What Are Boundaries?
By Krista Resnick – Master Coach.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the basics of boundaries.
And while it might seem overly simple, I strongly believe that we need to understand what boundaries actually are in order to set them from our seat of conscious choice.
I know this seems simple, but on the other end of the spectrum, if we don’t understand boundaries, how do we set them and stick with them? How do we not allow our boundaries to be a set of rigid rules for our life? What happens when our boundary no longer serves us? And how do we actually know that we’ve set ‘the right’ boundary?
Boundaries are by far one of the most important tools in any intimate relationship. How much you struggle to say no and be honest about your needs and feelings says a lot about how much you value yourself. Therefore, it is imperative that we understand and implement boundaries if we want to go the distance in any relationship.
That’s the beautiful thing about boundaries- they communicate to those we are in relationship with, what we value. I believe if we aren’t able to communicate what we need and value, we aren’t really living. We stuff down our authenticity and our ‘aliveness,’ the things that truly make us, us.
In this article I want to help you understand what boundaries are so you can use them effectively in your life.
The definition that I like to play with comes from colleague and children’s therapist, Lisa Dion. She defines ‘the boundary’ as the point at which I can no longer be myself. Let me explain further as at first glance, this definition may seem a bit strange. A boundary is an edge state where I find myself in a situation that I am about to lose my authentic self or no longer be congruent with who I really am. It’s that point that I begin to recognize-hold on, something’s happening in my body and I’m about to lose my authentic self. I’m about to go into fight, flight, freeze or fawn and abandon who I truly am at my core.
I call this ‘the boundary point’ which is the point where our nervous system is signaling “hey it’s time to do something, it’s time to take action or to respond in some fashion.”
To understand this definition, let’s look at real example from my own life. While my husband and I were out for date night back many months ago, we ran into someone that we knew from our community. While we were visiting, this individual felt compelled to share with me a joke that I happened to find disturbingly oppressive and not remotely funny. At that exact moment-I had choices (something we often forget when we are in a moment of conflict or dysregulation).
One, I could ‘go along to get along’ and laugh at the joke (aka-fawning or people pleasing), therefore abandoning my authentic self because in that moment, I would be violating my own values.
Two, I could pretend the whole thing wasn’t happening, that I didn’t hear the joke and walk away. Three, I could share my truth and respond to this individual from a place of truth and honesty, therefore staying connected to my values and my authenticty.
The interesting thing to point out here is that if I would have chosen to laugh and not ‘upset the apple cart,’ no one would have known. This individual never had to know how I felt about his inconsiderate joke. But what’s important to consider is that I would have known. I would have been out of integrity with me.
I take this concept very seriously because at some point, our relationship with ourselves has to matter. When we continue to not honor our truth and our integrity, we are proving to ourselves that we cannot be trusted.
I’m not saying you need to respond to every situation by sharing your truth verbally like I chose to. Sometimes you may decide that it really is better for you to just walk away. However, what I love about this definition, is that when you slow things down and pause, you get to choose from your truth and not from a place of simply being reactive.
Years ago I would have reacted to this joke from a place of people pleasing and appeasing. I wouldn’t have dared to share what I really thought. I would have been worried about what he would have thought of me and what he would tell others in the community about me. To make matters worse, I would have felt resentment toward this individual and harbored ill feelings toward him. But in this situation, with the healing that I personally have experienced around boundaries and speaking my truth, I was able and willing to stand for what was true for me. I stated my peace in a kind and considerate way, knowing that he is operating from his own level of consciousness but I still have the right to respond the way that feels good to me.
With that said, I understand that some boundaries are best planned out and organized, especially when it comes to toxic relationships. In these situations it is imperative that you decide ahead of time what behaviors and attitudes you choose to be available for. However, what I want you to consider is that more often than not, boundaries are these little moment to moment decisions. Just like the personal example I shared prior, I couldn’t have planned this situation to arise, it simply unfolded. There was nothing I could have done to prepare for that moment, because I didn’t know that moment was coming.
At the root, boundary work is really about being deeply connected with ourselves and our bodies and understanding the feedback that our bodies are giving us when we are having a moment of conflict or perceived conflict. When we are connected with ourselves in this way, we have the ability to recognize that if I move one step further or if they move one step further, I will lose touch with my truth, my knowing and my certainty of who I am. This is us standing in our sovereignty and leadership, having the ability to choose and not simply reacting from a place of a dysregulated nervous system.
The whole point of the boundary is to stay with yourself-to honor your needs, your feelings and not abandon your truth. And the brilliant feedback we receive from our nervous system in hard moments provides us with the opportunity to stop, pause, check in and ask, is this a moment where I need to set a boundary?
From that place we move forward and ask, what is the boundary? Do I simply need to pause and check in? Is the boundary that I actually need to say something out loud about what I’m experiencing in this moment-either to validate myself or do I need to say something to somebody else? Is my boundary that I just need to walk away?
Whatever the case may be, it’s a moment to pause, breathe, and feel what is going on. It’s a moment where we are able to recognize there is feedback coming into our bodies and then asking …”What is this moment asking of me? What needs to happen right here in this moment for me to feel deeply authentic and connected to myself? And whatever the answer is from that level of connectedness will be the way.
Lastly, it’s important to remember that this isn’t necessarily easy work. The fear of rejection is typically what stops us from setting a boundary, but each time we step into setting our boundary in whatever way that looks, there is a part of us that loves ourselves a little bit more and trusts ourselves a little bit more. We develop a deep appreciation for who we are and we can create authentic relationship because we start to trust ourselves in moment to moment boundaries where we hadn’t before.
If you are interested in learning more about setting boundaries-check out my latest workbook, Boundaries from the Inside Out which will help you identify where you might still be a bit ‘stuck’ setting boundaries.
Krista Resnick, Master Coach/Boundary Expert. Learn more about Krista and how she supports high achieving women to ditch the anxiety and find more purpose, presence and peace in their lives. Download her free workbook-Boundaries from the Inside out HERE: https://kristaresnick.lpages.co/boundaries-from-the-inside-out/