6. Boundaries and Empowerment

Mary Boundaries CoachAre you ready to get your power back? A lot of it has to do with taking responsibility for your own boundaries and realizing you can’t control others boundaries. And once you set those boundaries, how do you maintain them? 

In this interview Mary speaks with Sarah Monares, a licensed counselor, coach and writer. They talk about the importance of boundaries and how they have shown up in her life as a business owner, mom and wife.

Find out more about Sarah HERE!

Main Episode Takeaways

  • Problems people pleasing can cause
  • How to let go of things that could be holding you back
  • Creating work life boundaries
  • How to maintain the boundaries that you set yourself
  • The difference between boundaries and rules

Want to learn more about boundaries?

– Boundaries IQ quiz HERE
– Take my Boundaries 101 Course
– Do you want to overcome your hurdles of people pleasing? Book a free call with Mary!

Mary: I’m here with Sarah, and we’re gonna talk about boundaries today. Sarah, can you introduce yourself a little bit? 

Sarah: Sure. Hi. Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here. I’m Sarah Monares and I am a licensed counselor and I’m a coach. I am also a writer and I’m a podcast host as well. And I am the creator of the community called the We Spot.

Mary: Awesome. I’m so glad you’re here. Tell me a little bit about what kind of counseling or coaching you do. 

Sarah: Well, I do mainly, counseling is a little less of what I do now. I’m doing more coaching, I would say than counseling these days. But in counseling, I see typically adults, women, my motto is heal forward. Even in counseling, I like to look at where you’re going moving forward, not spending a whole bunch of time in the past, although I do think there is benefit to that for some people at times. I think sometimes though it can be too much and cause more damage than good in my personal opinion. 

Mary: Awesome. And tell us a little bit about your podcast. 

Sarah: Oh yes. My podcast is called the We Podcast, and it’s all about having the conversations about things that nobody talks about. So my very favorite thing is to talk about, you know, the deep dark secrets and the things that we need to get out in the light and normalize and make normal, regular conversation because the reality is, is that most of us experience those things that we hide away, and the more we can get them out into the light, the more that we can know we’re normal and we’re not alone. 

Mary: Awesome. I love it. Well, let’s talk about boundaries. 

Sarah: All right, let’s do it.

Mary: So tell me how boundaries show up for you personally or professionally. 

Sarah: That’s a big question. 

Mary: We’ll start there. 

Sarah: Well, boundaries are absolutely a necessity in every aspect of life. You know, in my early years, I was very much a people pleaser. 

Mary: Me too girl. 

Sarah: Yes. I used to call myself a recovering people pleaser, and I don’t like that anymore. I actually, I think I’ll always have the innate instinct to be a people pleaser. But I think it’s about being able to recognize that and say, oh, there it is, it’s popping up again. Now we can choose to do things differently. But I had zero boundaries. I didn’t know what boundaries were, I think setting a boundary made me feel shameful. And that that wasn’t allowed. Right? So I don’t think I started learning even what boundaries were until I went to school to be a therapist. 

Mary: Okay. So before you went to school to be a therapist and you were people pleaser, what did that look like? Like how did people pleasing show up in your life?

Sarah: Well, it’s chaos. It reminds me of chaos. Like complete and total denial of yourself. Who you are, what you stand for, even your core personality. A denial of that. I mean, it was pure and total pretending to be somebody that I really wasn’t. Mm-hmm. I laugh because, and this was fairly recent, I don’t like to admit that, but I could not figure out my Enneagram number. I promise this relates to boundaries in the people pleasing. But I kept taking the Enneagram test and everybody kept saying, what’s your enneagram? Well, I didn’t know because every time I took the test, it was a different number. And I’m like, well, what the heck’s wrong with me? 

Mary: That’s interesting.

Sarah: Yes. And then I finally took a class and found out in that class that I am an eight. And it was a huge epiphany for me because being an eight can be seen as aggressive. Eights are very decisive. They know what they want. They can be strong personalities. And I realized that I kept getting a different number because I wanted to be a two. Because a two is what was valued when I was growing up. A two A the helper, the one that does everything for everyone else, you know, self-sacrificial, all of those things. And so I realized when I was taking the test, I was trying to mold my answer even to be what I thought I should be, rather than what I actually was. 

Mary: That’s good insight. 

Sarah: Yeah.

Mary: I think eight’s okay. I like eight. 

Sarah: Well, I like it now. I’m embracing it for sure. But it was hard. Because it’s the complete opposite of what I thought I was supposed to be. 

Mary: That “what I thought I was supposed to be” can get us in trouble. That whole thought about, what I’m supposed to be. It’s okay to be whatever you are. 

