Boundaries are the places where we interact and contact the world and other people. The edges of our physical, energetic, and emotional bodies are where we experience our lives. Often people come to me because the world and the people in it feel overwhelming; the boundaries where they experience the world are too loose or too tight. They often can't figure out how to get what they want, or even name what they want. They are easily swayed by others or are so rigid that they miss out on relationships they long to experience. These are boundary issues.
Healthy boundaries come about through a sense of self, which is rooted in the individual. This strong sense of self allows for boundaries that are fluid and transform in response to any given situation. Which means you can express a very strong “no!” when appropriate, at other times an enthusiastic “yes!,” and every other possible response in-between.
A common misconception about boundaries is that they exist to change the other person or situation, or that they exist as a way to shut people out. The reality is that boundaries are there to provide an edge so that we can be in relationship to the world and others. Boundaries actually allow us to be in authentic relationship!
They allow us to be fully ourselves--however that looks--and allow other people to be themselves. By having healthy boundaries I can see that your behavior is not a statement about who I am, and because I know this, it does not have to rock me at my core. Because I respect and value your individuality, I don’t feel the desire to control or change you. You are given the freedom and dignity to be who you are and I give the same gift to myself.
Looking at boundaries in this way challenges several ideas. It challenges the ideas that we have to “help” others, control people, make them see a particular point of view, or even the idea that others are the reason for our discomfort. We can be two distinct entities and make choices not out of habituation and reaction, but out of response to the situation. In other words, boundaries provide the space to make new choices possible.
An exercise to get a sense of what a boundary is in 5 steps:
1. First, come to standing and feel your feet on the ground. Notice your legs, your muscles, and your bones that hold you up. Take a moment to connect to a sense of grounding through the floor or earth.
2. Next bring your hands up, your palms facing outward, and literally feel the place where your boundary is. Is it 6 inches out from your body? Or, is it as far out as you can reach? Explore, with your hands, the boundary in front, behind, above, and on the sides of your body.
3. See if you notice its thickness, its texture, maybe a color comes to mind, maybe you notice holes in it, or other variations. Just take note of this information.
4. Now see what happens as you claim the space that is yours. In this moment the area is yours; no one can come into it unless you invite them in. You have complete say as to what you allow in because you can actually feel your boundary and thus have choice.
5. Finally, imagine a situation, place, or person you feel challenged by. See if there is a difference in how you feel towards this situation, place, or person as you imagine it with a sense of your boundary. If the boundary feels resourceful or calming try this exercise before you enter into the next challenging situation and see what happens!