People talk about boundaries as if they were fences of protection around the self that keep others from hurting us.
This is not so.
A boundary is not a line in the sand that you point out to others while you watch from the bleachers and penalize them for crossing. Unless it’s an actual “no trespassing” sign. HA!
A boundary is not something we set for others; it’s something we set for ourselves.
A person can only have healthy external boundaries with others once they have set and kept healthy, internal boundaries for themselves. AKA acts of personal consistency and integrity around the commitments they make and goals they set for themselves.
This is why boundaries always start with the self.
Boundaries are not rules of engagement other people have to agree to in order to be in our lives. That’s an emotionally immature look at boundaries and more aptly a threatening act of control, manipulation, and coercion: “Either you do what I want, or I won’t be your friend.”
Boundaries are the guideposts we set for ourselves to protect us from saying, “Yes,” when we mean to say, “No.”
A boundary is a tool that helps us protect the reality of what we can give and receive within our comfort zone (versus the unrealistic expectations of what we wish we could give and endure but know that we can’t). That’s it. That’s all a boundary is.
One personal boundary I have is that I steer clear of people I deem reckless and self-destructive, just as I would stay away from a car where the breaks didn’t work: because it’s an accident waiting to happen.
In my experience, if a person is destructive toward themselves, they eventually become destructive to those around them. There are, of course, degrees of destruction and varying judgments as to what it means to be destructive, which is what makes it a very personal issue. Only you know what feels comfortable to engage with.
The way that boundary demonstrates itself in action is that once I deem a person reckless, I simply back away. I do not call a press conference and publicly shame them on social media stating, “You have crossed my boundary; and therefore, I am banning you from my life!” HA!
No, the boundary is for me. It’s about my awareness and recognition of what’s in my best interest and the actions I need to take to care for myself and my family.
If they ask why I have distanced myself from them, and I don’t feel safe sharing that with them, I just quietly move on. Unconditional love means you can still carry someone in your heart, and lift them up in your thoughts, without keeping them, and the chaos they bring, in your life.
If I feel safe in sharing, I might say something like, “I love you unconditionally. I wish you wellness. However, I’m not comfortable with your reckless behaviors, and I don’t want you in my life at this time.”
In that statement, I am not making it about them and their recklessness as much as I am making it about me and my discomfort around their recklessness, because that’s the truth of a boundary: it’s about the person setting it.
The boundary isn’t a line they mustn’t cross.
The boundary is a line I choose not to cross.
In effect, the boundary is, “I am choosing not to step into an arena of discomfort.” I don’t have to defend or justify my feelings or reasons because I have just as much right to my feelings of discomfort as they have a right to their actions of recklessness.
I’m not telling them that they have to change or promising them that if they do, I will be there for them. That’s not how I use boundaries. I’m making a statement based on the time I took to evaluate the situation and make a discerning choice about this person or relationship and what impact it’s having on my life. It’s not just their actions that I consider but also my life experience, principles, how it’s impacting my health, my family, and my current resources for managing my time and my relationships. It’s really not about them.
Choosing to no longer have someone in your life, and communicating that with as much kindness and compassion as possible, is not cold. It’s not cruel. It’s self-care. People with strong internal boundaries get it. They might feel hurt, but they have respect for boundaries. If they are wise, they will use it as an opportunity for introspection and maybe even self-improvement. If they are reactive and immature they will become defensive and possibly violent.
If it was a snap judgment over a short period of time, then the loss can’t possibly be significant, as neither person really knew each other. If it’s after a year or more of friendship, it’s likely that the issue has been addressed in the past, more than once, and should therefore come as no surprise when the boundary is set.
If their life begins to demonstrate more stability, and less recklessness and self-destruction, and consistently exhibits that over a sustained period of time, and/or I evolve to a place of not being uncomfortable with recklessness, and there is a mutual desire to connect, I’ll keep an open mind.
Most relationships are fluid, not fixed. Every bridge that’s burned can be built again. We always have choice and change is the only constant thing in life. Then again, once a person gets to a point of having to actually tell someone they don’t want them in their life, it’s probably not likely they will ever go back; not if they maintain healthy internal boundaries.
