I used to think that having a boundary meant proclaiming ultimatums, drawing lines in the sand and then defending them resolutely. I used to associate having good boundaries with being disconnected and cut off from others.
Because of my deeply ingrained fear of not meeting other people’s needs or being who other people wanted me to be, I was habitually out of touch with myself. I wouldn’t even realize what I was wanting or where my own boundaries were until the conversation had become quite heated.
Once I was aware of how upset or hurt I was, instead of getting clear on what was actually happening for me and talking about what I needed and where my limits were, I would analyze and judge the other person, giving them “feedback” on how I’d like them to be different. That usually ended in a power struggle, ultimatums, and disconnection.
As you can imagine, this approach erodes trust and actually violates the other person’s boundaries and decreases emotional safety between people.
Although I’m still working on these deeply ingrained habits, here are some of things I’ve learned in my journey since those times:
Our individual boundaries define the space in which we are agreeing to play and interact with each other. They’re agreements that invite and nurture the best possible interpersonal space for our relationships to really thrive.
Boundaries are not rigid walls of disconnection. They’re not proclamations that we blurt out during a charged conversation after a lot of self-silencing.
Instead, by protecting the well-being of our physical, sexual, emotional, mental, spiritual, and energetic selves, boundaries invite further conversations and deeper connections with ourselves and others.
Done well, they’re dynamic, living agreements that are part of our daily lived experiences with one another. They’re moment-to-moment agreements that shift and change as our levels of trust ebb and flow. They’re fluid, dynamic, and responsive to relational conditions.
Done well, they keep us both safe and connected to one another.
In order to set healthy boundaries with others, we first need to actually connect with, make peace with, and deeply accept and acknowledge our own inner boundaries and preferences. If we’re constantly overriding and dismissing our own boundaries, we might not talk about them until they’ve actually become a wall.
3 Key Points to Remember:
If someone communicates their boundaries to you, they’re actually trying to keep you in their life, not push you away. Learn to receive others’ boundaries with grace, curiosity, and compassion.
Our boundaries soften as people respect them. When you respect my boundaries, they soften and shift. However, when you dismiss, ignore, or override my boundaries, they become more rigidly reinforced.
The only people who will object to or try to override your boundaries are the people who benefit from you not having any. Think about that.
If you struggle to bring up boundary conversations, here are a couple of scripts to start you off:
“Hey, I have something difficult to say, and I might fuck this up but this is an important conversation and you are important to me and so it’s worth having. Are you willing to grapple through this with me even if I don’t say it all perfectly?”
“I’m kinda new to talking directly about boundaries. I’m still figuring out where and what they are for me, but it’s important to me to get better at this. I would love to practice with you and I’d love for you to practice with me and for us to be a safe space for each other.”
Let’s develop a softer language.
Let’s become humane, clear, and kind about our boundaries.
Let’s learn how to receive others’ boundaries without mistaking them for walls.
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I love your distinction between boundaries and walls. The way you describe boundaries here, it feels like a better word might be "membranes," like a cell membrane that lets nutrients in but keeps toxins out.