‘O boundaries, garden of wit and will;
Tend to inner fields through every season;
Foster the lands of relation fertile.
When most people hear the word, “boundaries,” it sends a cringe throughout the entire body, fear seeded in the mind, tension, anger, rigidity, limitations. In a society that is laden with guidelines and expectations, boundaries have collected a negative and disempowering connotative aura – resulting in sensations of repulsion and avoidance. Why do we associate restriction and stringent behaviors with boundary-setting? Where did this misunderstanding stem from and how can we learn to cultivate healing relationships through the tools that boundaries can offer?
They become less daunting when they are aligned with personal values, and rooted in assertiveness, respect, and compassion. When we heal our relationship with them, we are able to navigate each area of boundaries – time, energy, physical, social, financial, mental, etc. – with a sense of liberation and empowerment. So how do we get there?
Emotions, the Name of the Game
Carl Jung provided more than just the basics of tackling the collective unconscious. Following “Two Essays on Analytical Psychology,” Jung corresponds, “the Self is our life’s goal, for it is the completest expression of that fateful combination we call individuality” (Jung, CW 7, par. 404). Through his words and teachings, the interconnectedness of reality, emotion, relational habits, environments and familial and cultural influence gather clarity. These elements make themselves evident in the outcome of the thoughts and emotions expressed through words, actions and lack thereof. The unconscious ripple of expressions either work in accordance with the truth of Self or in discordance. Emotions can be used to facilitate growth, change and even to cultivate respect by acting as the mouthpiece for inner truth. Sounds like quite the spoon to swallow, but when you dig down to the root of it all – sitting beneath hours of research, studious glasses and manuscripts full of philosophical and psychological questions – what remains is you. The Self, your inner truth. This is where boundaries come into play. Let’s consider individuality and the role of truth in setting strong boundaries.
Within the study of social development, we have learned that there is no one-size-fits-all for anything. Not the clothes you wear, music you listen to, food you eat, exercise you engage in, people you interact with, religion you follow. None of it. It’s a false sense of security that puts a band-aid over connecting deeply with personal needs, desires and preferences. A band-aid that conceals the truth of our uniqueness, dismantles our experiences into compartmentalized pieces that can be easily labeled – sucking the individuality from the marrow of what makes us who we are. This makes for an arduous task of boundary-setting. Boundaries become foreign when denied the space and availability to be witnessed.
Befriending Boundaries & the Value of Values
After understanding how boundaries can be utilized as tools in our everyday lives and environments, they can become an ally in positive social and psychological engagement. Below are some ways to uncover your own respectful boundaries. Set some time aside to meditate and journal on / rate / respond to the following:
Why do you want boundaries?
What type of boundary are you most struggling with (time, energy, physical, social, financial, mental, etc.)?
Define your non-negotiables in different aspects of your life.
Reflect on times where your boundaries were crossed and how it made you feel.
What could you say “no” to more often? Are you able to turn down invitations/opportunities to take care of your needs?
When you dishonor a boundary of yours, what are you saying “yes” to, and what are you saying “no” to?
What do other people do that makes you feel good? What about what you do to make others feel good?
What is the impact of not having boundaries with yourself and others?
Reflect on any guilt or discomfort you feel when setting boundaries.
Are you clear on your values? Define your core values and how they align with your current boundaries. How could you shift your boundaries to resonate more deeply?
Once you have completed these prompts, try your hand at taking action! Say no to something that doesn’t align with your boundaries at least once a day, or once this week if that doesn’t feel attainable yet.
Recognizing Healthy vs. Unhealthy Boundaries
Boundaries are tools meant to deepen our relationship to ourselves, others and our overall human experience. However, just like with food, movement and work and play, there is a balance between healthy and potentially unhealthy boundaries. When setting a new boundary, ask yourself,
Where is the desire to set this boundary coming from? Why is it important that I set this boundary?
What need is not being met?
Are there any emotions associated with this particular boundary?
How would I feel if somebody set this boundary with me?
Does this boundary respect myself and the boundaries of those involved?
Have I taken time to explore multiple perspectives and provide myself space and compassion prior to making a final decision?
The questions above will facilitate navigating whether a boundary is coming from a space of compassion, acceptance and respect, or from a repellent thought, emotion and/or behavior. Although we may be coming from a space of good intentions, it is also imperative to gather where other parties are setting their boundaries from, and to understand the signs of when a boundary may have been or is actively being crossed. In this instance, anger and values are two peas in an emotionally-charged pod. Anger is a predominant indicator when it comes to boundaries; it flashes flagrantly, shouting, “hey! One of my boundaries was just crossed!” This may lead to experiences of dysregulation, feeling dismissed or unimportant. A boundary should never take away the free will of someone else, nor should it limit the potential for growth in any circumstance (boundaries are resources to encourage growth). Outside of anger, if you find yourself experiencing burnout, dysregulation, confusion, frustration, confinement, fear or stagnancy, become aware and curious as these may be signs that a boundary is being overstepped.
Listen to your intuition and practice gentle, assertive engagement when relaying a boundary or reinforcing consequences of crossed boundaries. Preparatory steps to sharing a boundary may look like reviewing your intentions and gathering examples of when you felt disrespected. Practice, “I feel/felt” statements during interactions to retain the communicative power. Pushing onto someone else that they have done something to upset you through “you” statements can be triggering and provoke argumentative behavior.
In whole, boundaries are functional tools to utilize in relational work. They stimulate positive feedback, interactions and self-development. By tuning into and getting clear on intentions, values and desired interactions, boundaries hold the potential to invite respect and ultimately, wellbeing into all elements of our lives. Brene Brown phrased the beauty of this resource simply, sharing that, “the most compassionate people are those with the strongest boundaries,” (Brene Brown).