also do the wheel of life exercise, one of my favourite reflections.

However you choose to make the transition, my you cherish and appreciate your accomplishments, as you learn from the challenges and roadblocks you have faced.  May you release what needs releasing, and embrace what makes you stronger. May you look forward with eagerness, and backwards with gratitude and appreciation.

The Poet T. S Eliot said “last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.”

Here’s to a New Year, a new voice and another chance.

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Today is Not Tomorrow

Your dream is your future, but to dream only is not enough. Do something, act.

Whatever your situation is today, tomorrow is another day. You could be better off, worse off, or in the same place.

You can go to bed hungry today and dream that you are full. That doesn’t mean you will wake up with a full stomach. But you could wake up with a plan to ensure you don’t go to bed hungry again. You could do something about your hunger.

What you can do today is make a choice for tomorrow, but if you don’t act on it, all your dreaming is for nought. That’s why it’s critical to do something for your vision. Give it your heart, your mind and your muscles.

How much heart, mind and muscle are you putting into your vision? How much room are you creating in your life for your dreams?

Is the stuff you are doing for your vision one of your priorities, if not your only priority? When faced with a choice between doing stuff that moves you closer to your vision and other stuff, are you clearly choosing the former? When you suffer setbacks are you finding another way?  Are you doing the stuff because you ‘should’ or because you truly believe in it, love it, feel great about it? Can you see and feel the progress you are making, even if it is small?

When all is said and done no one can live your dream for you. And certainly no one is responsible for your dream, except yourself. Does knowing this paralyse or catalyse your actions?

If you are feeling stuck because of your situation today, remember, today is not tomorrow.



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Appetite for Change


If your appetite for change is not big enough you will not do things differently. And that’s not to say you cannot take small bites to fed a big appetite.

To prepare an old wall for a new coat of paint you need to scrape off any peeling paint, then fill in any cracks or holes. After that you sand paper it for a smooth surface, and the you begin to paint. If you are applying a dark paint over a light one you may not need to re-apply under coat. If you are doing the opposite, you will need to apply undercoat so that the old colour doesn’t affect the new look. To finish off well nod ensure a durable outcome you need to apply two or three coats. The interesting thing here for me is that the painting, which I consider to be the fun part, only begins after the scraping, filling and sand papering.

Scraping and sand papering are the ‘painful’ parts of change. This is where you get rid of old skin, old habits, mind sets that are not aligned with what you are looking to be, too much of the wrong thing, etc etc. And before that happens you will have noticed the swelling and peeling of the old paint. You will have seen that it looks ugly. You will have decided that you want to see a different look. And thence begin the actions to repaint the wall.

So it is with any change you want in your life. First you notice that all is not well. You are not getting the results you want. You are not feeling the satisfaction you seek. You are not using the talents you have.

Then you decide, or choose, to have it happen differently.

This step is critical, because without it no real change will begin.

Scraping is painful because it removes the top layer to expose the ‘rot’ underneath. But there is a step before this: what’s causing the paint to peel off? All your efforts to scrape, fill and paint will come to nought if you do not address the cause of the peeling paint in the first place. If leakage from an old water pipe is causing the paint to peel off you must fix the leakage first. Understanding the root cause of the peeling means understanding what is driving the behaviour, actions and thoughts that you need to change.

As the top layer of paint comes off the wall underneath is exposed. You are vulnerable. It’s is akin to receiving feedback that’s hard to swallow. It is at this stage that you begin to listen to what others have to say, some of it ugly and hurtful, but you go past the usual defensiveness and really listen. and because you are listening, you begin to see yourself differently. You will not necessarily agree with everything you hear, but you notice that there certain truths in the observations of others. You agree that you too, know some of those unpalatable truths. Rather than put up a defence against them you determine to change those truths, because you want to be different. Better.

The peeling paint may appear obvious to onlookers, but there are many ways to ‘not see it’. You could hand a curtain or a painting over the part; you could avoid the room; you can also train yourself not to see it.
It’s not difficult to avoid seeing the need to make changes.
But you must see it to deal with it. And then you take a scarper and scrape it off. You cannot blow it away.
This scraping allows you to expose any further damage to the wall. Like cracks and uneven sections.

And so you begin to fill the cracks. You do this by completing certain tasks, learning new things, having conversations you have been putting off. You work on relationships you have been neglecting. This is the stage for building yourself up for the future.
And then you go to sanding off any excesses. And this can also be painful, but hey, you survived the scraping!

A clean level wall appears after these painful stages and you are ready to adorn it with whatever colour and texture you choose. This is the fun part of any painting project. So have fun as you prepare a new you to show off to the world.

And there is no reason why this new coat of paint shouldn’t last years and years, with minimal maintenance.

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