Helping clients tune into, create, strengthen and maintain boundaries is a big part of my work. However, we may actually need to reframe the word “boundaries” to be effective at creating them.
According to Merriam-Webster, a boundary is “something that indicates or fixes a limit or extent.”
Often, when we seek to create a boundary we do think to “limit” a particular interaction or experience. Generally, the goal embedded is protection. For example, if someone makes you feel crummy, then you may want to limit hanging out with them to protect yourself from further harm.
However, for many of us, the idea of boundaries may feel harsh or abrupt. Further, if we have experienced abuse, then we may feel that we “should be” tough enough to withstand another person’s abuse. Or we may feel that we are not worthy of protection (because that is often the message that gets sent by the experience of abuse).
The tricky thing is that boundaries often become step one for creating enough stability to do the healing work. We need stability to lean into vulnerability in a safe way to heal. And a major goal of a lot of healing work is cultivating self-worth. So, to try to create boundaries for protection without self-worth in place can make it hard to actually set those boundaries.
But some things aren’t solved through the front door.
While the goal to protect ourselves is important, at times, we may need a different angle to actually make it happen.
One of the things that has come up for me lately is that we could actually think of “boundaries” as tiny structures for freedom. Perhaps what we are really doing is creating limits in certain areas to create freedom in others.
Of course, different people will need different structures. And, different people define freedom differently. There is no one size fits all idea or solution. It often takes experimentation to find what’s going to work best for each of us. This happens to be something therapy is beautifully designed to address.
Operating through a lens of freedom may help us feel more inspired to create the boundaries we need in our lives. With freedom as an anchor, we may feel more empowered to put boundaries in place with compassion toward both ourselves and others.