Updated: May 3
Throughout history, women have been punished and shamed for claiming the right to their own inner authority. On many levels women have been conditioned to disappear, to be invisible and to cater to the needs and whims of men. Learn why having boundaries doesn’t make you a bitch and why they are necessary for women who want to express their inner authority and help dismantle Patriarchy.
What Are Boundaries?
Boundaries are an expression of inner authority. Boundaries are a function of how much you are in tune with yourself, how much you value yourself and where and with whom you choose to invest your energy.
As women, we may want to have more boundaries but many of us still view them as equivalent to being unkind, especially those of us who had the experience of being shamed for needing boundaries as children.
Generally speaking, in a patriarchal culture, the women who are considered most desirable do NOT have boundaries.
The culture sees desirable women as those that never say no, the ever-willing sluts, the innocent angels or the self-sacrificing mother figures that coddle the fragile male psyche.
Male fragility has played a role. We have been relatively paralyzed in a world that favors men and fosters self-suspicion in women. We have been conditioned to view our need for boundaries with distrust. Having boundaries, saying No, and setting one’s own limits has long been associated with being “difficult”, “uppity” or a “bitch.” Women who set boundaries have often been characterized as being ugly, “feminazis,” or man-hating and have been threatened with violence and death (and many still are to this day.)
What to do?
1. Re-building a sensitivity to the inner signals indicating when you are approaching a limit of some kind.
The goal is to be able to hear the inner signal as early as possible and take action on it. For many of us, our inner sensor for limits was disabled or muted through traumatic experiences, so these inner messages can feel silent or extremely faint in the beginning and there’s a learning process in how to read the signals of a limit approaching AND getting accustomed to taking action on those signals as soon as possible. With practice, it gets easier and easier. For example, when you are tired, hungry, angry, overwhelmed, when you need support, when you need rest, when you need to say No, when you feel disrespected, when your intuition is telling you something is off, etc. You take action to meet the need in that moment instead of putting it off and then experiencing some crisis, collapse or conflict. It becomes second-nature with time, to read the signal and act.
2. Developing your voice and refine how you speak up and set boundaries:
In the beginning, it can feel quite clunky and awkward, perhaps come across too strong, or it could be too shyly spoken. You may be skilled in setting boundaries in one area but hesitant to set boundaries in other areas. Be patient with yourself. Boundaries are an art and way of life, and as we grow our boundaries they become ever more precise, flexible, fluid and ultimately more empowering. Every time we set a boundary we are learning about ourselves, our needs and our relationships. Learn to see boundary-setting as a positive growth challenge that enhances your life immeasurably as an adventure of individuation. With every inch of ground that you claim, you help other women do the same.
3. Building Resilience in not taking people’s responses to your boundaries personally:
With more conscious, intentional practice of setting boundaries, prioritizing yourself, and situating that commitment as part of your integrity, you gradually become more resilient and less reactive when people disagree or push back on you. In fact, you eventually get to a place where it doesn’t matter if anyone calls you ugly, a bitch or selfish, because YOU feel deeply safe and in connection with yourself.
You begin to trust that any losses you incur through expressions of self-ownership and inner authority are not truly losses, they are gains because you reclaim more of yourself.
Those losses ultimately make space for more people and experiences that reflect your growing sense of self-worth. It becomes increasingly evident that the nourishment from your own integrity and self-love greatly outweighs the passing rejections of others.
“To accept and integrate and strengthen both the mother and daughter in ourselves is no easy matter, because patriarchal attitudes have encouraged us to split, to polarize, these images, and to project all unwanted guilt, anger, shame, power, freedom onto the “other” woman. But any radical vision of sisterhood demands that we reintegrate them.” ~Adrienne Rich, from the book Of Woman Born
All three of these things are facilitated through the practice of Inner Mothering, which helps us to heal the Mother Wound, which is how patriarchy gets passed from mother to daughter.
Inner mothering helps us shed those early adaptive coping mechanisms that keep us small and to increasingly stand in our power, truth and integrity. As more women do this, we give each other, the animals and the earth a fighting chance in the face of all the uncertainty and dismantling that we are living through.