Boundaries are a great container for love and growth in relationships. I love that I have very clear boundaries and part of that means putting my own needs first with self-care. If I don’t look after myself, how can I have the energy to meet my family’s needs? How can I create a safe, deep and nurturing space for clients that I coach?
So what are boundaries? Simply put, what is ok and what is not ok for you. Boundaries are flexible, we are constantly reviewing, inquiring and negotiating them as we learn and grow the skills we need to navigate the world. They are changing all the time as we change.
Our parents help us enforce them for the first 7-8 years of our lives because we are not resourced to deal with life yet. As we learn new skills to navigate life, we learn to be able to express them. In Pre-school, children are taught language to set their boundaries when they learn to say 'Stop it I don't like it”, when faced with behaviour they are not ok with. They are learning to express their Yes and No.
When someone has low boundaries they get stepped on a lot because they often do not know what their ‘No’ is, that is, what is not ok for them. They can also rub others the wrong way by not being aware of others’ boundaries. People with really high and rigid boundaries often struggle to let others in. They create distance between themselves and others, often to feel safe, which does not allow others to get to know the real them.
Most of the interpersonal conflict experienced by people I've coached over the years has involved boundary violations. Often without people really understanding what was going on.
How can we think constructively about boundaries?
Boundary setting is an expression of self-love and community care. It creates healthy relationship dynamics because we are being honest about our needs. When we honour our own needs, we are bringing our whole self to a relationship.
When we hide what we need, we pretend to be something that we are not, we are performing. When other people set boundaries with you, don’t make it about you and what you need. Thank them for setting their own boundaries. You might not like what they say or you may not be able to meet their needs but thank them for telling you what they need. All you need to say is, ‘Thankyou for telling me what you need”.
There is a misconception that boundaries are created to keep us small, marginalise us, push us into a corner or keep us from being free. That is not boundary setting, that is controlling behaviour. There is a huge difference between someone expressing a boundary to protect their sacred space and someone trying to exert control over your space. One is someone protecting their own wellbeing whilst the other is someone who is trying to fill their own desires with dominance over another.
A boundary is as much about what you are saying yes to as it is what you are saying no to. To quote the fabulous writer Elizabeth Gilbert. “Within you sacred space can be your time, your creativity, your loved ones, your privacy, your recovery, your values, your mental health, your joy, your heart and your soul”.
How do we get better with boundaries?
We get super clear on our desires. Many people can tell me what they don't want. But most often they struggle to tell me what they do want in their life. We bring boundaries to life when we can express our desires. When you express your desire and someone honours your boundary, thank them. Praise them. You could say “Thank you so much for……it made me feel…..”.
We work on learning to express and feel our emotions in an embodied way. When we learn to express our emotions in a grounded way, we get comfortable listening to their messages and we learn skills to self-regulate our nervous system. This in turn helps us work through if we are ok or not ok in a situation. If we are working from a neural network that is an adult part of us, rather than one developed in childhood which is an outdated part of us, we get clarity on what our true Yes and No is.
When someone communicates with you how they like to be touched or not touched, treated or spoken to, they are expressing their boundaries. Try not to see this as a rejection of you. It is ok if they don’t want to engage with you in the way you want to engage. It is not a measure of your worthiness as a person. It is just their boundaries being expressed. Thank them for telling you.
Finally, we work through what our purpose in life is. This is a big existential question but so linked to desire and emotional expression. When we are clear about what our bigger picture is, what we want, how that makes us feel, we experience a sense of love and freedom inside. Then we are content to just 'be'.
This is not short term work, it is ongoing, forever.
It is the lifelong adventure of learning.