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Many of us have alarm systems in our homes or offices. When there is a security breach, the response is immediate and loud!

When I first had the system put into my home, I would forget this invisible barrier and open the door or window wide to let in the fresh air, only to be greeted by a deafening noise that would jolt me awake from my gentle walk towards the coffee maker. Not a great way to start my day! Now, when I reach for the patio door I immediately stop, hand in mid-air, and turn back towards the alarm panel to preserve my sanity!

But I feel good, because if the alarm goes off when I’m away, not only will my thankfully curious neighbors look out their window to see what’s happening, but the police will be called ASAP by the service I subscribe to.

Similarly, each of us has an internal alarm system, one that tells us where our boundaries are in our relationships with self and others. When a boundary is crossed, this inborn alarm system triggers agitation, tears, words said in anger, a flush of embarrassment, even fear. We feel it intensely in our bodies like headache, fatigue, or nausea.

Just like your home alarm system, your internal alarm is an important protective device. Unlike your home alarm system, its warnings are much more subtle. Perhaps because of the fear of confrontation, or worries about job security the alarm can keep going off until we don’t hear it anymore. But the alarm tells us a boundary is being crossed. Our unmet needs start taking big bites out of our happiness. The panel desperately needs a reset!

How to Recognize the Warnings

Step 1: Knowing your alarm

What does it feel like to you when your instincts tell you something isn’t right? Where in your body do you feel it when your alarm goes off? Can you describe the physical sensation, and the emotion that goes along with it?

Knowing your alarm allows you to quickly identify your unique ‘sound’ so that you can take steps to set a boundary. The alarm becomes your compass.

Step 2: Learning to trust it

These are steps I use when my internal alarm goes off and I’m not sure what to do in the moment:

  1. Stop everything when you feel the hit in the body and/or your emotions.
  2. Take time for yourself by telling the other that you are not willing or able to respond right now.
  3. When you are less agitated, have a conversation with yourself about what need is not being met and what you can do about it (not the other).
  4. And, if this will serve you, come back for a genuine conversation with the intention of clarifying your boundaries.

There is no easy solution to these patterns. I can attest to the fact that setting boundaries is a life-long learning exercise. And more questions pop up: How do I begin this genuine conversation when I dislike confrontation? What if the person I have unclear boundaries with is not safe to talk with?

What I do know for sure is that boundaries are there to guide each of us to respect ourselves and to respect others.