Developing personal power through relationship boundaries

Introducing: Rio. The shaman pup of Catalina in Pisac, Peru.

The day I learned about Relationship boundaries…

The day I learned about boundaries in relationships was the day that I had my ass handed to me by a puppy.


Photo courtesy of Daniel Gutierrez

Her name was Rio. Rather than dancing on the sand (har har!), she bounced around the sacred land that hosts Catalina nested in the Sacred Valley of Peru. If there was anyone that marched around that property as if they owned the place, it was her. Sassy little thing.

Many come to Peru for spiritual reasons. That’s exactly why it’s been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. The images of the shaman from pictures in my World Religions text from high school had me salivating, eager to discover some form of enlightenment through smoke signals, plant medicine, or whatever it is that they do. It just seemed so COOL. I had these visions of going there and having the shaman come up to me to reveal everything that I wish I had known about myself from the time I was born.

Yep…my dream was coming true!

During one of the days, the Q’ero Shaman came down to lead us through a day of ceremony. All of the retreat guests gathered. The Shaman led us through deeply moving and powerful ritual, and then we were off to experience the day in our own way…in silence.

Throughout the day I danced around Catalina, stupid excited that I was there. It felt as if my heart was going to burst. I felt a fondness for everyone and everything there. The people. The plants. The mountains. The cement. The electrical wires that dangled from the property wall. EVERYTHING. I delighted so much in just watching my friends move through their day. Even more, I was deeply tickled to see that little Rio was playing a particular role in the unfolding of just about everybody’s day.

As I danced around the property, I witnessed Rio nuzzle up in one woman’s arms. From what I could gather, she needed the love.

I peeked around to see what was happening with one of the other participants that was struggling with physical pain. There Rio was, comforting her.

relationship boundaries

The Q’ero children moved about the property. And there Rio was, playing with them.

Truth be told, I love me some puppy love. When it came to my interactions with Rio, it was less about cuddles and more about playing around like the jackass I know I tend to be.

As a puppy, Rio was cool with that…until she wasn’t.

Earlier on that day, while the ceremony was taking place, Rio discovered a giant chicken breast sitting on the counter. She took it upon herself to indulge in that piece of meat (that was just about the same the size as her little tiny body). Whereas on a typical day Rio could be seen leaping and running around the property, it was clear that this day was quite different. After committing the offense, Rio came waddling around the corner of the room we were gathered in with a rather bloated belly.

“That’s what you get for eating a whole chicken!” bellowed Daniel, the owner of the property.

There was no need for Rio to hang her head in shame. Her remorse came from her big ol’ distended belly dragging on the ground.

So of course she was in the mood to nuzzle and cuddle. She, too, needed some calm, peaceful love.

Which is something I wasn’t completely clued in to quite yet.

Up to this point (aside from the one time Daniel handed her to me so she could finish up her nap in my arms) the two of us would race, yip, nip, wrestle, and stalk one another. The little puppy girl could sniff out whatever she needed in the moment and find it in one of the guests.

So…throughout this particular day, of course I knew Rio wasn’t in her best humor. Nonetheless, I wanted to play.

I called her name and she waddled over. I pet her gently, and she responded with nips at my hand. “No!” I’d exclaim – to which she would look at me as if I was nuts.

I wanted her to follow me, but she began to wander off.

“C’mon, Rio!” I called. She kept on walking.

I turned and started walking after her. “Rio! C’mon! RAWR!” This got her going. She began barking at me, and I crouched down to the ground to welcome her into my lap.

“GrrrrrAWR!” I snarled. This was when Rio lunged her tiny bloated body at me, mouth open, itty bitty baby teeth exposed. She wasn’t doing it out of aggression. She just had her little mouth open. I pounced at the pup, and the next thing I knew, the tip of my nose was bleeding. I spun around to see Rio swiftly prancing away, looking back at me…with embarrassment. I could tell that she wasn’t embarrassed for herself. She was embarrassed for me.

This was when I realized…I screwed up.

She was trying to tell me, by walking away the first time, that she wasn’t in the mood to play. She had no patience for my jack-assery. She was looking for comfort, and I wasn’t giving that to her. I had violated our relationship boundaries.

I wasn’t paying attention to what was happening with her, and she had to protect herself.

If someone would have told me that I would have traveled all the way to Pisac, Peru to discover that my biggest spiritual teacher would be a puppy…well…I would have gone long ago.

Admittedly, my ego was bruised. But if there is one thing I have learned on my path of saving face, it has been that it’s better to own up to the truth than to twist it to make myself look like the hero.

“Rio kicked my ass,” I announced to my mentor as I entered the gathering room. “I think I crossed a line.”

That was when I spotted Rio, over by the wall, playing with the textiles as if to say, “Hey, Toni. Nobody approves of me doing THIS. Come get me. I DARE ya.”

