What are they? How do I use them? Better yet, how do I GET them?
Boundaries, you hear the term everywhere. “Use your boundaries.” “That person has no boundaries.” But what does it all mean? For clarity, I will give a brief explanation about boundaries and then give examples of how it might show up and affect our lives. Part of this great information I owe to the Relational Life Institute, Terry Real and Lisa Merlo-Booth, my teachers and mentors.
There are two boundaries – External and Internal and for this moment, I am going to focus on our internal boundary. It actually has two parts, the inside and the outside (or outer)
The inside part is the containing part. It protects the world from you. It’s about knowing when and what to say. It’s about holding your tongue even though you think the person deserves a lashing. It’s about not leaking yourself (stuff) onto everyone else.
The outside part is the part that protects you from the rest of the world. It allows you to hold yourself in positive regard despite someone giving you criticism or is being hurtful saying negative things. Someone with boundary failure might be considered to have ‘thin skin’.
Ok, that was a quick explanation on our internal boundary. Now, how does it play out? The people that have a difficult time with the outside part of their internal boundary are frequently in a lot of pain. A spiteful comment or humor taken the wrong way goes straight to the heart, creating anxiety, sadness and a feeling of I’m not good enough. The person who struggles with the inside or containing part isn’t in so much pain, everyone around them is. The person that claims ‘they don’t care how much it hurts, they’re going to tell it like it is’ or drape provocative messages via social media are just several instances of poor functioning boundaries.
So what can we do about them? How do we get them? How do we set limits for ourselves? How do you recognize that your containing boundary is malfunctioning?
Awareness is the first step. For you inside people, that’s not difficult because typically you would wish not to take everything SO personally. You would like to let things roll off your shoulder and not take everything as gospel truth. When you are on the receiving end of someone’s rantings, ask yourself this. Is this true for me? (Read: you are a lazy, no good ….) If there is any part of the information that is true for you, own it. Atone, and make positive strides to change. What ever part of the information is untrue, let it go. This isn’t about you, it’s about them being incapable (in this moment) of relationally expressing their issue or anger. In the beginning, you may not notice if it’s about them/you until you’re able to process later. In time, you will be able to recognize it and not take it in. Remember, take ownership of what is true, and make strides to change, let the rest go.
What about the people who rage, name call, tell a person how he or she should feel, shaming etc? Get curious. Do you often feel like an authority? Do you feel like you have all the answers? That if they would just LISTEN to you they would ‘get it’? Stop being the authority. Stop trying to ‘get’ someone to understand. Stop using mean spirited words to hurt people. If you have something to say, say it lovingly and relationally.
Challenge: This week keep a mental note of how you react to things. Jot them down and spend a few moments thinking of how it might have been different if you had used your boundaries. When you were able to use proper boundaries, how did you feel? What did you notice about other people reactions? Boundary work has many facets, but is an essential part to having healthy, happy, loving, cherishing relationships.