Personal boundaries are foundational

Personal boundaries are foundational

farm road and fencesBoundaries are foundational – they are there to keep in what is ours and keep out what is not.  Personal boundaries are a key component.

Let’s start by considering different examples of physical boundaries:

  • Our skin
  • Fences
  • Property lines between neighbors

These all exist to keep in what serves us and out what does not.  They draw a representation between what is ‘us’ and what is not ‘us.

In addition to physical boundaries, there are also invisible boundaries, often called personal boundaries, which serve the same purpose.  They exist to keep what nurtures us close to us, and to keep out what does not nurture us.

Personal Boundaries

These personal boundaries can take many different forms, and once we recognize that they exist and that they have a great impact on our lives, they can be one of our greatest assets.  Ideally, boundaries are set from a place of love and compassion.  They are not there to harm others, they are there to protect ourselves.

Personal boundaries are not meant to be barricades.  They can be loosened when the situation warrants it and tightened up with necessary.  A specific boundary may depend on the other person that’s involved and what your past history is with that person — have they proven to be trustworthy and have good intent?  If so, then your boundary will likely be more relaxed.  If the other person has not been trustworthy or acted with good intent, then your boundary will likely be stronger and more strict.

It’s key to know how to allow your boundaries to adjust, according to the other people involved in the situation.

Inner boundaries

We can have inner boundaries – that we use internally to determine the appropriate action to take. These may include ideas like:

  • It’s not my job to take responsibility for others.
  • I don’t have to anticipate the needs of others.
  • It’s OK if others get angry.
  • It’s my job to make me happy.
  • Nobody has to agree with me.
  • It’s OK to say no.
  • I have a right to my own feelings.
  • It’s not my job to fix others.
  • I am enough.

Please don’t take this out of context.  Of course, sometimes others are appropriately dependent on us – such as when we are parenting or caring for small children, or in the case of a person who has a disability or is otherwise unable to do things for themselves.  But, in general, the healthiest situation is when each person recognizes that they are responsible for meeting their own needs.

This reminds me of Jim Rohn’s quote:

“The greatest gift you can give somebody is your own personal development. I used to say, ‘If you will take care of me, I will take care of you.’ Now I say, I will take care of me for you, if you will take care of you for me.”

Taking responsibility for ourselves is a big part of personal development.  Boundaries allow us to see what is actually ours and what is not.  They help us to stay out of getting enmeshed into other people’s lives when it’s truly not serving either of us to do so.  Recognizing what our role is — to care for ourselves and meet our own needs first allows us to not be trying to fix or control others.  It also allows us to do things that deeply nourish us and make us happy.

Boundaries in the Outer World

Some boundaries are more about the outside world and taking into account other’s boundaries.

Physical boundaries

Asking before you hug someone.  This is respectful of their physical boundaries.  This also extends to children.  Allowing them the choice to hug someone or perhaps giving them the alternatives of a high-5 or a wave can be very empowering to children, allowing them to keep good physical boundaries according to their level of comfort.

Not attending a family event because you feel unsafe or uncomfortable with someone else who will be there.  Sometimes it’s necessary to draw a line and simply decide not to attend an event.

Telling an acquaintance that you only have 5 minutes to chat and if they want to have a more in-depth discussion, they’ll need to set up an appointment with you.  This teaches this person to respect your time.

Emotional boundaries

Not shaming or blaming someone (including your own children) for not acting they way that you want them to.  Would it be more effective and empowering to have an open conversation about the issue instead?

Not allowing others to speak to you disrespectfully.  We teach others how to treat us.  If someone is being disrespectful to you, it’s because you’re allowing that behavior.  You don’t need to get angry or to attack them.  A simple statement like ‘This style of communication isn’t working for me right now.  If you can’t speak respectfully to me, I will have to leave the room’ carries a lot of power.

Managing your own anxiety or reaction so that you don’t lash out at loved ones.  Remember that your emotional response is your responsibility.  Feeling the feelings and acting upon feelings are two entirely different things.  Of course our feelings should inform our behavior, but not to the extent that we are not respecting the boundaries of another.

Ideal Boundaries

The best boundaries are set out of love.  By enforcing our boundaries in love, others will learn how we expect them to treat us.  When we set our own boundaries, we become more aware of the needs of others and how to better respect their boundaries.  Through openness and honesty with each other, we can avoid many common issues in our intimate and family relationships.



Photo by Bennett Dungan on Unsplash

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