I’ve been writing and talking about boundaries a lot lately, and it’s because I think they’re so misunderstood.
A lot of us think of boundaries as demands. So when we say things like, “I won’t be yelled at like that,” or, “I can’t be on call for you like this anymore,” that this is setting a boundary, and it’s healthy.
But used this way, boundaries are immoveable barriers, closing people off from us and stopping a relationship from going anywhere.
(Boundaries can be this if they have to, but that’s not the entirety of what they are, not by a long shot.)
When statements are just demands, our words are being used as walls; they stop another person from getting anywhere close to us. And guess what that creates? Conflict and disconnect.
But here’s the thing. Boundaries are actually offered in two parts: the expression of the need AND the enforcement of the request.
So it’s not just, “I won’t be yelled at like that,” it’s also, “because when you yell at me I can’t think straight. So, the next time that happens I’ll need to take a break before continuing with our conversation. And if that keeps happening, I don’t know that we’ll be able to get anywhere.”
Do you see the difference?
This isn’t a demand, it’s an expression of a need – not to be yelled at – as well as an expression of how you’ll respond if that need is disrespected or disregarded.
So the boundary and its enforcement actually become a tool that allows for connection, because you’re giving the other person a chance to understand what’s going on for you.
When seen this way, boundaries are a way to share the impact of an experience, an environment, an interaction (anything, really!) within a relationship. They offer understanding and give structure for what happens next.
Because boundaries offer to the other what something feels like for you. They aren’t you saying to another, “Hey, you did this wrong! Get out!” They’re you saying, “When this happened, I felt …”
Boundaries connect you, like a bridge; they don’t separate you, like a wall.
Here’s another way to think of it. Boundaries are instructions (I call them the “User Manual of You”) that give openings and opportunities to make things work better. They offer understanding and evolution in relationships.
Barriers are the opposite, right? They’re the walls we can build to keep people out (and sometimes keep ourselves feeling safe in solitude), and they disrupt connection.
Now, to be clear, a boundary that is disrespected over and over again may need to lead to the creation of a barrier, but they are NOT the same. And we shouldn’t always be starting at the barrier.
I’ll keep sharing about boundaries, because it’s a topic with lots of layers, including the need to know and value our Self enough to understand our needs and share them. But for now, consider that sharing and enforcing a boundary means you open a door to collaboration and connection, as opposed to a conflict.
And how great is that?
We can say what we need to say. We can gently, but assertively, speak our mind. We do not need to be judgmental, tactless, blaming or cruel when we speak our truths.Melody Beattie