A lot of adults struggle with understanding what boundaries are and how to set boundaries. In this post, we will begin to unpack the purpose of boundaries, some examples of boundaries, and what is within our boundaries that we have control over.
WHAT ARE BOUNDARIES?
Boundaries are like property lines. They define what is us and what is not us. Boundaries say “this is me and my property” and “this is not me and not my property.” Now if something is your property, it’s your responsibility. The same applies to boundaries. It helps you know what is your responsibility and what you need to take ownership for versus what isn’t your responsibility and what you don’t need to take ownership for.
According to Henry Cloud, “Boundaries help us to distinguish our property so that we can take care of it… We need to keep things that will nurture us inside our fences and keep things that will harm us outside.” Boundaries keep all the good stuff of our lives actually IN our lives and keep the bad and not-good stuff in the world out of our lives.
Now, you just heard me refer to boundaries as fences. Fences are not walls. When we think of walls, we usually think of something that is impenetrable – which can lead to disconnection and isolation. We’re not meant to wall ourselves off from everyone and everything around us. Instead, we build fences. Fences are clearly-set dividers that separate us from everyone else. They can be destroyed… but they also can be passed through via gates.
For example, if I have a boundary that “I only share intimate parts of my life with my closest friends,” someone can start outside the boundary because they’re not one of my closest friends. However, with time and the building of mutual trust, I can choose to let them through the boundary via the gate because they’ve earned enough trust to know and share in the most vulnerable parts of my life.
At the same time, a person who was outside that boundary could potentially break it through shame, manipulation, digital hacking, or other means.
You can have emotional boundaries, physical boundaries, emotional boundaries, or even spiritual boundaries.
Whether it’s with family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, or random people, you should have boundaries. You also should have boundaries in every area of your life – at home, at work, or out in the community.
EXAMPLES OF BOUNDARIES
Skin – This boundary literally defines what is physically us and what is not. Everything inside the skin is us. Everything outside is “not us.” For example, I am not my brother. Literally. I am not my friends or my colleagues or anyone else.
Words – No is a powerful word. It’s a one-word sentence that demonstrates control over yourself and helps you say “this is what I do/don’t like, will do, believe, think, etc.” For example, “No, I am not an atheist. I believe in God.” Or “No, I don’t like this. I DO like that.”
State/Country Lines – There’s geographical lines that separate countries, and tell rulers and governments “this is what you do and don’t have control over.” For example, I am not an Israeli. I am an American. This shows who and what I am and am not. I am not responsible for what happens in countries outside of the U.S. I do have (some) responsibility for what happens within the U.S. because I’m an American citizen who can vote.
Geographical Distance – Physically removing yourself from a situation can protect you and your energy when you have reached your limit. For example, if a situation makes me want to release emotion in an unhealthy or unhelpful way, I remove myself and go take a walk to clear my head before coming back to the situation.
Time – Creating time away from something or someone can help define what is and isn’t your responsibility. For example, I only work with clients between 8 AM & 8 PM. Anything after 8 PM and before 8 AM is their responsibility.
Emotional Distance – This is rarely a permanent boundary. However, give your heart space to feel safe after in a toxic situation or being around a toxic person. In the words of Henry Cloud, “You should not continue to set yourself up for hurt and disappointment … Forgive, but guard your heart until you see sustained change.” For example, if I share something vulnerable with a friend and she shames me for it, I’m not going to share vulnerable emotionally charged information with her in the future.
WHAT’S WITHIN OUR CONTROL & BOUNDARIES
Now, we’re going to talk about what things are within our control – things that are within our boundaries. These are the things that we must take ownership for. There’s a lot of things that you are in control of: thoughts, feelings, attitudes, believes, values, desires, behaviors, and decisions. However, we’re going to focus on just a few of thse.
Thoughts – No matter the circumstance, you get to decide what you think about a circumstance. Two people can go through the exact same set of circumstances but interpret them entirely different, creating two radically diverse set of thoughts.
Feelings – Feelings are the result of your thoughts, which are how you interpret your circumstances. A lot of people discount the importance and role of feelings, especially within the realm of religion. While we cannot allow feelings to be in the driver’s seat of our lives, we cannot throw them in the trunk of the car, ignoring them in our lives. How you feel is your responsibility, regardless of the circumstance. Once you take ownership of them, you can begin to figure out what thoughts (and ultimately, circumstances) created your feelings. Then, you can change those thoughts… and possibly change the circumstances as well.
Attitudes & Beliefs – Attitudes are how you orient yourself towards something and how to perceive them. Beliefs are the things that you accept as true. It’s really easy to blame other people when really it’s our attitudes and beliefs that are causing pain in our lives. Nobody can pick your attitude or decide what you believe. That’s on you.
Behaviors & Decisions – We make decisions and act based upon how we think those decisions and actions will make us feel. Unless we are under the Imperius Curse of a Death Eater from Harry Potter, we get to pick how we respond or react to a situation. You don’t get to blame anyone else for the decisions you make and the way you behave.
QUESTION: What areas of your life do you need to set boundaries and choose to take ownership of?
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Setting boundaries is going to allow you to…
- be more productive and manage your time better
- reach your goals faster
- feel less overwhelmed & exhausted
- create a life you actually love
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