This is one of my favourite topics to talk about and teach on. As you might have seen a while back we posted on Facebook that I was re-reading the classic book on boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud. It was such a good refresher that I thought it would be worth the time to summarize some of the concepts in the book but also cover some of what I know about boundaries in general.
First off, what are boundaries? Simply put they are the lines between you and the external world. They are your limits. They are the personal and maybe literal fences that distinguish you from other people and the environment around you. There are many types of boundaries which I’ll highlight two of below.
One boundary is a physical boundary. You know these boundaries are being violated when you feel discomfort- this can be anything from the close talker that you need to take a step back from to sexual assault.
There are emotional boundaries too. This is the difference between what you are feeling and what other people are feeling. In the practice of empathy, we might for a short time enter into what someone is feeling in order to understand their perspective. However, when we live in this place of making choices based solely on what another person feels, or we can’t determine anymore what our own feelings are separate from what others around us are feeling, this is an emotional boundary problem.
Boundaries can be thought of like fences with gates. We are in charge of setting our fences up and we get to choose who gets to come into our space (weather that be physical, emotional, financial or spiritual) using the gate. There can also be many layers of fences- not everyone is going to get the privilege of coming into your inner circle so to speak. Some people will be allowed into the first fence but that is where they will stay until they earn trust. You may also have let someone into a fence that is closer to the core of who you are and they break trust. Then you can send them out the gate to a further fenced away off area. Or maybe you discontinue contact with them all together.
Boundary violations can have a lasting impact on our lives. Sometimes people bulldoze over your fences and that is not your fault. You are entitled to seek appropriate support and justice when there has been abuse.
The one thing that I could leave with you that might have the most impact is the encouragement to practice one simple but often difficult thing, which is saying no. In your world there might be someone who demands that their needs are more important than yours.
You might also have come from a background that taught that your needs or space or opinions were not important. This is simply not true. If you can practice saying no without taking on guilt you will discover that you have a lot more emotional and mental freedom in your life. This also gives you the grace to respect when others say no as well.
Practicing using boundaries more effectively is a process, it takes time and a community of supportive people to help you learn these skills. The time and effort into building effective boundaries is well worth it.
Written by Kelly McGregor
Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend