These two words can represent a vague and often troublesome area of our lives.
Where are your boundaries and what are you responsible for?
Your personal boundaries are obviously not fixed and solid like a fence or a wall. Instead they are an expression of your personal comfort and preference. You may have different boundaries with different people in different situations and may not even be aware of them until they are challenged and threatened.
Healthy boundaries affirm us as individuals and say to others ‘this point is OK with me – and beyond that point isn’t OK with me’.
As individuals we can have boundaries around such aspects of our life as: – my time, and what I’m willing to share of this with another / personal disclosure/how far I will put myself out for this particular person at this time / my sexual boundaries / my workplace job description boundaries and my financial boundaries.
It can be difficult to even know how to set a boundary with someone, let alone how to maintain it and ensure it isn’t crossed. This goes hand in hand with being an assertive adult, and knowing that you have the right to express what you want need and prefer, as well as what you are experiencing; and most importantly what sense you make of that experience and what you imagine it means.
We don’t have to be too rigid about our boundaries, and it can be worthwhile checking-out with ourself if we still want an existing boundary to remain in the same place with a certain person or situation. We can change these ‘settings’ as time and experiences unfold.
We will have learned about boundaries, or lack of them, in our childhood. Having had parents/caregivers whose boundaries were too loose and vague, or too rigid and unyielding will have left it’s impact upon us and the sub-conscious decisions we will have made about protecting ourself from the manipulation, domination, and intrusion of other people.
These decisions might no longer fit into your modern-day adult world.
It can be easier to soften boundaries that are too rigid, as we learn to trust ourself to be able to deal with any threats to our boundaries; than it is to find the ‘raw materials’ with which to attempt to build new boundaries when we don’t have the know-how or experience of the form they should take.
You are responsible for your own boundaries – where they are and how firm they are. You are not responsible for the boundaries of others or for trying to change them – that’s down to them and their own personal history and level of awareness.
Similarly, you are not responsible for anyone else’s feelings. You are responsible for the way in which you communicate and deal with other people but not their feelings. Those are down to their own belief system and personal history. As long as you are fair, clear, honest and consistent, then that is your half of any responsibility in a relationship. The only exception to that relates to children – we do have a responsibility for them as well as towards them; but other adults must take responsibility for themselves and their life experiences.
We have all experienced ‘difficult’ people who push our boundaries, and encourage us to push theirs too – as they ‘play out their drama’ with us. These people can be the Interrogator, the Guilt-Tripper, the Drama Queen/King, the Egotist, the Manipulator, the Control Freak, the Martyr/sufferer, the Bully, the Narcissist, and the Crazy Chaotic.
They present us with a lot of boundary threats! How do we deal with these people?
We must be crystal clear with them about what we see, hear and imagine they mean. We must not bluff or patronise; and we must follow through on promises or ultimatums. It’s for their own good and is actually modelling the good, fair and respectful boundaries they they may not have had when they were children. They will not give up their behaviours just like that, and will no doubt persist in trying to weaken your boundaries – which would be detrimental to both parties.
Those people who don’t take responsibility for themselves create a drama that they attempt to pull other people into. They have their own way of perceiving events and ways of reacting which will often be neurotic and irrational. Hard as it might be, it can be helpful to encourage these people to ‘feel’ and share their feelings – as long as it isn’t part of a Victim/Rescuer dynamic that they are trying to play out with you!
If we can empathise with the ‘wounded child’ in another person – and we all have one – we can connect more from the heart yet still keep our heads, and our much needed boundaries.