Is it time to set some Boundaries?

I was brought up in a typical “Eastender” home.  The back door was always open, and the front door key was tied onto the back of the letterbox with a piece of string long enough to reach the keyhole so that you could always get in – that’s if you didn’t want to walk round the house to the back door!

Our house was always full – Brothers, Sisters, Grandkids, Neighbours, Neighbours kids, Cousins, Aunts, Uncles and even the occasional strays that my sister always brought home with her from her travels over the globe.  I was the youngest of five kids. It was loud, busy, bustling and hectic with a constant pot of tea on the go.  Mum would be cooking or sitting at her old Singer sewing machine; Dad would be discussing whatever the topic of the day was with whomever would listen.  My brother (who I hasten to add is 9 years older than me) used to lock me in the dark, cold pantry just for laughs.  And If Mum was on her sewing machine, she could never hear my screams of “let me out”!  It was all OK though, I always got out in the end!

Where is my privacy?

Don’t get me wrong; my family are awesome; loving, kind, supportive and big!  We have the most wonderful times together. We laugh lots, we sing and dance lots, we grieve together, we have holidays together and as for Christmas, if it’s only 24 of us, it’s a quiet one!  It really is “All for one, and one for All”. But, sometimes during the chaos, I thought it would be nice for me to be able to go somewhere on my own and have some privacy; you couldn’t pee in my house without someone sitting on the top stair talking to you!

As I got older, I felt confined and always felt unwell; racing heart, hot sweats, unable to breathe, lights being too bright, noise being too loud, and I wanted to escape the mayhem.  The older I got the worse my feelings became.  I used to try to hide in a bedroom and wished that I could lock myself away, squeeze my eyes shut and cover my ears.  I wanted some calm and quiet time without being criticised for being rude and anti-social.  Why would you want to be on your own when we’re all here? What’s wrong with you?  During my teenage years, I felt the need to escape the mayhem; do things that I wanted to do without having to invite everyone or justify why.  Easy, eh?  NOT!

Trying to make a change

As an adult, a Mum with two children, I remember the first time I said to my big sister that I wanted to have a quiet Christmas and for it to be just my immediate family.  You would have thought that I had delivered the worse news possible.  She cried, she gave me the silent treatment and said that she did not understand why I wanted to do this.  My reasoning was ignored, my truths were ignored, my feelings were ignored. Then the rest of the family joined in and said, “but we always spend Christmas together, what’s wrong with you?”.

My mental health has always been a challenge for me, and in later years my family rallied round helping with my children, pets and household.  But …. Shh “don’t tell the neighbours”!   And here’s the thing – it isn’t me that’s wrong, and neither are they.  It was instilled into us by our Grandparents and Parents in their two up and two down Eastend terraced houses since 1890, throughout the end of the British Empire and two world wars.

Finding personal boundaries

Boundaries were things that went around an object like a house or an Army Barracks.  Not round a person.  They just couldn’t get their heads around it.  And to be honest I didn’t know too much about them either.  I felt that something needed to change for me to save Me.  It was while I was waiting to see my psychiatrist for the third time when I started to read a magazine examining different types of Boundaries.  Emotional Boundaries, Personal Boundaries, Physical Boundaries, Mental/Intellectual Boundaries, Sexual Boundaries, Financial/Materialistic Boundaries, Professional Boundaries and Time Boundaries ….. Whoa! That’s a lot of boundaries!

I resolved there and then that I would start instilling some small boundaries in order to protect my wellbeing and to help to educate my children to be able to say NO without having feelings of guilt. I was going to try to break the cycle.  Boundaries can be influenced by one’s own upbringing, culture, religion and other factors.  People whose parents didn’t have “healthy” boundaries (like mine) often find it difficult to set “healthy” boundaries for themselves because we never learned how to do so.

Learning to set Boundaries

It’s all about little baby steps to start with.   I found the strength to say “No Thank You” and when the usual “why not?” followed (because I knew it would), I learnt how to be honest and truthful about my feelings, my wellbeing, my mental health.  I was polite and kept the conversation calm. “I feel that I need a quiet Christmas at home because I become overwhelmed and anxious when there are too many people around”.  Response = “But we’re family!” My reply – “I know, and I love you all, but my mental health and wellbeing is important to me, and I want to be at home for the holidays”.  Over time, I began to say “No Thank You” or “I’m sorry but I am really busy today; I hope you have a good time” to things that I really didn’t want to do.

I still struggle with my guilt over some of my Boundaries I have made with my family – but that’s Work in Progress, as is my family’s acceptance of the person I am now. I am still growing and learning and accepting and respecting myself.  I have also found that since instilling some of my Boundaries I am so much more respectful of other people’s choices and decisions.

It’s OK

It’s OK to say No, It’s OK to have “me” time and it’s OK to break the cycle.