“Your boundaries are the measure of your friendship with yourself.”

An old friend once told me that your boundaries are the truest measure of how you love yourself. I thought I understood the meaning at the time. Raising four children should have bestowed on me a mastery of setting limits and protecting my personal space over the last two decades. It hasn’t. I realized that the places where my relationships are weakest are where I can’t let go of the outcome, once I have set a limit.

In fact, the difference between a boundary and some form of manipulation is that by setting a boundary we let go of the outcome. It has taken me half my life to realize that I am a better friend, mother and partner to others when I am a friend to myself first. Drawing the line in relationships that are dysfunctional and unhealthy is the only positive response you can generate.

I have struggled with this place with my son for many years. In my anxiety about abandoning my responsibility to him, I abandoned myself. Not respecting the borders of my own emotional health only exacerbated the problems with him. How could I demand respect out there when I didn’t have the courage to give it to myself?

Learning to define our boundaries is challenging for many people because they are fluid and change with our sense of ourselves. In order to not deal with the changing nature of creating a true relationship between ourselves and the people we love, people often over commit to rigid boundaries or under commit to any boundaries at all.

Sadly, I tended towards the latter, believing for many years that it was impossible to love someone too much. I am not the only mother on the planet that has learned the hard lessons that come from loving our children more than ourselves. I should have seen the writing on the wall when my back spasms told me to put the baby down. I trained early in ignoring signs of my own limits.

Now I am committed to defining my space and boundaries first. I am sure it seems like an over-reaction to my children, but it captures their attention, this new found ability to say no. I hope what they get is how I am saying yes to my own needs, and I know it is the only way to make a relationship with them that I can keep saying yes to.