A bill of boundary rights

Posted by Kenetha Stanton on

Bill of Rights Bill of Rights by david__jones, on Flickr. Used via Creative Commons licensing.

I remember hearing many sermons about the evils of pride, of making sure we weren't proud, of the need to consider others before ourselves. And there are dangers in having too much pride—to the point that it blinds one to the needs and the feelings of the people around us. In that worldview, having boundaries was sinful.

I don't remember ever hearing a sermon about the danger of not having enough pride in oneself or of the importance of looking out for our own needs, but these are equally destructive to relationships. When I am unable to look out for my own needs and expect others to do that for me, it creates toxic situations where I am resentful that others are not meeting my needs and exhausted by my unsuccessful attempts to meet the needs of others that are not mine to meet. It's the perfect recipe for passive-aggressive ugliness and has damaged more relationships in my past than I can count.

As I've gotten older, I've realized that both are important. Having so much pride in ourselves that we ignore others' needs and having so little pride in ourselves that we do not take adequate care of ourselves (thereby not having the resources we need to do things for others) are equally harmful. Different people struggle with different ends of that spectrum based on their personality traits, life history, and often gender role expectations, but the place of health is in the middle.

I'm one of those that still struggle with feeling like I have the right to have (and communicate) boundaries. I still feel guilty for expressing my own preferences (especially if they don't agree with someone else's), saying no to things that are unhealthy for me, or standing up to people when I'm being treated badly.

Yesterday Barb Markway of The Self-Compassion Project blog posted a Bill of Rights in a post titled "Be Kind, but Don't Let People Walk All Over You." This list is essentially a list of areas in which it is important to have healthy boundaries. While I'm unconvinced of a couple of the items on the list, I found the list as a whole to be empowering.  There's a whole different feel to thinking of basic boundaries as a set of rights than there is to thinking of boundaries as a demonstration of unhealthy pride.

I've been slowly learning to speak up and set boundaries. I still tend to feel horribly guilty about doing so, but I'm learning that life works so much better when I do this than when I don't, so I am slowly strengthening the muscle that allows me to live into this new behavior. I think that perhaps creating my own Bill of Rights that I can use to support myself when I need to draw boundaries could be a very empowering practice, and I'm grateful to Barb for sharing the idea.

I share this list with you as a conversation starter about rights. What items on this Bill of Rights come naturally to you? Which ones are challenges for you? Do find that setting good boundaries is easy or difficult? Have you ever created your own Bill of Rights?

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