Boundaries are one of the most important things in our world. Without boundaries it'd be a lot more likely we'd get upset about so many different situations - and no one else would know why. We label our own bad behaviour as boundaries and everyone, including ourselves, walks away upset.
Here are the basic steps to creating healthy boundaries. Throughout this post I'll talk about the differences between boundaries & barriers, why these steps matter, and how to work through them. I suggest reading the whole post, but for those with short attention spans, I put the steps at the top of the page.
This topic is complex enough it can fill at least a whole book. So if there's something you'd like me to dig into a little deeper, please let me know in the comments.
Imagine if our different countries didn't have clearly defined boarders. Canada says 'This land is mine.' But Denmark believes it's theirs. Without a clear definition of where the line is, both countries continue to insist it's okay for them to be in this space. Luckily neither Denmark nor Canada seem to get angry over the boundary being stepped over. But this lack of definition and lack of clarity could easily lead to larger conflict.
It's the same with people.
When my husband and I were first dating it wouldn't have occurred to me to draw a line and say, "Whatever you do, If I'm sleeping in the car while you're driving, never pretend we're about to crash." I mean, who would think you'd have to tell someone that? But one day we're driving through the mountains after a Valentine's weekend away. I was curled up sleeping in the passenger seat dreaming sweet dreams when all of a sudden I sit bolt upright when he hit the brakes and screamed. I believed I was dying. Then he was dying. Or he would've been had we not been driving on the edge of the mountain... It's been 20 years and he's only been allowed to drive with me in the car for the last month. (His version of the story may be slightly different - in his version I dreamed the whole thing, then woke up screaming).
The rest of the drive home was very intense. We broke up immediately after - for some reason my over reaction to the situation caused him to rethink our relationship. Not sure why he didn't enjoy me yelling like a banshee or panicking every time he changed lanes, tapped the brakes, or hit the gas.
Luckily we were both smitten and got back together. We've been married 16 years in 2021, and have 4 children, 3 cats, a dog, a dozen praying mantises, and hundreds of plants to show for it.
When we start out in a relationship of any type, we have very few clearly defined rules. We don't even know what rules we need to communicate most of the time. We can guess based on previous experiences. But those guesses don't take into account different backgrounds & experiences. They don't take into account all of the other person's previous experiences. How long it takes for someone to brush up against one of our values or wounds depends on a wide variety of things.
We're more likely to communicate boundaries when we're confident in our ability to move forward even if we're upset or uncomfortable. If both people are confident, then you're more likely to both communicate boundaries respectfully. The less confident either person is, the more likely boundaries aren't communicated - and the more likely everything sits seething under the surface until it boils over.
I believe this has a lot to do with the vulnerability of joy and the belief many people have that most people are untrustworthy. I'll get into both of these topics soon.
Boundaries are like jello. They're meant to wiggle and jiggle to fit the situation and the person.
Boundaries aren't meant to keep people out, they aren't hard and fast rules. They're more like guidelines, and they often feel uncomfortable.
Many people think maintaining boundaries feels uncomfortable because it involves standing firm and being confrontational - I've yet to meet a single person who wants to be confrontational. Boundaries are uncomfortable because we have to move with the situation, we have to let go of control, and we have to be willing to open up to others. That's pretty much the trifecta of the most uncomfortable things in the world.
Boundaries are maintained by our own emotions & actions.
Barriers are walls we put up to keep others out. They're only passable if someone crashes through and destroys them. They're about controlling situations - and often other people. We put them up in order to try and make ourselves feel comfortable in uncomfortable situations. We tell ourselves we're maintaining our boundaries, but really we're pushing others away just so we don't have to take the risk of talking to someone.
Barriers are maintained by the hard work of everyone involved. They generally involve us forcing others to make us comfortable in a situation. "How dare you say that! I'm upset. You have to make it better!"
A healthy boundary knows that we're each responsible for our own emotions - and that those emotions are okay (that doesn't mean what we do with the emotion is always okay, just that the emotion itself is okay). In order to have a healthy boundary we need to be willing to see who we are, and continuously assess how we feel in different situations.
"I don't like this, so I'm saying no." vs "How dare you say that!?!"
When we erect barriers, we don't pay attention to ourselves or our own emotions until it's too late.
Barriers are sudden. They're generally unrecognized and uncommunicated until someone crashes into them; then everything blows up and people are hurt. Yelling or some other form of 'attitude' often accompanies these barriers. These become hard & fast rules in an effort to remove the discomfort we have in the situation.
When we put barriers in place, we often blame those explosions on someone else. "I wouldn't have yelled if you'd just done as I said!" (or something similar). It's easy to take a step back from responsibility for our own actions/reactions when we can blame them on boundaries and someone else.
Great question! I'm glad you asked.
A moment that needs a boundary is one where we start to feel uncomfortable in some way. This may be emotionally, it may also be physically. We feel uncomfortable, and we want the situation to shift so we feel more comfortable.
In this moment we choose a barrier or a boundary. If we choose a boundary, we need to recognize the emotion we feel and what about the situation lead us to that emotion. We also need to recognize that we can only control ourselves. We cannot make someone else behave a certain way. When we figure out how we feel and why we think we feel it, we can then communicate to the other person/people how we feel.
There can be no expectation that someone else makes us feel better. That is not their responsibility. It's their responsibility to manage their own emotions - and our responsibility to manage ours.
Over time we can learn the skills necessary to talk through these situations. For now, start with identifying and communicating your emotions. Is there something that will help you feel better? It's okay to communicate and ask. It's also okay to remove yourself from the situation, or explore and discover you're uncomfortable, but the situation is still okay.
These are boundaries. There is a single situation, but several different ways you can behave in order to make the situation okay for you - or you can leave the situation. Boundaries are all about your own emotions and your own actions.
A barrier is letting go of responsibility or control over your own emotions, not consciously choosing how to behave in the moment, using anger or force to try to control someone else's behaviour or emotions. And making someone else take responsibility for your emotions.
There was a problem reporting this post.
Please confirm you want to block this member.
You will no longer be able to:
Please note: This action will also remove this member from your connections and send a report to the site admin. Please allow a few minutes for this process to complete.