I took it upon myself to be the heavy. This was when my mentor said, “Oof. BOUNDARIES!”

Yep. Rio taught me about relationship boundaries that day. She was my little shaman. My spiritual teacher.

And relationship boundaries were exactly what I needed to learn about.

About them relationship boundaries…

I ended up traveling back to the States to visit my family with the interaction I had with Rio fresh in my mind. That little pup had me in contemplation mode. It was time for me to get real honest with myself.

I have always struggled with relationship boundaries. In friendships, I always felt like I was having my boundaries crossed and violated. I recognized my habit of smiling incessantly in an effort to not come off as offensive or mean. “I’m friendly,” my face would broadcast to people. Internally, I wanted to believe it too…until I realized that the boundary crossing had reached a limit to where I would pop.

In romantic relationships, I would date anyone that asked. Even if I didn’t really like them. I didn’t want to hurt their feelings. Then, once I could smell that things were turning sour, I had no issue with giving them the boot. So much pain could have been avoided had I just been honest with myself from the get-go and learned how to use the simple word, “NO“.

I have always cowered to others in order to make sure that I didn’t offend them. I felt as if the purpose of my existence was to make them happy.

As a classroom teacher I struggled to manage student behaviors since all that I wanted was to be liked.

Needless to say, struggling with boundaries spelled out struggle and frustration for me and my loved ones. My inability to effectively and courageously impose limits out of respect for myself resulted in me living life emotionally frazzled. I constantly was being butt hurt by my “friends”. I was so paranoid that others were talking about me that I would lock myself in my room during my lunch break and cry, eventually emerging and announcing that I was just fine.

I was a hot mess. I felt nuts. Even more…I felt like a nobody.

Without boundaries, who was I?

The RElationship boundaries dilemma

Rio taught me that everyone is born with boundaries. Puppies. Human babies. Everyone. I came to realize that I was not the only one that had this issue. In fact, it’s sort of a thing that I’ve seen among a lot of my friends.

Bake 800 cupcakes for the school bake sale? Oh, gee! I can’t wait!

Date that guy with the smelly breath? Sure…if that’ll mean that after 2 dates I can break it off. I don’t want him to feel totally rejected.

The fact is, the reason we feel so compelled to do things that we really DON’T want to do is that it’s what we have been trained to do.

relationship boundaries

Think back to the first time you ever were told to do something you REALLY didn’t want to do. Your body probably screamed that it didn’t want you to do it. It could have been cleaning out the cat box. It could have been giving your creepy uncle a hug at a holiday get-together. Chances are, you’ve had a long history of ignoring your inner wisdom so that you could fit in with “the pack”. Fact is, our biological need to belong to the pack often trumps our physiological need to act on instincts. Therefore, if the family tells you to forsake your inner wisdom, if you want to stay in the family (which is something every 5 year old wants), you’ll do what you’re told.

As a result, your relationship boundary-establishing skills, I’m sorry to say, very likely suck.

Every time you do something that somebody else wants you to do at the expense of your own values, it’s another boundary that is being violated by YOU. I had a long history of this. I came to realize that it is time for me to understand what is true for me so that I could step into my power and defend my boundaries…just like Rio.

She also taught me that having relationship boundaries doesn’t mean holding grudges. That it’s possible to have firm limits, yet to maintain fun parts of your personality as well.

I see it all the time, particularly with parents (myself included): The idea that if you impose boundaries somehow makes you a cold-hearted bitch. This simply isn’t true. In fact, if you’ve got kids or any other people depending on you to call the shots, they NEED for you to put your foot down and show them what’s up. This means tuning in to what works for you, and what doesn’t by examining your TRUTH in every moment, all the time.

Finally, Rio taught me that power comes from having boundaries and respecting them.

That it takes courage to defend those relationship boundaries. That respecting yourself is more important than respecting other people’s boundaries, since you are the only true advocate you’ve got. Not only that, but understanding your own limits is going to help you to understand others as well.

So how are you supposed to set boundaries in relationships if you have a history of sucking at it?

This is where Rio schooled me. Our interaction prompted me to really think…deep…about what setting boundaries truly means.

It means taking a huge step back to examine if someone or something is really right for you, and vise-versa – releasing others when you recognize that you are not right for them. You don’t want someone sticking around you that doesn’t want to be there. That’s a recipe for disrespectful boundary-crossing.

There is nothing that says you belong to everyone, or everyone belongs to you. Allow yourself to acknowledge and accept this fact.

To grieve when you determine that a relationship or a chapter of life is over.

It’s giving yourself the opportunity to FEEL into a situation, regardless of whether or not your process fits into anybody else’s timeline.

It’s giving yourself permission to be alone. Not because you’re an introvert, but because you’re a human being that needs and deserves peace & quiet.

