The Power of Letting Go:

Setting Boundaries for a Stronger You

Issue 65. March 8, 2024 ✨ Higher Power Coaching & Consulting

Photo Credit: Andriyko Podilnyk

I’ve read the quote below many, many times.

“The level of choice we develop is proportional to the integrity of our boundaries. The more we let go, the stronger our boundaries become.” Adult Children of Alcoholics, p. 148 (The Big Red Book, the ACA Fellowship text).

Much of the time, the meaning of this quote eludes me, but it clicks. I wrote notes to myself in the margin so I’d understand it each time I read it.

It’s a paradox, which is why it’s so hard to comprehend. Letting go to create stronger boundaries??? What?!

Here’s what I wrote in the margins:

  • We have choices!
  • When I let go of other people’s stuff, the boundary is already there (They’re them. I’m me.)
  • When I put the focus on myself (set boundaries), I let go of controlling others and outcomes.
  • When I let go of “them”, I’ve set a boundary.
  • We manipulate (for example, people-pleasing) when we don’t have boundaries, and we’re trying to control others because we’re enmeshed with them.

Most of us feel that letting go means losing control. Many of us are also under the misguided belief that having boundaries will enable us to control others. The fact is, boundaries are about controlling you. They’re about you living up to your own standards and enforcing them. They’re not about other people at all.

This is one of the most persistent myths I encounter about boundaries – that they’ll enable you to control others. Nope!

When we start setting boundaries in our lives, we start to realize we have way more choices in our lives than we ever thought. That’s because we’re focused on ourselves and our own behavior (which we can control) and not on other people and their behavior (which we cannot control).

When we try to control others, we’re typically focused on one specific outcome, such as getting your husband to show you the affection you crave or turning your boss into someone who doesn’t blow people off, shows up on time, and sticks to the meeting agenda.

When we focus on ourselves, we have a much wider range of choices available to us because we’re no longer fixated on that one outcome. Since you can’t make your boss follow through, show up on time, or stick to the meeting agenda, you’ll start to think about what you CAN do that will alter the situation. Altering the situation could mean that you’re altering what’s going on internally for you – such as changing your expectations about your boss.

This was precisely what happened to me when I worked at Yale. I wanted my boss to be different than she was, even though she was that for the entire 19 years I worked for her! So I altered my expectations. But I also altered my behavior.

I stopped trying to make excuses and defend her when she blew people off. I let them deal with her directly, and she got to deal with the repercussions of having missed their meetings instead of trying to buffer her from the consequences of her own behavior. If she didn’t show up on time for a meeting, I started it without her so we could respect others’ schedules and get to the tasks at hand. 

Since she often didn’t use the agenda she wrote for meetings, I started having separate, focused meetings with a subset of my team so we could make decisions and take action on things that needed to get done.

And things changed drastically for my team and our project. Our morale went up, our job satisfaction went up, and we got way more done. All because I took the focus off my boss and put the focus on myself. I suddenly came up with options for how to alter the situation when I stopped focusing on what she was doing (or not doing) and thinking she should be different.

The boss gets to do whatever she wants. She’s the boss. If I can’t tolerate it, I can leave or change my behavior.

Enforcing my boundaries, like wanting our work to be done, gave me choices.

When I tried to control my boss, it didn’t work AND I was exasperated all the time! That’s because it’s impossible to control other people’s behavior!

I was hyper-focused on getting her to change so I wasn’t thinking about me and what I could do about the situation. Once I let go of trying to control her and put the focus on me, I was focused on what I could control which meant I could take action.

Her behavior worked for her – she reached her prestigious position because of it. Why would she change? I needed to change something. Letting go of others and their actions establishes a boundary. I differentiate between you and me—I can control me, not you. The more I let go, the clearer this distinction becomes, and I realize I have more control over my life than I thought.

So, who or what are you trying to control that you can let go of?

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