Boundaries. What do they mean to you? Do you think your boundaries help you reflect your best self? Are your boundaries food or shopping related, exercise or financial? Do you extend your boundaries to others? Are you a boundary-building partner? Does any of this even make sense to you? If not, you may be a field bird. I am more of a … mole myself. My natural environment is a network of convoluted thought tunnels that have to exit somewhere, and boundaries help me keep a blueprint.
Aisha read me Erynn Brook’s twitter thread on what her mother taught her about boundaries the other day. The feeling I’m left with is so incredibly unique, I don’t quite have a word for it yet. But it does seem to keep causing me to stop, place my hands on my hips, squint up at the sky and inhale a “yup,” real slow, like it means something. Her message was so clear: as an adult, she has successful boundaries.
I like it. Most adults I know have trouble instituting boundaries, so her unapologetic reflection on how hers developed is refreshing. She takes the readers through the many times her mother reinforced that calling home and leaving when she needed to, was completely okay. Erynn was able to call, and go home, whenever she wanted. No matter what.
Was that your childhood experience? Did you ever lay awake at a sleepover, wishing you could just be in your room? I don’t know if it was mine, I’m sure my sleepovers ran the gamut of boring to provocative, but I do remember the times I did call home: someone always, always came. No matter what. I’m going to ask Aisha something – hang on.
Aisha: “I think your boundaries are fair, and the ones you have [insert intense, lingering eye contact here] you don’t move on. I think they are more of a strong moral compass….”
She didn’t answer whether she feels they limit her (being the closest person in my life), and that’s fair.
I’m realizing a lot throughout this essay. The first is, I could probably write a book on boundaries. The second, I think boundaries are really important – for everyone. Additionally, I don’t think boundaries are inherent, and I think it can be daunting to teach boundaries to anyone: your child, friend, coworker, or maybe later in life, your parent. Finally (for now), I think I had an early concept of boundaries and the confidence to enforce them; my late teens and twenties made sure my boundary-building was tested though and I failed. A lot.
Now, I think boundaries are amazing because they help me to assure myself that I’ve “got this” since I’m a little polar in my reaction to things: I either have a depth of patience ascribed to a saint or I flash freeze with icy attitude. I have had to work on stabilizing a middle ground in order to center my thoughts, remove my feelings, and gauge whether I need more time to respond or if responding is even necessary. Because I have a memory of what they feel like, a standard. So, my newly constructed boundaries are needed and run very deep.
I have found myself feeling cornered and completely misjudging situations without these boundaries. Combining a naturally sensitive personality (good and bad), a fight-then-flight response pattern, and OCD does not make it easy to accurately gauge impulsive or drawn-out scenarios and I found myself spiralling into a lonely space.
Help began in the form of professional advice I received from my EAP counsellor a few years ago. I was being affected at work by a guy. I don’t want to get into too many details, because I am focusing on the concept of boundaries but, I felt that he was working hard to make my job harder than it needed to be; he felt like I was getting in the way of how he had done his job for over twenty years. I learned that I was actually getting in his way and the stress that that created for him was multi-layered. Being me, I stormed into a session and was like, “But he….”, and she said, “Is that your problem?” I, of course, looked away, angry tears pricking my eyes and asserted, “Yes, it’s my problem,” to which she coolly slid her gaze over me and replied, “Is it? If x actually happened and y was the result, or B to A, whatever situation you come up with — your problem is to make sure you are good, Jo. That is your only problem.” [There was obviously content I ethically cannot provide, but the message is clear.]
So now I go through life assessing whether something can, or should, be my problem and making healthy choices for the first time because she gave me the opportunity to explore boundaries.
It’s liberating. It has helped me say no to things that make me have such a negative, physical reaction I am so uncomfortable considering them. It has allowed me to divest myself of people who I have put a lot of effort into, but who only seem to keep me around because I kept catering to their problems.
Boundaries are the things you learn about yourself that help you always feel safe and know what direction you are pointing in. I think the only variation is on a) how much direction you need and b) how lost you tend to get.
I have watched a lot of people learn they don’t have boundaries. Sadly, these realizations have usually dawned as the result of a situation so terrible, I won’t mention it here. I have watched others crumble on my couch, realizing they have tried sustaining friendships and family-ties, even though it was killing them. I have lost people because I have asked them to get some boundaries, if even the dollar store variety.
I think boundaries are scary because they force you to continue rising to an occasion you determine in order to selflessly assure yourself you are okay. If you are neurotic like me, they are scary because they are hard to put down even when I want to. For real – I make a huge effort to bend the ones I know are a little ridiculous. But I also know that my boundaries have kept me going forward for a while now. They help me categorize unknown feelings, and they help me navigate pretty much every interaction I have. That is not to say that my carefree, fun-loving attitude isn’t true as well. It’s just only possible because of the tunnels underneath.
I thought about using the adage, ‘good fences make good neighbours’, but in all seriousness, I don’t equate boundaries with walls. I don’t see boundaries as a means to keep something out per se, but instead, as guides. So, ‘don’t keep a dog and bark yourself’. Get the dog guys, build the boundaries if you – as I did – tend to lash out because you are actually hurting. It’s okay to need something so that you hurt less, are heard more and just feel good. Don’t build a wall that constrains any part of you, get the dog that explains itself. Honestly, there is so much I want to expand on in regard to walls; the U.S border wall, the walls in online communities, the ones within our families. But boundaries are best built on a solid foundation and for that, we need to make sure ours are good.
Think about your boundaries. Are they good? Do they help you be better, or do they keep you hidden?
“When you notice someone does something toxic the first time, don’t wait for the second time before you address it or cut them off. Many survivors are used to the “wait and see” tactic which only leaves them vulnerable to a second attack. As your boundaries get stronger, the wait time gets shorter. You never have justify your intuition.”Shahida Arabi