For all our lives we’ve been taught that as women (in our society) have no boundaries– especially in the past couple of decades. We can do anything we want as long as we work for it and earn it. True in many ways. If we stay focus and have the right mindset we can achieve great things! We may stumble and trip up a bit along the way but that’s okay. It’s how we all pick ourselves up and move on, right? Let’s face it, life is exhausting as we try to take all those steps to rush forward. What some of are realizing now is also the importance of setting boundaries.
There have been many times where, like many others, we’ve have felt burnt-out. That feeling of overwhelming weight on shoulders happens to everyone at some point and it doesn’t matter what you do, who you are, where you came from, or how old (or young) you are. It also just doesn’t happen at work but also in our private home lives.
It was Melissa Urban‘s latest The Book of Boundaries that truly caught our attention and had us pause to think.
Melissa is a six-time New York Times bestselling author and co-founder of the Whole30. Using her years of experience of helping people navigate pushback, peer pressure and habit-formation, she’s now sharing and defining what boundaries are, why they’re important and how they can protect your time, energy, and health.
This straightforward and compassionate guide to setting boundaries aims to give readers the tools needed to stop justifying, minimizing, and apologizing, leading to more rewarding relationships and improved productivity.
We had a chance to chat with Melissa to learn more…
First off, can you define what boundaries mean to you?
Melissa: Boundaries are a limit we set around how we allow other people to engage with us. If there is a person, behaviour, conversation topic, or situation that doesn’t feel safe, healthy, or good to us, we can protect ourselves from these things by setting a boundary. But boundaries aren’t about telling other people what to do—they’re about telling others what we will do to keep ourselves safe and healthy, and they really do make your relationships better. If we find ourselves in a conversation that we find offensive or harmful, a boundary can’t make the other person stop talking—but it can prompt you to remove yourself from the situation with a polite, “I’d rather not talk politics—I’ll be in the other room,” saving you from frustration, anger, or an argument.
I see boundaries as a gift. When you set a boundary, you’re saying to others, “I want you in my life, and I want our relationship to feel good and work well for both of us—and I’m going to take responsibility for my own feelings and needs.” Healthy boundaries make your relationships feel safe, trusting, and respectful, and bring an immense sense of freedom into your interactions.
We all have responsibilities—to our families, jobs, friends, households, volunteer work—but we also have a responsibility to care for ourselves, and all too often, we come dead last on our “to-do” list (if we show up there at all). My motto as an entrepreneur has always been “pay yourself first,” and that concept applies to boundaries too. People will take as much as you’re willing to give—that’s just human nature. So if you’re not checking in with your own feelings and needs and protecting your time, energy, mental health, and workload, who else will? Sure, you can continue to say yes when you don’t have capacity, but that means you’re showing up resentfully, begrudgingly, or angrily, and that’s not a kind way to behave with people you care about. Boundaries are how we say, “I will make sure my needs are met so that I can be there for you in a way that is genuinely helpful and kind.”
It all seems so overwhelming. What should be our first three steps to setting personal boundaries?
Melissa: Step one is to identify where a boundary is needed. Look for signs of dread or anxiety around a specific person, situation, conversation topic, or time of day—that’s your first red flag that a boundary would be helpful. Step two is to ask yourself, what is the specific limit I need to bring more freedom into the relationship, or to restore my energy, time, or mental health? Often your limits will focus on protecting yourself from their behaviour, the conversations they bring up, the way they show up in your space, or the demands they make of your time and energy. Step three is to set the boundary using clear, kind language. You can’t eye roll, use body language, or make a passive-aggressive comment to set a boundary—you have to speak it out loud, such that the person on the other end knows exactly where your limit is, and how they can respect it.
It may be hard for many of us to know if we’re heading in the right direction, what are some little wins that we can look out for or feel to know we are on the right track?
Melissa: The immediate win is a sense of relief. Imagine finally telling your mother-in-law, “Please call before you come over, and give us an hour’s notice.” When your mother-in-law says, “Oh, okay, sure,” you will feel like the weight of the world is off your shoulders, and notice that a huge sense of freedom has entered into your relationship. Another win is feeling as though you’ve reclaimed some time, energy, mental health, or self-confidence with your boundary. When you say, “No thanks, I’m not drinking right now,” you’ll feel that sense of confidence and trust in yourself, and know that the benefits of holding that boundary will spill over into your whole life—your energy, sleep, self-talk, and health.
We too need to recognize, respect other people’s personal boundaries — and not feel offended but that’s hard sometimes. What advice would you have for us here?
Melissa: The best way to become better at recognizing someone else’s boundary and gracefully respecting it is by setting and holding our own boundaries. The more you remind yourself that boundaries aren’t selfish, they make the relationship better; the more you realize that clear, kind communication is a gift in relationships; and the more you see how boundaries bring a real sense of safety and trust into a relationship; the more you’ll be able to reframe someone else’s boundary as such and react without taking it personally or getting defensive.
Why did you decide to write this book?
Melissa: In helping my community set and hold boundaries through Instagram, in my podcast, and via my newsletter, I’ve heard incredible stories of radical transformation, all as the result of sharing a few clear, kind sentences expressing a limit. People have left toxic jobs (and scored new amazing ones), repaired relationships with family and friends, preserved connections they thought they’d have to let go, and even moved across the country to build a life they had only dreamed of before they began their boundary practice. I’ve seen the power in this practice, but boundaries aren’t a skill taught in school or coached in the workplace. I wanted to write a book infusing my own experience with the work I’ve been doing with my community, to help others discover the power of boundaries and start changing their own lives.
Do you have a daily reminder or mantra for yourself?
Melissa: It changes daily—I have a morning meditation practice in which I check in with myself, ask myself what I need, and set an intention for the day. Lately my mantra has been “do less.” It’s a reminder that I don’t have to run myself into the ground to be successful, and I’m not going to light myself on fire to keep other people warm. Saying no when things don’t serve me allows me to say yes to the things that have real meaning, and filling my own cup leaves me with even more to give back to my family, friends, job, and community.
Anything else you’d like us to share with us at this time?
Melissa: One of the most important things I had to un-learn in my own boundary practice is this idea that having needs is inherently bad or selfish. As women, and especially as moms, we’ve all internalized the idea (passed down by the patriarchy, stereotypically rigid gender roles, religious influences, and even diet culture) that we shouldn’t have needs. We’ve been told that everyone else’s feelings and comfort should come before our own, and we’re praised the most for being selfless. But my needs have value and my feelings matter, and no one can take responsibility for meeting those but me. Boundaries aren’t about saying, “only me,” they say, “also me.” I am worthy of setting and holding those limits for myself—and so are you.
User-friendly and approachable, The Book of Boundaries will give you the tools you need to stop justifying, minimizing, and apologizing, leading you to more rewarding relationships and a life that feels bigger, healthier, and freer.
In her book, she offers a personal, direct and compassionate style as she offers…
•130+ scripts with language you can use to instantly establish boundaries with bosses and co-workers, romantic partners, parents and in-laws, co-parents, friends, family, neighbors, strangers—and yourself
• actionable advice to help you communicate your needs with clarity and compassion
• tips for successfully navigating boundary guilt, pushback, pressure, and oversteps
• techniques to create healthy habits around food, drink, technology, and more
The Book of Boundaries is published by Penguin Canada (October 2022) and is available at Chapters Indigo, Amazon and Kobo eBooks.
BTW it’s also going on our holiday gift list for all our BFFs.