This is part one in a three-part series on boundaries. In this post I define boundaries, differentiate them from rules, talk about how they empower everyone, and draw the connection between boundaries and consequences. Part two goes up tomorrow, part three the following day.
First, I have a request of you: Set aside five undisturbed minutes – today – to do nothing but focus on your breath. Would you do that right now, even before you read on?
Boundaries may be the most important tool in an emotionally healthy life. They are the powerful answer to Kish Kovacs Doyle’s comment on my previous post: “[T]hose victims who won’t accept responsibility for their actions or decisions will not learn from your words.”
Boundaries define the limit of where you end and others begin and they empower you to choose how you will be treated. Boundaries are not against people. Rather, they are about you and about taking action to protect yourself. They allow you to feel comfortable in the knowledge that you can and will protect yourself from thoughtlessness, carelessness, and even downright cruelty from others
A boundary is only as effective as its consequence. When your boundaries are violated you are briefly empowered. To maintain that power – a power over yourself – it is imperative that you take action. Often the most powerful action you can take is to remove yourself from a situation. Typically, the least powerful action you can take is to ignore what happened. A boundary violation with no consequence (or worse, with inconsistent consequences) invites limit-testing and paints a target on your head. We are talking about your limits here. Put them first, even if you want to help someone else. There is a reason why you need to put your own mask on before you help others with theirs.
Boundaries are an area of life which can always be strengthened, but don’t strengthen the wrong thing. People often think that they are stating boundaries when they in fact stating rules, wants or expectations. We can only control ourselves. When we attempt to control other people and their actions we are not using boundaries. Those are called rules. Boundaries are only about us, and they are about what we will do if our “rules for personal engagement” are crossed.
Boundaries give everyone more power because they respect everyone’s right to choose for themselves. For example, contrast “Stop speaking disrespectfully to me!” with “If I am spoken to disrespectfully, I will leave until the conversation can continue respectfully.” The first is a rule and is telling someone what to do. The second acknowledges that both people have agency. It tells someone what to do if they want to interact with you. They choose. You choose. Awesome. Strong boundaries require consistency, as well as some degree of conscious allowance for people being people. It is you, however, who must be entirely comfortable with and aware of whatever wiggle-room you offer. Wiggle room is very dangerous if given to the wrong people. Unfortunately, it is those same people who will try hardest to extract it from you. I will write more about that another time.
Early on in intimate relationships people are said to wear rose-colored glasses. A side-effect of that tint is that all red flags look like flags. At that stage in relationships we are – or should be – carefully evaluating things as we get new information. (Sounds clinical, but it doesn’t happen on a whiteboard.) How people relate to and respond to your stated limits and desires is an excellent barometer for their character. Boundaries are very helpful in that they primarily evaluate actions, and not distractions. If you ignore actions and just listen to words (or get distracted by skin), it won’t be pretty down the road.
Want to read more ramblings about boundaries and the fact that they are not as simple as the word might imply? Want to know why I think that they are the tool for self-actualization? Part two of three goes up tomorrow.
Are you are among the people who took five minutes to focus on your breath? Do you know how you felt before and after? If you are comfortable commenting or emailing, I would love to hear what the experience was like for you. I use gmail and my username is contactyair.