Sarah: Yes. 

Mary: All right. So tell me when you were people pleasing what kind of problems did that create for you?

Sarah: It created a whole lot of anger and resentment for me I think. 

Mary: What were you angry about or who were you resentful to? 

Sarah: Well, I used to think I was resentful towards other people, but that was before my awareness. And now I realize I was angry and resentful at myself. It’s really in my mind going, making that shift from being a victim to being empowered over yourself and your life. And I think you’re the one who said it on my podcast, you said people pleasers are liars right? 

Mary: I did say that. Yes. And I heard that from a woman named Brooke Castillo, who’s the founder of the Life Coach School. But yes, people pleasers are liars. It’s kind of provocative to think about it that way.

Sarah: It is, but it’s so true. I mean, if you really sit and let that sink in, there’s so much truth in it. And not only are you lying to other people, but you’re lying to yourself. 

Mary: Yes. Which is the worst lie. 

Sarah: Right.

Mary: Right? Is lying to yourself. Yeah. So then tell me a little bit how you started to learn boundaries.

Sarah: I think that it was really, I mean, classic, like read the Boundaries book like many, many years ago. 

Mary: Yeah. Cloud and Townsend. 

Sarah: Yes. And I used to be very religious. I’m not anymore. But back then I was like, oh, even the Bible tells me I can have boundaries, like that was 100% opposite of what I had been learning in church. So that was very confusing for me. Because it just didn’t fit the messaging that I had been given for so long. But it was the beginning of waking up to, oh there are other ways of being, there are other ways of seeing things. I just always grew up with, you were supposed to have joy, you put Jesus, others, and then you, you were last. You always came last. That was the way to be good. And so a boundary meant putting yourself first. So reading books at the beginning was huge for me. Then later it was going to school, going to college, and I learned so much going to school to be a therapist, but even after that, I mean, continuing to like listen to people like you, you know, your podcast. There’s a lot of amazing information out there now that we get to have access to, which really helps us grow. 

Mary: Absolutely. For sure. So how are boundaries show up in your life now?

Sarah: Very differently. Well, it’s interesting because I was having a conversation with my daughter the other day about a, there was a huge changing point for me and it was very distinct and I write about it in my book, in a period with my husband, where we had a really hard time in our relationship, because I went from having no boundaries to having a lot of boundaries. And that shifting point was when I realized I was doing it all to myself. Mm. And so I really had this moment where I was like, you’re resentful at him for the things that you are creating for yourself. 

So an example would be I remember I was building my private practice at that time. I was working late nights sometimes, and I had an expectation of myself to be the perfect wife and the perfect mom and have dinner for them ready every night, even if I wasn’t there. So I would stress myself out, make sure I left a Crock Pop meal for them, if I wasn’t gonna be there for dinner. Because that was what I was supposed to do right? It wasn’t his expectation. It was my expectation. And then I would get pissed off at him, that I was stressed out about having to make a stupid crock pot meal. But he was just going with the flow . 

Mary: Isn’t that interesting? 

Sarah: So interesting. And so one day I really woke up and said, this is my control issue. I didn’t want my kids to eat ramen noodles when I wasn’t there. I had to let that go. And to say, you know, I’m not gonna be here. It’s your job to make dinner. And it seems so simple, but there’s so much to let go of in that. In, I had to let go of my expectations for myself, my ideals of what a good mom and a good wife was. There’s a lot to unpack there, to then be able to set that boundary and say, this is what I need and this is what I’m willing to do. 

Mary: Right. And I love that idea of boundaries being what we’re willing to do and what we’re not willing to do. Right? And in that example, the idea is that like, I’m willing to allow my children to fend for themselves sometimes, or I’m willing to share responsibility of dinner with my partner. And you’re right. Like you were the one who was creating that expectation for yourself. And it’s so interesting that even when we have expectations that are hard to fulfill, somehow we make it someone else’s fault. I’ve done that before for sure. Like I have an expectation today, it snowed where we live, and I had an expectation that the driveway would be shoveled before I needed to drive someone to school, and if it wasn’t shoveled, then clearly I was gonna be mad at someone. Right?

But they don’t care if the driveway is shoveled or not, they’ll walk right over it. I was the one with the expectation and I get to decide what I’m willing to do and what I’m not willing to do. Right. But I can’t have an expectation that someone else has to do something that I think they should, if that makes sense.

Sarah: Mm-hmm, totally. 

Mary: Awesome. Well, how do boundary issues show up in your work? 

