What are boundaries and what do they have to do with trauma? Listen in to this episode as Denita discusses this topic with Boundaries Coach, Mary Brown.
Today, I have a treat for you. I have an interview and this person has been on my list of people to interview for a very long time. And I just want you to know that I’m very picky with the interviews that I do here on the podcast.
If you’ve stuck around any length of time there, you know that there aren’t very many interviews, and that’s because. I am really searching for people to interview that align with my values and my vibe and will really bring you lots of value with talking about the things we talk about on this podcast relating to trauma and nervous system regulation.
So Mary Brown is a boundaries coach. I was on her podcast a few weeks ago, and I thought, you know what, she would be really good to bring to the regulated and restored podcast. So she’s on the podcast today talking about boundaries, talking about what boundaries are, what the common misconceptions are, how they relate to trauma. And I think you’ll really enjoy this conversation. Without further ado, here I am with Mary.
(D:) Welcome to the podcast, Mary.
(M:) Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.
(D:) You are so welcome. Let’s just start out with anybody who doesn’t know who you are. Give them a little introduction to you and you can make it whatever you want it to be.
(M:) Awesome. So, my name is Mary Brown. I live in Northern Colorado. I’ve been here for about 20 years. I grew up mostly in Florida. We moved around a little bit because my dad was in the military. I went to school in Atlanta, Georgia, and then I’ve been here in Fort Collins for about 20 years.
(M:) I’ve got three kiddos. Teenagers, eighteen, sixteen, and then a big gap and a little one that’s seven who just started second grade and are so fun, and, I am a coach. I specialize in helping people have boundaries and so people call me the boundaries coach and really, I love talking about coaching and I love talking about people and their experiences. I just find people so fascinating and I love helping them.
(D:) Awesome. It sounds like we have a lot of overlap because I could say the same. I love coaching. Maybe a different time we’ll geek out about coaching and the craft of coaching but today I wanted to have you on because I think the work around boundaries is very relevant. Let me put it that way, very relevant to the work of trauma and so I’m just going to jump in if that’s okay with you.
(M:) Yeah, of course.
(D:) Let’s just start with how you define boundaries. So what are we talking about here?
(M:) Yeah, sure. So, the commonly held academic definition of boundaries are the limits and guidelines that you set for yourself that will determine what you will and will not participate in. So that’s the official answer and my favorite kind of working definition is by a woman named Brene Brown, and she describes boundaries as what’s okay for me and what’s not okay for me.
(D:) Yeah. I love that. I love the kind of very basic version.
(M:) I love that definition because it’s simple and it’s easier to understand and it’s easier to apply and it really does help when I’m working with clients, it really does help us to be able to like make two columns on the side of a paper, like, “What’s okay for Denita and what’s not okay for Denita?” and get very clear about what our boundaries are.
(D:) Yeah. I will say that when I first started learning about boundaries, it felt so formal to me. Like I declare this is not okay for me, you know, and something about that kind of rubbed me the wrong way, but as gone through my own journey of healing and all of that, one thing that I realized is that I’m very good at creating boundaries for myself, almost maybe too much. Separating myself too much from things that I will and won’t do or allow in my life and those kinds of things.
(D:) And I think that’s why in the beginning of my coaching career, I was sort of like, boundaries are necessary for some people, but they should be kind of like a last resort, right? Like, okay, if you really need to set a boundary, you know, first you should do some of this other type of work, some mindset work, in some emotion work in those kinds of things. And I thought boundaries are sort of like the last or one of the last things, and I have a feeling that you probably would disagree with that and I will say that my thought has changed on it over time. So I’m curious about your response to that, but also common misconceptions about boundary work and what boundaries are and aren’t and all of that.
(M:) Yes. So a couple misconceptions, first and foremost, there’s a huge misconception, especially on social media platforms, that boundaries are for someone else like we set boundaries on Him or set boundaries for Her. And that is not correct. One thing that is very clear in the literature and in boundaries work is that our boundaries are for ourselves. So my boundaries are for me. Your boundaries are for you. So I don’t set boundaries on you. That’s not the way that it works because I have agency to decide what I’m going to participate in and what I’m not going to participate in.
(M:) So that’s the first one. Um, And maybe I’ll give an example to kind of demonstrate that.
(M:) So, one of the boundaries that I have is that I won’t participate in conversations where I’m being called names or I won’t participate in conversations when there’s, you know, hateful language happening about me, about someone I love, about groups of people that… you know. I just don’t want to be a participant in hateful conversations.
(M:) So what that means is if you and I were in a conversation and let’s say, for example, you said something hateful, which I know you wouldn’t do, but for purposes of this example, right? So I don’t say, “Denita, you can’t say that.” Because that would be me having a boundary for you. What I can say is, “Denita, I’m not willing to continue this conversation.”
