Two Simple Questions to Help You Set Boundaries

Written by Michael A. Gordon

Often we find ourselves in the middle of conflict and confusion in our lives and our relationships, and wonder: How did I arrive here? What did I do to attract these people and situations?

While it's important to take responsibility for the consequences of our actions, it's also important to not devolve into self-blame and stress, but rather to simply learn from what’s happening.

The problem stems largely from a deeper internal lack of confidence and self-worth, likely from early childhood experiences of neglect or self-doubt. These forces indelibly shape our world--especially in how we learn to adapt an early age, and form the meaning of who we are and what we deserve.

Unfortunately, this perceived lack can leave us with a sum-zero equation: either we are loved completely, or we are completely unlovable. Either we have secure relationships, or we are doomed to the scary world on our own. This "child ego state" can unseat us in adult life when triggered by stressful encounters.

Here are two simple questions to ask yourself to restore dignity and healthy boundaries, along with valuing yourself in times of confused boundaries.

1. What does this situation or person’s behavior towards me negatively represent about myself? 

In other words: how is tolerating this situation or behavior reinforcing low self-worth about myself?

People are ultimately a mirror for our own hopes, fears and biases. A very wise teaching from Buddhism is that "all anger stems from anger at the self."

Some examples of this could be: Why did I not tell this person I was upset? Why do I keep lending him money if he doesn't pay me back? Why do I confide information if I really want it to stay secret?

2. What is my worst fear about saying no? 

Let’s say someone’s behavior is making you feel guilty or bad. You are left with the distorted thought of I’m a horrible person!

But when you challenge that thought to be 100% true in all situations, it quickly falls apart. Even a person with whom you currently have conflict at one point was drawn to your positive attributes!

In the end, what matters is this simple math: People either add or subtract to your life!

Do an inventory and assess, on the whole, how the five most active people in your life figure into this equation. The balance of these relationships represents your internal self-worth!

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