Boundaries - No Paper Fences

"Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others." Brene Brown One of the common issues in relationship counseling is the issue of setting and maintaining boundaries. Every person needs healthy boundaries; every relationship needs healthy boundaries. Boundaries define us, protect us, and allow and enable good, solid, happy relationships. For most of us we don’t realize we have boundary issues until someone is stepping on our toes or us on theirs. Yet, boundaries are one of the most essential needs of individuals and of relationships.

So, what is a boundary? The dictionary defines it as something that indicates bounds or limits; a limiting or bounding line. What does that mean relating to humans and relationships? Just envision around yourself a bubble, as big or as little as you need, in that bubble is your words, your actions, your thoughts, your feelings and your personal space. You are responsible for those things, no one has the right to tell you how to think, feel or do things, for example, a parent telling their child not to cry because that didn’t hurt is crossing two boundaries, first, telling the child not to cry, the child is crying for a reason. Second telling the child that didn’t hurt, the parent is not in the body of the child, they do not know whether that hurt or not; they have crossed a boundary by telling the child what they can or cannot feel.

Our boundaries need to be firm and constant, they also need to be adaptable to our changing life. An example might be where an individual has a need of a very large personal space yet, when they get married, the need for that amount of space will most likely shrink a lot when it comes to their partner. Boundaries protect us by keeping people out of our space, by them not being able to control us, our thoughts, feelings, actions, etc..

The only way our boundaries can do that the only way our boundaries will be respected is if we respect our boundaries also. Eleanor Roosevelt said we can’t be a door mat if we don’t lie down. We need to be firm in the setting and maintaining of our boundaries. This means that we need to stand up for ourselves, firmly, politely and if necessary, forcefully-not aggressively. If someone violates our boundaries and hurts us once, shame on them, if it happens again or if we are still hurting weeks later shame on us, we have set or maintained our boundary.

How do boundaries define us? A functional boundary allows us the choice of saying yes because we can say no. So if we feel we are always being pressured to do or say something that we don’t feel like (a boundary violation) we often say no because we don’t like the pressure or control. This is a knee-jerk reaction, we may even like what we are being coerced to do. However, because of the pressure we automatically say “no.” by setting the boundary no we have a choice to say yes. Our choices help define us. Thus, the kind of boundaries we set help define us.

When good, stable boundaries are set individually and as a couple healthy and happy relationships abound. Healthy and happy relationships grow where there is mutual respect and caring, where there are two healthy and strong, independent individuals, who can and do take care of themselves. This type of a relationship indicates you are in the relationship because you choose to be, not because you need to be.

Boundaries are based on our needs and our needs are our business, not our partner’s responsibility. It is fantastic when our partner cares and helps and supports us in dealing with our needs, but it is still up to us to do so. To expect our partner to make us feel secure, happy or important is a boundary violation. Setting boundaries requires a good deal of introspection, looking at how we are.

Setting a boundary is not an ultimatum, “you will do this or else,” it is a choice, “I choose to live my life this way, if you decide that is how you want to live great, if not, I choose to do …” The other person has a choice to accept or not accept your choice knowing the results. It may seem you are saying, “this way or else,” but really you are saying, “you need to make a choice, I want you to feel free to make that choice.”

How to set a boundary can differ from situation to situation and from person to person. You need to know and understand what the issue that bothers is, you need to state that issue along with some version of this is no longer acceptable to me, I’ve made a choice to be different. You must be okay with the boundary yourself; you need to be able to live that way as well; ie. talk respectfully, you need to do that as well. Next, you need to be okay with the consequence you choose, you can’t say if this happens then I am leaving unless you can actually leave. Finally there needs to be a consequence, otherwise it is a dream.

Boundaries are there to help you feel happy with your life. They tell you that you are worth standing up for. They inform your partner where you need some extra care and attention. All of this is a good thing; you do deserve to have the best life possible. So go and enjoy yourselves; treat each other; love each other. Boundaries make this possible in a healthy and functional way.

"Boundaries are to protect life, not to limit pleasure." Edwin Louis Cole