The topic of boundaries has been coming up in many coaching sessions over the past couple of weeks. So I thought it might be valuable to write about it.
Many people don't know what a personal boundary is so I'll just define it right here: something that indicates a limit on what you'll participate in or accept. Parents place limits on children to train them up in the ways they ought to be in order that they may function well within the society. Adults train each other in interpersonal relationships with boundaries too.
Some boundaries are very solid, strong and fortified. And some are permeable. A boundary that is strong is something that you're not willing to negotiate on. You know why you have the boundary and you like your reasons (a.k.a. having your own back.) For example: you will not get into a car with a driver who's been drinking. Even for threat of an unwanted reaction to your boundary, you still don't budge; you don't get in the car no matter what the persons present want to think about you and your boundary.
Some boundaries are permeable. Just like a rule that isn't regularly enforced by a parent, a boundary that isn't honored consistently in adult relationships will get challenged. That's because a boundary that we allow someone to coerce us into giving up isn't really a boundary at all. Behavior that we think should be unacceptable actually is acceptable; because we allow it. And when we allow our no's to turn into yeses, we end up feeling regret and shame towards ourselves and resentment and anger toward the other. So why do we allow some boundaries to get crossed and others we won't budge on?
The ones that get crossed are the ones that don't have our complete buy-in. We don't clearly know why we have the boundary or really like our reasons. We might not completely believe we deserve to have personal boundaries. While we might value what the boundary protects, we value more what we fear we would lose if we maintain it. If your boundaries don't have your complete belief, the people who would benefit from you not having them will not believe in them either. It is NOT other people's responsibility to believe in our boundaries; it's ours.
When someone starts to build their self-esteem, they start to value what their boundaries protect more than they value what they'd lose by maintaining their boundaries. In the beginning of this self-esteem building journey, often they are gaining more belief in their right to personal boundaries, but they often lack belief in their ability to maintain them. After all, they have a pattern of not standing their ground. They are often angry at themselves for not having stronger self-esteem (and stronger boundaries) in the past. That anger often transfers to the other who has been conditioned to expect getting their way. So in the beginning, as a way of convincing themselves of their ability and right to boundaries, they often defend them with anger and even rage. Dramatic displays of defense, demands for boundary respect, punishing boundary challenge with a new arbitrary boundary, unsolicited justifying or convincing language, and disproportionate push-back like cutting someone completely out of the picture are common.
Your boundary need not always an angry electric fence that shocks those who touch it.
Training someone else to interact with us in a completely different way than they've been accustomed to is HARD . . . for both parties; which explains the push-back we often receive. Learning how to behave differently is HARD and SCARY.
In order for someone to learn how to relate to the 'new other', they have to become a 'new them.' For most people it is terrifying to have their self-concept challenged or examined. It's terrifying to acknowledge all of the ways they have been unloving to themselves and the other . . . because if they do, they'll have to feel negative emotions like guilt and shame and regret. Letting go of their mental picture of the other, the relationship, and of self promises the arrival of grief too.
Learning to relate differently is exhausting. It takes paying a lot more attention to the present moment. We can't simply use our unconscious mind to direct the interaction anymore. It takes an incredible amount of conscious energy on our part and theirs. It takes persistence and repetition for a new behavior to become a new normal that our unconscious mind can take over. When we can keep in mind that it's hard for both of us, we can take push-back a lot less personally. And when we can do this, we can begin to see push-back as a call for help and respond with gentle reminders of the new way of relating.
Your boundary can be a consistent light around you that announces: I will be treated sacredly.
As we practice having our own back, building our belief, and learn to trust ourselves (self-confidence) we don't have to defend boundaries with anger anymore. As you repeat the pattern of respecting yourself and what you protect with your boundaries, the people around you will learn to do the same. And if they don't want to do the hard work of learning how to interact with you differently, you don't even have to put distance between yourself and them; they'll do it for you. You'll discover that the thing you feared to lose all that time that you were abandoning yourself for the other, is still available to you; and can be found in much safer places. It doesn't have to be 'either I keep you or I keep me'; it becomes 'I can have you and have me too.'