Boundaries VS. Walls. What’s the difference?

Maybe like you, I have been on all sides of the boundary spectrum.  Several years ago,  I was completely boundaryless (hence one of the reasons I came to this work).  I was exhausted, barely able to get out of bed each morning due to the constant anxiety that came with trying to meet everyone’s needs.  I felt as if I was always walking on eggshells, hypervigilant that  someone somewhere was certainly upset with me over something.

I knew I needed to take some swift action to fill my energy reserves as I felt both drained and empty.   A clear and simple NO became my ‘go to’ resource and tool.  For a long time I said NO to anything and everything.  No to incoming requests, no to activities, no to volunteer opportunities, no to everything and all things. At that stage of my journey,  I had to take action to get myself out of autopilot mode and start caring for me.

Honestly, this worked for a while.  I began taking courses, reading books, learning from mentors and working with professionals to help me gain footing in learning how to take care of me.   I rested, I spent loads of time in nature and I focused on my own personal needs.  Along the way however, I began to notice that I was very isolated.  I felt lonely and sad.  I didn’t know how to be with these new feelings that were arising because I had always suppressed them with busyness.  My calendar had been kept full so that I was able to skirt around and avoid sadness, loneliness and the deep grief that wanted to be seen and acknowledged.  

I had gotten really good at boundaries-I like to say I was “boundaried up.”  But truthfully, I had built a wall, blocking out any sort of intimacy or real connection with others.  I was confused…I was ‘boundaried’,  but lonely.  I was ‘boundaried,’ but apathetic.  I was ‘boundaried,’ but not happy.   What I failed to realize was I had used boundaries as a way to protect myself from anyone hurting me.  I had used boundaries to protect myself from feeling rejected and letting anyone get too close to me.   Truthfully I craved healthy,  intimate relationships, but I didn’t know how.   

Please hear me say, for those of us who have struggled with codependency and people pleasing, NO is and can be a complete sentence.  NO can be a great way to dip our toes into the awesome journey of boundary work.  But maybe like me, you are at the point in your journey where you are starting to question the rigidity of your boundaries.  

That’s the joy of this healing journey.  You and I get to decide what works for us and what doesn’t. Boundaries that work in one season of our life, may not work in the next season.  Boundaries ebb and flow because as humans, we ebb and flow.  We learn a little something, we grow and hopefully we move forward applying our newfound information.  That may mean we are ready to move from a more rigid type boundary approach that worked for us in one season of life to considering how we can be more fluid  and flexible with our boundaries once we get some solid footing and gain self trust.

So together, let’s first get clear on the purpose of boundaries….  Setting and holding healthy boundaries is not about punishing people, keeping people at arm’s length, controlling others or outcomes, getting “your way”… or anything of that nature.

When we focus on controlling others or holding people at arm’s length, we disempower ourselves because our energy is focused on the wrong thing.  (***this is not a permission slip to tolerate abuse behavior.  In those extreme situations, your only job is to make sure you are safe-however, this article is speaking to more of the in’s and out’s of everyday boundaries).  Healthy boundaries are guidelines that you determine, which allow you to love and respect yourself AND others simultaneously.  I like to think of boundaries as a bridge that connects us to other people plank by plank.  Each plank is designed to bring us hopefully closer to the other person by careful consideration of the words we speak, our honesty, sharing our needs and what matters to us.  

For years I thought that the only way to feel worthy and loved was to meet everyone else’s needs.  And to meet everyone else’s needs, it required that I become disconnected from my own.  The first thing I had to do was no more auto-yesing as I like to say (automatically saying yes  before I had a chance to really consider how my yes would impact my life).  No more auto-yesing gave me the time and space to feel into my decisions.  ‘No’ quickly became a safe haven for me.    No gave me the opportunity to make a nice cozy nest within myself for the first time ever that felt safe and secure.

However, healthy boundaries are about protecting and nurturing your relationships… by having clearly defined expectations.  This helps to not leave anyone guessing (and thus, “getting it wrong”) or leaving things up for interpretation (which leads to messy assumptions).  Healthy boundaries prevent others from having to walk on eggshells… and protect you from self-betrayal and violation.  Healthy boundaries will always create a sense of safety, security, and stability.  So while no in some ways was helping me to gain my time and energy back, I had to sit with the question, have I been using boundaries as a way to protect myself or manipulate/control others without even recognizing it?

I invite you to sit with that same question.  Journal and spend some time thinking about it.  If you’re feeling lonely and isolated, it might be a sign that you have moved into a rigid boundary setting style that may no longer be working for you.  

Below are descriptions of  walls VS. healthy boundaries.  This will help you explore where you may lie on the boundary spectrum.  What’s fun about this work is that when we start to set and hold healthy boundaries, we naturally begin to weed out people whose intentions aren’t always safe or pure.  Hopefully through this, you begin to trust yourself and others more.  

WALLS: 

  • Avoiding intimacy and vulnerability at all costs
  • Controlling others and keeping them at arm’s reach
  • Refusing to speak to anyone about anything personal 
  • Saying no most of the time without getting curious as to why
  • Being rigid with your expectation of others
  • Isolating yourself when upset

HEALTHY BOUNDARIES: 

  • Clearly defined standards around what kind of behavior you will tolerate
  • Flexibility with expectations when appropriate
  • Being honest with who you are are and what matters to you
  • Saying NO when something doesn’t feel right
  • Limitations on what you are comfortable talking about
  • Taking a temporary time out when feeling upset
  • Designed to maintain safety in your relationships

My invitation for you is to look over this list and even use it as a tool.  You can check in with yourself and begin to examine where you are moving into rigid boundaries due to wanting to control rather than being open and flexible with your boundaries-of course when appropriate. 

Lastly, remember that every one of us has a deep desire to feel loved, seen safe and respected and healthy boundaries can help us experience exactly that.   

By Krista Resnick ~ Master Life Coach.

Learn more about how to set healthy boundaries guilt free at: https://www.kristaresnick.com/

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