It’s saying “NO” when every part of your body is saying “NO”.

It’s obeying the voices of your body, not the voices of others.

Imagine being in the center of a circle of people…every one is telling you to do something different. Which one do you listen to?

Your inner compass. Your inner pilot light.

Your own inner wisdom. Your body.

Your belly. Your gut.

It’s daring to declare, “I AM” from a place within your solar plexus.

It’s knowing that your decisions and declarations are supported by the universe and All That Is.

It’s surrounding yourself with an invisible, impenetrable shield.

It’s knowing that others have relationship boundaries, that conflicts will arise, and that there must be a plan of action that does not forsake the wisdom of your body’s wisdom.

It’s knowing that at times you must fight. And flee. And let go of those you love.

It’s knowing that you have a BIG mission in this life…a PURPOSE. It is your responsibility to step into the duty of that purpose, no matter what.

To feel the fear and do it anyway…just as long as it feels as if it is in alignment with what it right for YOU.

It’s saying “no” to baking 800 cupcakes for your kid’s bake sale so that you can have the space in your day to journal, and/or to take a long, hot bath.

It’s honoring the guilt that may creep up as a result of doing what is RIGHT, giving it a ceremony, and casting it away.

It means becoming re-acquainted with the real you, and making yourself your very best friend.

relationship boundaries

Mastering your relationship boundaries for personal power

Mastering your own boundaries will take a lifetime. Just as we grow and change, so will our boundaries grow and change.

Know that your true family is made up of a fan club that respects your boundaries, even when they change. In fact, they will cheer you on when they see you enforcing them.

Follow your dreams and do what you truly love. This takes tons of courage and respect for your boundaries.

Regardless of what your history is with boundaries, chances are if you’re reading this, it’s high time you allow yourself to explore your own. Live your life on your terms. Connect with your heart and allow it to shine.

Energy and boundaries – How developing your personal power helps your loved ones

There is an energetic component to setting boundaries. If you have ever owned a dog, or had children, or managed a classroom, you’ll know what I mean. It means tuning deep into your heart and sensing for what you EXPECT out of a situation and sending non-verbal signals out for all to sense. This isn’t total “woo” either. Sometimes others aren’t sure what to do, and your belief and certainty in what needs to happen next is exactly what they need to not only move forward, but to feel safe and secure.

You may desire for your kids to go to bed. So when it’s time for them to to go to bed, respect your own boundary by BELIEVING it’s time for them to go to bed. Envision it happening without any upsets. Sense it in your body. The kids will get the hint.

You MUST know your own personal boundaries before you can expect anybody else to respect them. Know what you want and don’t want. Make the expectation clear in your mind and in your heart. If a situation arises that makes you angry, use it. Anger is the immune system of the emotions. Examine what boundary needs to be made and begin taking the steps toward enforcing it.

There are a handful of practical things that you can do to claim your personal power by enforcing relationship boundaries in your life.

5 Practical steps toward enforcing boundaries for personal power

  1. Finding the feeling: Allow yourself to sense for what feels right, along with what feels wrong. If you need help with this, be sure to check out this post: Make Better Decisions with the Mind-Body Connection.
  2. It’s about YOU! Remember that it doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks or feels. This is about YOU. Keep sensing for what feels like truth.
  3. Angry? There’s a reason for that. If a situation happens where you feel angry, track your anger to understand what it is trying to tell you. What boundary is being crossed? What needs to change for you?
  4. Ground. Do this grounding practice every single day. It will make you feel strong and powerful.
  5. Tune into your inner badass archetype: Close your eyes and imagine you’re a powerful queen/king/shieldmaden/warrior/whoever is awesome to you. Envision yourself moving through the world as that archetype. In what ways would you defend yourself? And when? When not defending yourself, and among your favorite people, how are you seen? How do you treat others? How do you treat yourself? Write this on a piece of paper and read it. Connect to it!

Final wrap-up

Rio taught me that having the courage to set and enforce relationship boundaries for the sake of discovering my personal power is a basic right that all living beings come into the world with. Although you may have given up our personal power by caving in to the demands of others at the expense of your own integrity, it is still possible to re-establish your claim to it.

By taking part in practices such as climbing into the body in order to discover what FEELS right, you get one step closer to what your truth is. You can find that truth within your heart – by getting quiet, and really paying attention. It may take some time to move through life with firm relationship boundaries in tact, but by walking through the world tuned in to the badass regal archetype that works for you, you will discover that your personal power is something that is tangible. It can be felt.

Today, I want to challenge you to feel into every decision that you make. If that seems like a little much, then just concentrate on one. What does your inner wisdom tell you to do? Act on it (or don’t…whichever is most appropriate). Comment below to let me know how it went!
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