Appeared in the Huffington Post, August 29, 2016
I’m a self-professed boundary junkie. I’m like, all over it helping clients and colleagues form and maintain excellent boundaries that are healthy and well-intentioned. At their basic form, boundaries are the idea that you create and maintain the space, time and emotion you need to achieve balance.
Some of us have challenges with where our boundaries lie on a spectrum. At one end, there’s rigidity; the inability to be flexible about our feelings, our time, our space and what we do with all of it. On the other end, opposite of rigidity we have transparency, where our boundaries are so incredibly light that they’re barely there. You can see right through them and therefore others can’t see them at all. Either end is not good.
Boundaries come in so many forms and quite literally exist everywhere. I like to think of boundaries like a fence, where I decide who comes in and when it’s time for them to leave. Like a large fence, on a farm or something, where the barn is home base. I’m the barn. The stronger the fence, the more protected the barn is. The stronger my boundaries, the more protected I am. The weaker the fence, the less protected. Working hard to install that fence can be incredibly exhausting. Sometimes, I’m not even aware of the fence I’ve built to protect my balance, until it’s been crossed. I can count on the same feeling to tell me this has happened every single time there’s an offense; it’s called resentment. It’s like my own internal alarm system that goes off when I’ve either been the one to allow the line to be crossed or someone just trespassed. Bottom line, I put someone else’s feelings ahead of my own, even when I felt it wasn’t the right thing to do.
For those of you that have followed my story, you know that I talked about the revelation of choosing me in My Home is Full: A Story of Trauma and Resolution Over Two Decades. I’m still in the process of learning what boundaries are important to me and I’m still in the process of decreasing the time between when I feel there’s been an over-step and how I decide to re-zone. Figuring out the kinds of boundaries you want to have, and what result you want to have or feel when they’re maintained is a process. Figuring out how to handle it when there are intruders is equally as important. If you’re like me, and you don’t like conflict, then ideally work on the front end is going to weigh out work on the back end, proactive vs. reactive.
Again, the goal with boundaries is balance. Attempting to define what yours are is optimally being able to identify times when you’ve felt the most balance with yourself and those around you. If you’re feeling out of balance, overwhelmed or depleted, chances are you’re operating at one end of the spectrum. Take a look at your barn. What does the fence around it tell you?