Boundaries are a hot topic these days. Their very name is sung from the mountaintops, but explaining exactly what boundaries are is a little more of a moving target. That’s because most boundaries are unique to us all as individuals, and they don’t come with a rulebook. In fact, while boundary-setting may be good for us, it doesn’t always come easy.
We find ourselves wracked with guilt over declaring our boundaries to loved ones. We feel like we are letting them down, being self-serving or selfish, and find ourselves being yes-men (and women) because the satisfaction of others feels easier than our own … or does it?
Terri Cole, psychotherapist and author of Boundary Boss: The Essential Guide to Talk True, Be Seen, and (Finally) Live Free, knows that healthy personal boundaries are the key to living a fulfilled, empowered, and self-directed—not selfish—life. She breaks it down that they are incredibly liberating and essential to showing up in the world as your truest self.
“Think of boundaries as your personal rules of engagement. They are rules, limits, or guidelines we set in order to let others know what we are comfortable with and what is and is not OK with us. Having healthy boundaries requires you to know your preferences, desires, limits, and deal-breakers, and to have the ability to communicate them when you so choose. It’s telling the truth about how you feel and about what you do and don’t want and need,” Cole explains. Which in a way, sounds like the definition of achieving happiness.
“Everyone has a unique ‘downloaded boundary blueprint.’ This is a set of boundary ideas and beliefs that take root in childhood about the way our boundaries are ‘supposed to be.’ I use the term ‘blueprint’ because a downloaded belief system is similar to the architectural blueprint for a house. Boundary blueprints have been passed down through families for decades or even centuries. Your blueprint has been informed by how you were raised, what you observed, your culture, and your home environment, among other factors.”
Boundary Myth: Boundaries will alienate the people you love.
Boundary Truth: Healthy boundaries serve to protect your relationships so they can thrive.
“The more you let people know what is and is not OK with you, the more deeply they actually know you and understand your preferences, limits, and expectations.”
Boundary Myth: Real romantic love needs no boundaries.
Boundary Truth: Healthy love ALWAYS requires healthy boundaries.
“Don’t buy what the media, fairy tales, and rom-coms are selling! Healthy love is boundaried love, period. It is two whole humans that make up a solid union.”
Boundary Myth: Protecting your boundaries makes you selfish.
Boundary Truth: Protecting your boundaries makes you brave and generous.
“It may seem easier to avoid the challenging conversation, to claim ‘niceness’ as the reason, and then to badmouth the person to others or in your own mind for weeks, years, decades, or your entire life. In reality, keeping vital information about yourself from the people you love the most is being legit selfish.”
Boundary Myth: Creating healthy boundaries is too time-consuming.
Boundary Truth: You could spend the rest of this lifetime (and the next) cleaning up the mess that past unhealthy boundary disasters created.
“You got time for that? No, you do not.”
Boundary Myth: Setting boundaries makes you mean.
Boundary Truth: Setting boundaries can consistently be done with kindness.
“And when you really think about it, not setting boundaries and being dishonest is actually pretty mean. As you can see from the boundary myths and truths list above, all of the myths are predicated on fear-based thinking. So why is it so scary to assert healthy boundaries? It all comes back to fear of rejection, abandonment, or conflict.”
Cole assures us that the more we exercise expressing our boundaries—aka our preferences, desires, limits, and deal-breakers—the less threatening it will feel, because we will reap the rewards.
Lastly, she reminds us that “boundaries are not walls. They aren’t meant to block people or push them away. You can think about your boundaries as a bridge to deeper, more fulfilling experiences in all your relationships, including the one you have with yourself!”
It’s about knowing yourself, and letting others know you better as well.