Sarah: Oh, yeah, so I used to do sessions any day, any time, whatever was most convenient for the client. I didn’t have boundaries around my work schedule. And so again, that goes back to the, I think I said earlier, like the chaos. And so now I am very boundaried with my schedule and when I work and when I don’t and when I’ll see people and when I won’t. And it’s very interesting how when you set the boundaries and you say, this is what I have available, people make it work. 

Mary: Yes. 

Sarah: But, you know, it’s a big shift. So I think that one thing that’s really shifted for me is now when I am presented with something, creating this space to slow down enough to ask myself does this really serve me? Does it serve my goals? Does it serve where I’m going? Do I have the space for this? Do I really truly have the space for this? I’m really big on constantly evaluating how much space we have taken up by different things, because as women, I think, and men probably do this too, but I think women tend to be space packers. We try to over pack. If you only have a hundred percent space available, we try and do 150% and it’s just not possible. So I tried to do that for many, many years and was constantly stressed out and overwhelmed and felt chaotic and forgot appointments and you know, all the things. And now really looking at do I truly have space for this thing that this person is asking of me? That’s been huge in personal and business life.

Mary: I love that. I love that. That’s a really good question. Do I have space for this? We could all ask ourselves that a little bit more. Getting back to the boundaries around your working time. I see that a lot where people are like, looking for this elusive work life balance. And really what they need is work life boundaries, right?

Sarah: Mm. Yeah. 

Mary: And my first question is always to them, okay, so what are your working hours? And if they have clear working hours, then you know, there are other questions that we go to from there, but it’s surprising to me how many people don’t have clear working hours or they have clear working hours, but they don’t follow them.

Sarah: Right. Yeah. 

Mary: So what has shifted for you since you’ve had clearer working hours? 

Sarah: I mean, as you’re saying that, I’m like, you know, I’m probably not as good as I think I am in this area. I am much better with client hours. Like, for example, I only wanna be away from home late one night a week, and it used to be clients, you know, they need to come in after work. And so I was working four nights a week away from home, not having dinner with my family.

Mary: And that’s a lot of Crock Pot meals.

Sarah: It is! The pressure. There’s not enough crock pot recipes for that. 

Mary: Yeah. 

Sarah: But to say, you know what? This doesn’t feel good to me. This is not serving me. When I’m with my clients, I want to want to be there. I wanna be totally present, I don’t want to be thinking I haven’t seen my family in four days, or, you know, I haven’t been able to put my son to bed and I just, I didn’t want that and so I made the choice to prioritize that, and that was, it’s huge. So still though, like I’ll do some writing after he goes to bed. I definitely don’t have eight to five work hours. But I do think that’s part of being an entrepreneur as well. I don’t know that I can be that cut and dry. But as far as when I meet with people, that’s completely different. 

Mary: Awesome. Awesome. And how has it helped you to have like clear meeting times? 

Sarah: Well, I think it allows you to be present where you are, and give a hundred percent to the person you’re with at this present moment, rather than, you know, being partially somewhere else in your mind. Not feeling so torn between lots of different places. 

Mary: Absolutely. So what’s the hardest part about having boundaries for you right now? 

Sarah: So, I would say still the hardest part for me is I’m good at setting them. I’m good at saying like stopping, slowing down, recognizing, yeah, no, this doesn’t fit for me and saying, no. But then I’m not the best at maintaining. So what I tend to do is I set the boundary, I know in that moment, I feel confident, but then I can go back and second guess myself. Was that too harsh? That’s still like my eight and two conflict. Was it too harsh of me to say that? Should I have just done it anyways?

Is that person gonna never ask me again, are they gonna be mad at me? You know? the second guessing that comes in, I think after setting a boundary is still something that I’m working on. 

Mary: Okay. Would you like a little tip? 

Sarah: Sure. Yes. 

Mary: Yeah. So following through is the last step of learning boundaries, right? So first we build confidence, then we set boundaries, then we communicate them, then we follow through. So you’re right to that part in your journey, which is awesome. The following through, when we have those second guessing kind of questions in our head, I encourage you to answer them. Like, was that too harsh of you? What do you think? Do you think that was too harsh? Whatever those questions are, right? So some people might say you know, was I being mean or was I being selfish? Or was I kind in the way that I said that? Right? Was it the right mm-hmm. , was it the right decision, right? 

Did I need to say that? Did I have to do it that way? You know, those kinds of things. Like, okay, like, let’s just take a minute and answer those questions. Like, were you being too mean? Was that the right choice for you? When we answer those questions for ourselves then it stops the like spinning in our heads. 

Sarah: Right. 

Mary: Does that make sense? 

