Almost every discussion about healthy relationships includes the concept of boundaries. Setting them is essential, keeping them is imperative, and understanding them is part of understanding ourselves.
But what are “boundaries” exactly? We use the word often, but each of us might relate to it somewhat differently.
For me, boundaries are an extension of personal principles expressed in relationships with other people. These personal, relational guidelines define how people are- and are not – invited to engage with us. Our personal guidelines act as safeguards that keep our emotional borders secure. They can be behavioural, “I don’t answer work emails on Sundays,” or emotional, “I don’t respond to insults.”
We tend to think of these relational guidelines as walls, keeping us safe by separating us from others. In some cases, walls are indeed necessary and appropriate. Sometimes, however, our guidelines activate because we want to have someone or something in our lives, and we need a safe structure to let them in. By establishing our behavioural and emotional borders, we create a space where we are willing to work, love, play, and be. If someone or something does not, can not, or will not honour that space, that is up to them. Our job is to define it, make its borders clear, and communicate with integrity.
Tara Brach believes, “The boundary to what we can accept is the boundary to our freedom.”
When in fear, we retreat. When we feel safe, we are free to move forward. How can we ensure we feel —and are — safe when we can’t control other people? Al-Anon taught me that it only takes one person to set a healthy boundary. Sometimes it’s easier to offer what we are comfortable with rather than what we are not: “weekday lunches work great for me” rather than “I’m not giving up my weekend just to have lunch.” Clarity is critical, and brevity helps. We can be clear about how we feel without getting stuck in the weeds of why.
There are times when the only way to bring down barriers is to set boundaries ~Pema Chodron, The Places That Scare You
Today, I invite you to consider how your guidelines can be beautiful tools for stepping fully into your own life. How do your relational guidelines —your boundaries— serve you today?