Boundaries are a beautiful thing. But if you’re wondering how to set some boundaries, it’s a fair guess yours mayyyyy have become leaky. And when we have leaky boundaries, we tend to do things out of obligation (which can breed resentment), we tend to overshare information about ourselves, and we tend to give greater weight to others’ opinions over our own.
In short, it’s hard to tell where we end and someone else begins.
And if you feel like an imposter — like you’re not good enough, or special enough, or important enough to have strong boundaries — it’s likely our old nemesis the Imposter Complex is to blame.
(In case you’re wondering, here’s why I say Imposter Complex instead of imposter syndrome.)
Those leaky boundaries could be the Imposter Complex’s sneaky way of keeping you out of action or doubting your capacity — because if you’re saying yes to everyone else, you might not be leaving enough time to say yes to yourself.
How to Set Boundaries: Step 1 Define the boundary
This is especially dangerous for coaches, service providers, and entrepreneurs because it leads to co-dependent clients, scope creep, and resentment.
The good news is, by respecting your own boundaries, you also teach others to respect them. AND you embody a kind of integrity that is irresistibly magnetic.
In fact, that kind of integrity is one of the three components that make up what I call Unshakeable Confidence.
So how do we set boundaries — especially when we’re struggling with feeling like an imposter?
First, you have to know what your boundaries actually are before you can communicate them.
You may not ever have stopped to ask yourself what’s acceptable — only felt the sick gut twist when you discovered what was not.
I remember the first time I hired a lawyer to help me craft a contract to use with clients. She began asking me a whole litany of questions — what happens if the client does ? What happens if the client does ? — situations I had never even considered before.
The boundaries you may want to set may not be of the binding legal variety — and that’s completely ok. But play lawyer with yourself for just a moment and ask yourself, “What happens if…?”
Enough what if questions and you will bump up against the edge of the boundary in question.
Step 2: Communicate the Boundary
Once you’ve found your boundary and set it clearly in your own mind, the next step is to communicate it.
Oh, did you just shudder and want to hide? I get it.
But the truth is that it’s actually much kinder to be clear about your boundaries than to make the other party guess.
The wonderful thing about boundaries is that they actually create spaciousness and cohesion.
It might have felt uncomfortable imagining worst-case scenarios with the lawyer drafting my contract, but the bright and shining truth is that defining those boundaries was doing a service both to myself and to my clients.
And communicating those boundaries is the second half of that service.
Good fences make good neighbours. — Robert Frost
If you have to set a boundary with a friend or in another type of relationship, be direct and unapologetic. You might say something like:
- It’s not going to work for me to do [ that thing you no longer want to do] any more. Here’s an alternative…
- I don’t have time for a meeting right now, but if you email me your question I can try to get it answered…
- We don’t do that in our family. But we could do this instead…
Two things to note:
- You don’t have to offer an alternative solution. “No” is a complete sentence.
- If the other person doesn’t respect your boundary right away (or ever) that doesn’t mean it’s wrong or invalid! If someone isn’t used to you holding a boundary, they may push back. That’s on them, not you. If you hold your boundary, that’s what’s important.
One more thing about leaky boundaries:
The reasons your boundaries are a little leaky ACTUALLY come from an excellent place.
- Your deep care for others and their perspectives is gorgeous.
- Your generosity wants to offer others second chances.
- Your value of kindness may fear that having strong boundaries will keep people OUT, and that holding firm boundaries will make you self-centered.
I totally get it.
And here’s what I know:
We tolerate our boundaries leaking to avoid experiencing the sting of the Imposter Complex. To make sure we fit in. To preserve harmony and foster connection. But there is a double-bind here.
When our fear of NOT belonging becomes bigger than our own thoughts and wants and desires and TRUTHS and we start to adapt to and adopt others’ instead? Well then — of course we actually ARE upholding opinions that are not our own and we are building some legitimacy to the claim that we are Imposters. That’s how confirmation bias works.
Where you are headed requires the fullest version of you and not some lesser version of someone else. Holding firm in your integrity with yourself and your values is vital to your activation.
And no one will respect your boundaries if you don’t respect them first.
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