(D:) Right. Yes. I think that’s such, yeah, such an important distinction.
(M:) Yeah. Yeah. It does make a difference. Okay, and then, another misconception that I see oftentimes is that people think that boundaries are like walls that we set around ourselves and that they keep people out. And that is not true either.
(M:) When boundaries are done correctly with, you know, good intention and thought and skill, boundaries actually are the way that we keep people in. They leave us more connected to the people that we love and trust, and they help us to be able to stay in relationships with people. They help us to be able to keep our family members in our lives, to be able to keep our clients in our businesses, to be able to keep our friends and our intimate partners close to us.
(D:) Yeah, I think that I always think of, I have this boundary so that I can love you better.
(M:) Yes, exactly.
(D:) Right. And sometimes with that clarity of what I will and won’t participate in, if we, link it to this is how I, in my body, in my life can then love you more, I’m just like, “Oh, that’s such an amazing way to think of boundaries or boundary work,” especially when we’ve been on the other side and we’ve been very codependent or, you know, involved in lots of people pleasing or enmeshment, those kinds of things. It feels much different.
(M:) Yes, and what I actually see oftentimes is people come from a perspective of codependency or enmeshment and they don’t have any boundaries and there’s a lot of people pleasing and then they feel resentful.
(M:) Or they get to a space where that’s not working for them for a variety of reasons. It can be resentment, it can be betrayal, it can be a variety of things. And then they kind of swing like a pendulum to the other side where they’re like, “Okay, well forget you. I don’t need you anymore.” I’m going to be completely independent over here. I’m going to put these thick walls around my heart and I’m going to, you know, cut you off and push you out of my life and have no contact, you know, all those things.
(M:) And they swing over here in this pendulum and then through some work and some thoughts, you know, some thought work and some coaching and time, they learn to fall at a safe place in the middle, which is kind of that foundation of, interdependence and intentional decision making and like clear communication and real self care.
(D:) Yeah. I think I have a couple of thoughts that are coming up for me, but I think that’s probably what happened for me is that pendulum swing of the hyper independence. I don’t need you. I can figure this out on my own.
(D:) It was more, it wasn’t like a conscious thing that happened in my life. It was more of like an organic, I don’t want to be around this, so I’ll just go the exact opposite direction.
(D:) I’ve talked on my podcast a lot about watching my parents and the choices that they’ve made and basically making my life be exactly opposite of theirs. You know, they didn’t graduate from high school. I’m graduating valedictorian. They drank and smoked. I’m not touching that stuff. You know, all of that.
(D:) And I realized at a certain point that that was just as much of almost like a prison as doing everything that they… You know, would have done or living my life exactly the same way as them. It was just in exact opposition. And so I had to, there was a point where I had to be like, “Oh, this is how I’ve been living my life.”
(D:) It was very subconscious or unconscious, but I had to like, think about, “is that still what I want to do?” Like all of my sort of inner world work was… It’s opposite of what my parents did. It’s opposite of what my parents did. And it’s kind of hard to walk that middle ground sometimes, not beyond the extreme edges. And what I’m hearing you say is that boundaries actually help us stay in the middle. Which is kind of a new thought to me.
(M:) Yes. Boundaries help us to form healthy relationships with people where we’re not completely enmeshed and we’re not siloed and isolated. It helps us to get to a place where we can think clearly about what we really do want to participate in and not want to participate in for reasons that are in alignment with us. And, yeah, I mean, I love everything about boundaries, but I think that the thing that I hear the most is that it gives you a sense of freedom and peace and contentment, when you get to that safe space in the middle.
(D:) Yeah, I would agree with that. I think that’s a really good segue into, what are your thoughts about how boundary work like overlap or where they do or don’t, what do you think about that?
(M:) So, I have my own experiences with trauma and I’m happy to draw on that as well as my professional experience here, but I see…what I see is that when we experience trauma, we develop coping skills and some of those coping skills are healthy in the moment and some of those skills are healthy long term, and some of them develop into coping skills that we don’t really need anymore.
(M:) And so oftentimes when we experience trauma, one of the effects of that is we have some limiting beliefs, specifically some limiting beliefs around our self worth. And we have a coping skill of, people pleasing. What I call people pleasing, right, is being attuned to the feelings of other people and making decisions about our behavior or lack of behavior based on how we think other people will feel, right?
(M:) And that we learn not to set boundaries because, that’s what kept us safe when we were experiencing trauma, or that’s an adaptation to our traumatic experience. And so, what I often see is lack of self worth, people pleasing, and not having boundaries, not having the skill set of boundaries, because we haven’t developed it over time, because that’s what kept us safe when we were having traumatic experiences.
