Unfortunately, as a society, we seem to have misappropriated the idea of boundary setting as a means for keeping difficult people at arms length or as a method of avoiding the work of repairing a complicated relationship. This process lacks intentionality and discernment. Sometimes “boundary setting” can even be applied reactively and vengefully to punish someone who has enacted a perceived injustice upon us.
So, how can the narrative of boundary setting be shifted? How can we think of boundaries differently in order to use them effectively? How can we apply and communicate our boundaries in a way that grows from true self-care practices?
For me, the critical shift is the idea that the setting of a boundary has more to do with protecting something INSIDE the boundary lines and is less focused on what we aim to keep outside. Let’s apply an analogy.
Picture a beautiful backyard oasis. The greenery is lush. The noise level is low. The sunshine is warm. You have tended to this space with great care and are proud of what you have created. This represents your wellbeing, your healthy inner life, the bounty of your good self-care practices.
Now, picture the space outside of your backyard. A dirty alley filled with trash. Loud and obnoxious neighbors. An overgrown and weed filled eye sore. This represents whatever (or whomever) in your life feels life a threat to your wellbeing.
Imagine there is a tall cedar fence that separates your beautiful and well-tended space from the ones that surround you. The fence is solid and strong, but pleasant to look at. It smells good and enriches the space you’ve created. This represents your boundary. The fence exists whether you view it from inside your yard or outside. And serves the same simple purpose; to delineate between the two environments. But, with a focus on what you value and what you want to protect, as opposed to what you want to keep out, you shift the tone of boundary setting. Step INSIDE your yard and view the fence from that perspective to understand how it serves you best. Yes, the fence does block your space from the unpleasant environment beyond the fence, but that’s not its primary purpose. Its primary purpose is to allow you to better enjoy what you have built and grown INSIDE your own yard.
This visualization gives you a chance to filter your boundaries through the lens of healthy habits and relationship dynamics. It comes from a place of true self-care and self-love. This removes reactive responses from the process of boundary setting, and extracts any unhealthy intention to act punitively in putting up a boundary in your life. That new warmth radiates when expressing these boundaries to others in your life and the line drawn may be better understood, better received, and better respected.
This is, in my opinion, the healthiest application of boundaries. To protect something that you value, something that you have worked hard to nurture. Not, solely, to keep something toxic out
What boundaries have you set recently, does anything change when you apply this analogy? Is there new awareness about why this boundary would be beneficial? Is there new language to communicate that to any relevant parties?
Also, just a reminder, fences have gates! Part of the practice of setting a boundary may also be to leave a bit of intentional flexibility and permeability to let others in as you see fit when circumstances change.
Happy boundary setting! :)
Bri Dunbar, MA LAMFT RYT200 offers individual, couples and family therapy to encourage the health and healing of the mind and body. Therapy utilizes traditional psychological theories and techniques while also incorporating yogic concepts and mindfulness skills. Bri is also a Prepare/Enrich trained facilitator, offering an upcoming couples workshop, "Relationship Reconnect," starting February 6th. Learn more and register here.