Sarah: Yeah, which is why people like you in the work you do is so helpful because sometimes I think when we don’t have that frame of reference in our minds, sometimes we need the perspective of somebody else. Like sometimes I’ll ask my husband, was that rude? Was I just rude? And he’ll be like, no, that was not rude. Or maybe you could have said it a little bit differently. 

Mary: Yep. 

Sarah: But I have to create a new frame of reference in my mind. Yeah. So I, yes, I like that. Leaning into what is the real answer to that question. 

Mary: And then when it gets time to follow through, upholding the boundaries is the hardest part for everyone, right? So the other tip that I have is like the if then statement. And that is an if then statement for yourself, right? So let’s use an example of, what’s a boundary that you currently are working on enforcing? 

Sarah: So I am very focused on my health right now and getting into a healthier place for myself physically. I’ve always focused on more mental health than physical health and it’s time to focus on physical health. So that’s always been prioritized last for me. So if somebody needs something and it’s the time where I should be, or I have planned to go to the gym, it’s like, well, the gym’s not as important as whatever this thing is that this other person needs.

Mary: Awesome. Okay. That’s a perfect example. Okay, so you’ve planned to go to the gym and you wanna do that because you’re prioritizing your physical health and someone else makes a request of you or needs something, right? So let’s just role play this. I’m like, Hey Sarah, can you go to lunch with me at this time, and it’s the time that you have on your calendar to go to the gym, okay? So what are you gonna say? 

Sarah: Well, I know the right thing to say, is that what you want? 

Mary: What would you really say? ? 

Sarah: I would probably say, mm let me take a look at my calendar, I’m not sure. Because I know I’m in a space right now where I know I need to take time. Like I need to not answer in that second. I’d probably say let me get back to you. 

Mary: Okay. I love that. That’s a great tool. I’m like buying some time so that you can take just a minute, take a breather and think out of your frontal cortex. Instead of just responding. Yep. I love that. Okay. And then I come back to you and it’s like, Hey, are we going to lunch or what? Mm-hmm. . Then what? I didn’t bring my lunch. I was hoping we would go out today. 

Sarah: Oh . . You’re so mean to me. 

Mary: Wait a minute. I’m gonna ask myself the question. Am I really being mean? No. 

Sarah: No. no, it’s true because then I would feel bad because they didn’t bring their lunch. Yeah. 

Mary: Mm-hmm. So what are you gonna say? 

Sarah: I don’t know. I’d like to say that I would say, here’s some free space I have next week or the next week. I don’t have free space today. That would be my goal of what to say. I think if I felt bad because they didn’t have any lunch and it was, because there’s an element here, I’m an overthinker, if you can’t tell, if I didn’t get back to them, then I would feel like it’s my fault they didn’t bring lunch. So then I would probably go to lunch. Because not getting back to them feels rude to me. 

Mary: Okay. So let’s say that you told I’m planning to work out during lunch break. Mm-hmm. Okay? When I asked you the first time, you said, I’m planning to work out during lunch break, and I was like, oh, that sounds like a really good plan, but it’s the only day that we can go to lunch.

Sarah: Well, I’m sorry, but I can’t go to lunch with you. 

Mary: Good job. Right? Okay. So then it gets time to be lunch and your friends are coming and I’m gonna go out with whoever wants to go because we’re in the office together, right? And I’m like, Hey guys, who’s going to lunch? 

Sarah: I’m going to the gym. Have fun at lunch.

Mary: So what was hard about that?

Sarah: I think too, there’s a piece of, oh, I don’t wanna miss out on the connection, right? Like everybody’s going.

Mary: The fomo. 

Sarah: Right. Mm-hmm. Yeah. 

Mary: But keeping that commitment to yourself, right? And that’s how we build confidence is by making and keeping commitments to ourselves. 

Sarah: Totally. 

Mary: Following through is hard. So the if then statement, right? Is kind of that tool that I encourage people to use and it’s for yourself, right? So in that scenario, you might say, okay, so if Mary asks me about going to lunch again, then I will remind her that I have a commitment to go to the gym or then I will say, no thank you. Or I might even say, please don’t ask me again. But the if is fill in the boundary, right? Keep my commitments to myself to go to the gym, prioritize my health. Then I will is how you follow through and it’s always a plan for self care.

So we don’t use boundaries or if then statements to manipulate or control other people. It’s always just for your own self care. So not, if Mary asks me again, then I will punch her in the face, but… 

Sarah: Definitely wouldn’t do that. 

Mary: But like if they ask me again, then I will remind myself of the commitment that I’ve made to go to the gym. Or maybe ask her not to ask me again. Does that make sense? 

Sarah: Yeah, totally.

Mary: All right. What about boundaries, how does it show up in your work with your clients? 

