Your Mental and Emotional Warrant-of-Fitness. #1. Boundaries

(A Warrant-of-Fitness is New Zealand’s version of car roadworthy inspection like the M.O.T in UK)

I’ve had a lot of therapy in my adult life. Recently I’ve come to a place where I feel I’m “good enough”. So I asked my therapist, “If I were to come to you and ask for a mental and emotional warrant of fitness would I pass?” Turns out, I would. It got me thinking. What would an emotional and mental W.O.F. actually look like? So, I’m starting a series of posts on this.

The first thing that springs to mind is BOUNDARIES. I have a LOT to say about boundaries, so much so that I could write a book about them (and probably will!). This is because I’ve been shit at them in the past and let people walk all over me or twisted myself into a pretzel to try and please someone (usually a man). First I had to learn the hard way what boundaries actually are! As a child of alcoholic, hoarding and overall mentally and emotionally unwell parents, I didn’t have boundaries modeled, taught or encouraged as a kid. Harder still was learning HOW to implement them into my life without annihilating myself and others – a messy, and at times, painful, but oh so necessary process in the journey of healing from emotional wounds and actually getting a life – an authentic one that is.

Now I have a few tools under my belt and a few scars but can honestly say that I love my life, my journey and, most importantly, myself. That’s not to say that I don’t get the wobbles sometimes and fall into a heap of self-pity and despair…but it’s rarely and I have the awareness and tools to get myself back on track, back into a self-loving healing mind-set and refocus on how good life is and how grateful I am to have this ticket to ride it.

So, my first check-point, for you to ask yourself is, “How good are my boundaries?” Well, if you were anything like me, boundaries may not be something you are entirely able to define or comprehend, let alone measure the strength or appropriateness of them or not. Boundaries in the physical sense are easier to define; fences around a property clearly mark where ownership starts and finishes, our skin is a boundary between our insides and the outside world, it stops our guts from spilling everywhere and protects our delicate internal organs. So, boundaries protect what is important to us and create a distinction between what is ours and what is not.

Mental, emotional or psychological boundaries may not be so clear but have similarities to the physical. They can define what is and is not ours to own and are a way of protecting what’s important or valuable to us. A boundary is also a limit; like a speed limit or law.

A large percentage of my counselling clients and group participants come to me miserable and after not very long it becomes clear that poor boundaries are a major component to their current state. Lucy (not her real name) came to one of my “Improve your Relationships” courses and was upset with her adult son for not cleaning up after himself, borrowing her car and returning it late with no petrol in it and lending him money he promised to repay but never did. She tried asking him nicely to change his ways but feared upsetting him if she put consequences in place in relation to these incidents. It was really getting her down. After some exploration she became aware that underneath the surface she actually feared his temper and worse of all she feared losing him as she had concluded that all the men in her life had abandoned her. Speaking up was scary and foreign to her….. and risky! I coached her through some tools that I’ll share with you next week.

We teach people how to treat us by what we tolerate, says Tony A. Gaskins Jr. Our fears can control our behaviours and if they are out of proportion to the current event (as in Lucy fearing abandonment), then it’s almost always attached to something deeper, an historic wound that is still active and seeking attention. In this way our current triggers can actually be a divine invitation to heal.

Of course, asking someone to do something doesn’t mean they actually will. If you do something different, chances are the other person will try and get you to keep doing what you’ve always done. That can be a bit manipulative, but let’s face it, people don’t like change, especially if it’s in their interests that you keep cleaning up after them/lending them money/saying yes when you want to say no etc. That’s why getting support is SO important, either in the form of a support group or therapy or both. The support group Tough Love helped me enormously with boundary setting when my teens were driving me to the brink of despair!

Guilt is a powerful motivator; it can keep you stuck doing the same old thing over and over. BUT…just because you FEEL guilty doesn’t mean you are! I often ask my clients, “What crime have you committed?”, to which they have to reply “none”. Guilt can stop you from setting boundaries to look after what is yours or protect your resources. Learning to manage uncomfortable feelings, such as guilt, in a way that’s supportive of your well-being and growth as opposed to detrimental (like staying stuck in boundaryless habits) is a big part of developing the skill of boundary setting, of setting limits on what you will and will not tolerate from others and protecting (quite rightfully, I might add) your precious resources.

Taking responsibility for something that is not ours is another example of, what I’ve come to term as “leaky boundaries”. Sometimes we’re unclear of where we finish and another person begins, emotionally. This is called enmeshment. When we don’t want to upset others by saying what we really want to say, (e.g. “no”) or do what we really want to do, we are often trying to protect them from their own feelings or trying to protect ourselves from the feelings that get evoked in us! You cannot set a boundary and protect someone’s feelings at the same time – it just doesn’t work. What one person feels in response to what you say or do is their responsibility; yours is to communicate clearly, kindly and assertively what you want or need in a given situation.

If this way of being in the world is new to you, you can expect resistance both within (as in your feelings of guilt) and without (as in their wrath or manipulation). Whilst all this sounds tough, the good news is with practice and support you CAN do it and move towards more emotional freedom and authenticity in your life. It is part of your mental and emotional warrant-of-fitness and your life will change for the better because of it….over time. Believe me, you are worth the effort! Remember, “no pain, no gain”.

Creating and maintaining healthy, self-loving boundaries in our lives is a way of valuing ourselves and protecting what is important to us, whether that’s our time, energy, money or other resources. We can only take responsibility for our own mental and emotional health and learning to differentiate between who is responsible for what, for where I end and you start are key aspects of a healthy well-being.
Next week: Some strategies for building your assertiveness muscles; including recognising people pleasing behaviours and saying “no”.

(c) Karen Lighthouse 2022


Thanks for reading and take care until next time.

Comments and questions are welcome.

Words by Karen Lighthouse.

I also offer –

  • One-on-one counselling/coaching via Zoom
  • Group facilitation
  • Mental health education
  • Oracle card readings

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11 thoughts on “Your Mental and Emotional Warrant-of-Fitness. #1. Boundaries

  1. Anonymous

    I love this. Thank you for sharing. I have struggled with boundaries myself, with codependence. I think I am getting better perhaps with people that I am less close to. But isn’t that always the case. When we have less skin in the game. I relate to the “Lucy” story. It made me laugh in a sad way. Thank you for your openness and words of wisdom. Will look forward to the next post. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi ‘Someone’. Yes is t it so much easier with those less close. I loved your description, ” with less skin in the game”. It’s good to practice with those ones and build up your assertiveness muscles. Baby steps. You can do it.
      Take care 🙏🌹❤️


  2. allurebeautyrobina

    Love this! Thank you for sharing this valuable wisdom! Boundaries are so very important & such a huge challenge for so many! Love your work and words as always

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Really great post. I am awful at boundaries but over time I’m getting better. You’re so right when you say that we teach people how to treat us. When have clear boundaries, people know that and are more likely to treat us better than if we let them walk all over us. If we let people take advantage of us they will. It’s up to us to make sure we don’t let them.

    Liked by 1 person

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