I have found that the healthier my internal boundaries become, the healthier the internal boundaries of those around me also seem to be. We teach people how we want to be treated not only by how we treat them, or allow ourselves to be treated, but I think even more so by how we treat ourselves.
Maintaining healthy internal boundaries can be an ongoing process of two steps forward, one step back. Awareness is the first step forward, and mindfulness the second step forward. The third step, is just an old habit, it’s the one we take backward, and it’s best met with self-compassion and a reminder to return to step 1 and 2.
Weak internal boundaries can include:
– Saying yes when you want to say no.
– Giving too much.
– Taking on too much blame or responsibility.
– Being highly reactive to emotional triggers, rejection, and criticism.
– Oversharing or sharing too much too soon.
– Lacking the ability to discern and balance appropriate transparency with personal privacy.
– Too much information. Not everyone wants to know everything about you, what you think, feel, etc. TMI can make people uncomfortable and make others question: if you are too loose with your own private life will you be too loose with theirs? Mystery is underrated.
– Not stating your needs and not requiring equity, mutual respect, and reciprocity in relationships whether personal, professional, romantic, or familial.
Weak boundaries most often come from:
-A fear of abandonment or rejection.
-Not having been raised with clear boundaries or encouraged to set them for oneself.
-Having a weak or non-existent identity/sense of self that is easily malleable and permeable based on outward influences.
-A manic or depressive cycle within a bipolar diagnosis.
But not everyone can maintain healthy boundaries. In fact, for some people, boundaries might seem like a hazard to their profession.
I love being around creative people, comics, performers, artists, dancers, musicians, and the theatre and I have been blessed to meet some of the most interesting, entertaining, magical people, most of whom captured my heart with their great desire to love. These amazing beings of light have taught me so much about boundaries, mostly through their lack thereof. HA! Some artists (many comics for example) build careers on TMI, how on earth do they balance that with healthy internal boundaries?
They don’t (or they do but it’s often a struggle to balance).
They love. They love big. They love hard. They love many!
Love is a frequency I resonate with easily.
Sometimes, we as people, want so much to be loved and accepted by others, to feel a sense of connectedness physically that matches the conceptual sense of oneness we believe in spiritually, that we just want to give of ourselves with abandon, which is what I believe keeps some of the most sparkly and creative people in the world from having healthy internal boundaries in the first place. It’s truly understandable. The world needs these precious lovers of life; but so too, these dear ones need internal boundaries to protect their often fragile spirits.
A great example of this love energy in action is the 1999 Academy Award speech by Roberto Benigni, when he declared, “I want to make love to you all!” It was charming, and his energy was magnetic and inviting. But maintaining that level of exuberance isn’t sustainable. It was understood that he was overcome in that moment; and his surprise and joy were contagious, which is why it was forgiven and even celebrated that what he did was uncustomary (If memory serves he actually walked on the seats, into the audience).
If he behaved that way all the time, at 11 on a dial that only goes to 10, he wouldn’t elevate those around him to a higher level, he would deplete those around him in order to maintain his high. Health is not based on maintaining a high, but rather a balance. We need both the rest and digest (parasympathetic) as well as the fight or flight (sympathetic) systems in order to maintain health.
The body has rhythms: highs and lows. When we come to know balance and homeostasis by having healthy internal boundaries, we can allow ourselves occasional healthy outbursts of magical creative mania… or at least stray from what we might normally expect of ourselves or others.
A touch of madness and mania can be encouraged in the arts, and some might even argue necessary, for true creative genius. But being high 100% of the time is not healthy, which is why we have and maintain boundaries within ourselves; and help the creative people in our lives to do the same.
A boundary is used to manage our own vulnerabilities, not to manage the toxicity of others. It’s not about managing anyone but the self.
Boundaries are a mixture of discernments, integrity and self-love. They are what you set for yourself; they are yours.
Boundaries are about taking control of your life, for you.
But you have to have them with yourself before you can set them with others.
It all starts with the first breath of recogniztion that a boundary is needed.