Sarah: Well, I love that because I can model boundaries for them. Which it’s a shift in the perspective around it, right? That one of the biggest ways that we learn is through modeling and through seeing other people do things that maybe we want to do ourselves. So really reminding myself that I need to model for them what healthy boundaries look like. Because a lot of my clients probably don’t have that frame of reference either. Maybe they haven’t had somebody in their life who knows how to set healthy boundaries and have never seen them played out before. 

Mary: Yes. And I would imagine that your clients would also, like most of us, struggle with some boundaries sometimes. And since boundaries is a learned skill, they’re gonna be on that learning journey at various different stages too.

Sarah: I agree. 

Mary: Awesome. Awesome. All right, well, do you have any questions for me? 

Sarah: Questions? I do. So when you were on my podcast, you differentiated between rules and boundaries, right? I think that misconception, I think is so important to clarify of what people think boundaries are and what really is just, this is what I will and won’t allow. 

Mary: Yes. So when you talk about the difference between rules and boundaries, rules are for other people or for groups of people. So when we are in a community with other people. Say it’s a home, we’re living in this home together, right? These might be the house rules of our home, or it might be these are the rules of like the workplace or the school or wherever we’re participating, right? This is how we have these group agreements about how we’re going to behave with each other. Usually they’re around safety and respect and consideration kind of things, right? We even have rules of the countries we live in. Those are kind of laws. 

And so rules are for other people and they’re for groups of people, but boundaries are just for me. So the main difference is that my boundaries are for me, I don’t get to decide the boundaries for you, right? If you wanted to work four days a week and you were okay with that, then that’s up to you. But I, like you am only willing to work one night a week. So you could decide your own boundaries. And I get to decide my own boundaries. So that’s the main difference between it.

And when we understand that our boundaries are for us, my boundaries are for me, your boundaries are for you. Then we stop trying to control and manipulate other people by putting rules on them. So I don’t get to say like, my boundary is that Sarah has to do this thing. I can just say, my boundary is I’m not gonna participate with Sarah if she’s doing these things.

 It’s a little tricky, but we spend a lot of time doing reframing in my work with people where it’s like, the example that I like to use is name calling. So name calling is not okay for me. I’m not okay being in a conversation with someone where there’s name calling. I’m not okay being called names. I’m not Okay listening to other people be called names, like hateful language towards me or towards people I care about or towards groups of people, marginalize people. That’s not okay for me to participate in. And we live in a free country where people can kind of say what they want to but I’m not going to participate in those conversations. It’s not okay for me to be a part of that conversation. So if you were to call me a mean name, I’d probably be like, whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold it up. That feels like name calling and it’s not okay for me. So I’m gonna end this conversation and I may or may not come back to it.

Sarah: Right. 

Mary: Right. Does that make sense? 

Sarah: Yeah. Yeah. And so the manipulative or controlling part, how would someone be manipulative or controlling in that example? 

Mary: It would sound like, you’re not allowed to say that word. You can’t say that to me. You have to apologize. You have to say it this way. Which happens sometimes. I mean, people try. 

Sarah: Well, I say that to my husband all the time. You’re not allowed to say that word.

Mary: That might be about family rules. It might not be. It might not be about Sarah’s boundary because in families we do have that too. I mean, we have rules in our family about what words we’re allowed to use and what words we’re not allowed to use. 

Sarah: That is very true.

Mary: Yeah. So name calling or specific words could be a rule and a boundary, right? 

Sarah: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Good to see that they can. 

Mary: So in my family, like we do have, we are not allowed to call each other names. That’s not okay in our family. Right, like I’m open to a conversation about, Hey mom, when you said this, I felt this way, or it impacted me this way. Like I’m a hundred percent open to a conversation about something I did, something I said my behavior in some way, but I’m not, but I’m not open to a, Hey mom, you are this, fill in the blank, mean name. Or any kind of character. You know, assassination or shame based conversations. I’m not, I’m not gonna participate in that. Cause it’s not constructive. 

Sarah: Right. Yeah. I love that. 

Mary: All right. Any other questions? 

Sarah: I don’t think so. 

Mary: Okay. Awesome. What’s your takeaway from our conversation today?

Sarah: Oh, that I need to work on the follow through and prioritize going to the gym rather than going to lunch.

Mary: Perfect. I think you’re doing great. I want you to know you’re just exactly where you’re supposed to be and that follow through, it just takes some practice. You’re doing great. 

Sarah: Yeah. Thank you. That’s all. All very, very helpful and I feel like completely necessary information and practices in order to be in any alignment with yourself in life whatsoever. 

Mary: Absolutely. Absolutely. Awesome. Thank you so much, Sarah. Yeah, thank you.