B O U N D A R I E S. What a popular topic this is today. We "like and share" the memes. We get pumped when our therapist reminds us to keep good boundaries and feel invigorated when we're applauded and supported in setting and keeping boundaries. But I've noticed something lately in my clinical practice as well as my personal life:
Somewhere along the way, we have begun to use and abuse this word and skew it's meaning to skirt accountability, responsibility and due process. I've noticed something similar with the word authenticity but that's for the next blog post.
People are now using quotes about boundaries much like proof texting Scripture, which is to say, removing from all context and therefore changing their meaning entirely. I believe that many have forgotten or conveniently altered the meaning of the word.
Here's what I'm wondering: What will the world around us begin to look like if we assert boundaries without maintaining personal responsibility and accountability? I'd like to explore what setting and holding boundaries really means. And more importantly, I'd like to talk about what it doesn't.
Boundaries are the end of you and the beginning of someone else.
Boundaries allow you to love deeply and to fully invest where you presently are (romantic relationships, career, parenting, etc.) because you have maintained your "self" (your needs, your desires, your responsibilities, your limitations, etc).
Boundaries inform you of when it's time to "go." They also give you strength and sense to know when that is and to not stay a moment longer than you need to.
Boundaries come with really knowing yourself. Someone who doesn't know themselves will really struggle to form boundaries.
Boundaries are the routines and practices you put in place in order to maintain a baseline state of self-regulation (i.e. self-discipline practices, maintenance of your prior commitments and responsibilities, self-care).
Boundaries are your responsibility to maintain and execute. They should be clear and if done right, they should be fruitful.
Here's what they are not:
Boundaries are not for others to guess or manage. Boundaries should be clearly articulated. They should be “known” about you. You can and should expect others (if you've done your part first) to respect your boundaries.
Boundaries do not skirt responsibility. Handle your business. Be dependable. Show up for your prior commitments. It’s your responsibility to manage your yes(s) and no(s). Boundaries and personal accountability balance well, in fact. Good boundaries mean, when it hits the fan, you will be able to be self-reliant and to accomplish whatever is needed in the present moment. This may mean, you've been self-disciplined, thoughtful, organized and generally dependable.
Boundaries are not an excuse for poor self-regulation or poor self-organization. “I’m sorry, I can’t” because you are seen as generally unreliable, disorganized or lacking self-discipline is not holding a boundary. It’s lacking dependability. “I’m sorry, I can’t” when you’ve previously held up your end of the deal will allow others to trust your own sense of what you can and cannot do.
Boundaries are not "in hindsight" but rather, in forethought. They are assertive and intentional.
Boundaries do not leave people hurt and confused (unless you're dealing with a gaslighting, narcissistic, or toxic human being). In healthy personal relationships, boundaries are usually met with, "Yes, I know where you stand on that and I'm not confused."
Boundaries are not a set of rules you impose on others but rather the standard to which you hold yourself.
If you're the one who is just now considering boundaries and everyone in your life is learning where and what your boundaries are…
If you're getting push-back and struggling with social acceptance as you gain self-acceptance….
If you struggle with learned helplessness…
If you've burned all of your bridges for the sake of keeping boundaries...
That is what therapy is for.
Therapy may provide you with an assessment of healthy boundaries in your life.
It can highlight any attachment injury which may be causing you to use and abuse the concept of boundaries to hurt other people in your life.
It can demonstrate healthy boundaries within the therapeutic relationship that you can model in your own life.
The therapeutic process should validate your emotional needs and help you strategize ways to uphold them.
If you've never considered setting boundaries, begin with these self-affirming, self-exploring statements:
“I will be honest with myself and others about what I need.”
“I will accept the positive and negative consequences of setting and holding my boundaries.”
“I will give myself permission to say no.”
“I know what is and is not my responsibility.”
“If I'm feeling bitter, resentful or burnout, I will examine where in my life I've misrepresented my needs and expectations of others.”
“I will balance accountability and personal responsibilities with my emotional needs.”