A while back, I had a client say, “Melissa, you’d be SO PROUD of me! I’m the boundary queen.” As a therapist, these words are like a dream come true! I love it when people take what they’re learning in my office and put it in to play. But as she started sharing example after example of all the ways she’s implemented boundaries, a huge knot started to form in my gut. I realized, as she was talking, that these weren’t boundaries…they were walls.
Lately, it seems like boundaries are the talk of the town. If there’s a problem, the solution is boundaries. And don’t get me wrong…I LOOOOOOOVE talkin’ about boundaries because they can bring you SO MUCH closer, especially in your romantic relationships, but I also think there’s a lot of misconceptions about boundaries. What are they? What aren’t they? And…at what point does a boundary turn into a wall?
There are many types of boundaries. I’m focusing on the invisible boundaries between you and other people. The sometimes spoken, sometimes unspoken, ways that allow other people to treat us…or the ways we treat ourselves.
What are a person’s boundaries?
- Setting limits for how other people can treat you and talk to you
- Being transparent about your feelings or position on a topic and being OK if other people don’t agree
- Being able to hear someone else’s position and also saying “no”
- Voicing your truth
- Knowing where you end, and someone else begins
- Setting reasonable expectations about how to treat you
- Being honest with yourself and others, even if it’s not something that other people want to hear
- Letting people know when something feels bad or isn’t ok for you
- Sharing emotions and not needing to be fixed
- Having AND communicating expectations
But sometimes, when we hit the end of our skillset, a boundary might turn into a wall. This happens when we know, and really sense, that we have stepped out of our own integrity. We recognize it, want to fix it, but don’t know how…so we shut it down!
A wall is different from a boundary in that a wall is:
- Impenetrable and unable to hear any other positions
- Cold and authoritarian
- Shut off and/or quiet
- Unemotional (except maybe anger)
- A protective shield…always keeping others an arm’s distance away
A wall can be a boundary, but a boundary cannot be a wall.
If you notice that while attempting to establish a boundary, you’ve suddenly put up a wall, try asking yourself these questions:
- What about this doesn’t feel good for me?
- How can I communicate this in a way that’s truthful, and also projects compassion and empathy?
- What part of this boundary is in MY CONTROL?
- In what ways am I compromising my own values to make other people more comfortable?
- Will this boundary honor me? If so, how can I convey that in a way I feel proud of?
Use these questions as a way to develop your skill set as you move towards boundaries, and away from walls. And don’t get frustrated if it doesn’t come naturally. Unfortunately, we grew up in a world where boundaries haven’t always been the norm. You may be learning this for the very first time. That’s ok.
One of the most important things to know about boundaries is this…they don’t have to feel good to other people. In fact, if you’ve set a good boundary, that means you’re no longer allowing others to walk all over you. I can almost guarantee that will cause other people discomfort and could lead to a lot of grumbling. Please don’t back down. That’s just a sign that you’ve likely set a good boundary.
If you need help developing your boundaries in a way that’s both protecting AND connecting in your relationship, Knot Counseling in Lakewood, Colorado offers free consultations. Call today to see if counseling can help you.