(D:) Yeah, I could not agree more. And it just made me think, I mentioned earlier that it felt one thing that I realized is that it feels like as I look back on my life, I’m pretty good at boundaries. But as you were talking about that self worth and the people pleasing and, looking to those outside of us, having to track their emotional states and all of that in order to stay safe.
(D:) I want to amend that statement because I don’t know that it was really boundaries I was good at, but. I’ve always had a really strong internal compass of who I am and like that naturally lends itself to what I will and won’t participate in now.
(D:) Of course, there have been plenty of experiences in my life where I acted in a way that was not in line with who I believe myself to be, but that’s what I’m seeing, like this theme of kind of strong identity as I’m listening to you talk about boundaries, right? But it doesn’t mean that I had good self worth.
(D:) I had this internal compass that was very strong, but it took me many, many, many, many more years to link that to, “Oh, I am worth something. I have value,” and all of that. So that’s an interesting distinction. And then, the setting of the boundaries conscious or not is even separate from that as well as what I’m hearing you say, or at least the connection I’m making in my mind.
(M:) Yes. And I do think that, sometimes people come to me for boundaries work and they just want to learn the skillset, right? They want to learn the actions on how to set a boundary, how to communicate a boundary, how to follow through with the boundary and I’m happy to teach them, I can teach them that skill set for sure. And I think there is usually a deeper reason why the person is struggling to set boundaries.
(M:) And when we peel the layers of that onion, it oftentimes comes down to self worth and so that foundation of self esteem, self worth, self concept, self confidence really is at the heart of the boundary work that I do with people as well.
(M:) And I think it was also the turning point for myself, right? I mean, I grew up very much as a people pleaser. I grew up in a huge family, lots of brothers and sisters, no boundaries. I mean, zero boundaries were modeled or taught, and, you know, I believe that parents give us what they have and they didn’t have boundaries to give me.
(M:) And, so, I became a people pleaser really hot, really early on, and I was good at it. I was really good at understanding what people wanted and how to help them feel better and taking responsibility for other people’s emotions. And, you know, I met a boy who liked me when I got to college and he asked me to marry him. And I said, okay, because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, and yeah, in hindsight, that’s probably not a good reason to get married, but I did it.
(M:) And I mean, it’s something that I think other people may experience and don’t admit it that way, but that’s really what happened. And I didn’t really start to learn boundaries until I started to understand myself worth.
(M:) And for me, that turning point was when I had my first child and I remember being in the hospital with him and just thinking, “Oh my goodness. Did I get the best one?” Because this baby is just valuable, like born valuable, and he hasn’t done anything yet to earn his worth. And here I was hustling for my worth, like nobody’s business and taking care of everybody and everybody and everything and making sure all the people around me, their needs were met and they were happy. And I thought, wait a minute. Like if this baby came to earth valuable, then what about me?
(M:) And a few days later I came to the understanding of like, yes, I have to have been born valuable too. And that’s really what changed my journey, starting to have boundaries was when I understood that like my baby, I came to earth valuable. And I just knew I left the hospital with a week old baby. I was 26 years old and kind of a brand new child, and I thought I had changed the way I’ve been treating myself. I got to change the way I’ve been allowing people to treat me. And I mean, I’d like to say it was an easy, fast journey, but that’s not how it goes, you know, better than that. It was, quite the process.
(D:) Yeah. Oh, I love that story so much. Thank you for sharing that with me. Okay. I could literally probably talk for three or four hours about all of this and all the things that are happening in my mind, making connections, but I think that’s a good place to stop today’s conversation.
(D:) I do want to make sure that if anybody is out there listening and they are wanting to work with you or wanting to know more about the work that you do, how do they find you? How do they get in contact?
(M:) So my website is www.boundariescoach.com so that’s an easy way to find me. I also have a podcast, my podcast. If folks like to listen to podcasts, my podcast is called, Let’s talk boundaries with Mary Brown.
(D:) Awesome. Yes. Go listen to her podcast. I’ve listened to several episodes and it’s great stuff, and if you need any help or support with boundaries, learning about boundaries, setting boundaries… Go ask Mary for some help. Thank you so much. Is there anything that we haven’t said that you really wanted to say?
(M:) I do want to say that, just like my baby and just like me, I believe that all people are born valuable, that we don’t have to do anything to earn our worth and that our worth never changes and that we get to decide what we’re willing to participate in and what we’re not willing to participate in.
(D:) I Add my stamp of approval to that message. So thank you so much, Mary, for being on.
(M:) You’re welcome.
(D:) Okay. Wasn’t that amazing. I hope that you found that helpful. I hope it’s helpful to you to understand what boundaries are and how they can help you come out of some patterns that we tend to get into when we operate from a place of trauma.