Let’s face it, there is nothing exciting, intriguing, and definitely nothing sexy about personal boundaries. Most people’s first response to hearing the word is typically an (invisible) eye-roll or an audible “Ugh.”
A few years ago when I was talking to a friend about wanting to write a book about boundaries,* she said:
“Whatever you do, don’t call it ‘Boundaries’!”
I completely understood.
If you are boundary-challenged, the whole topic may be a source of embarrassment or guilt. And if you’ve found yourself on the receiving end of another person’s limits or boundaries, you may have felt manipulated, controlled, or perhaps even punished.
But here is the sobering truth about personal boundaries:
Boundaries—as protection and limits—are fundamental to human relationships, the lawful structure of societies, and life itself.
In other words, Boundaries do not equal Bitchy. Here are 4 reasons why:
Boundaries Keep You Safe
Because boundaries are about protection, they are our primary means of creating and maintaining safety. Without a foundation of safety—individually or relationally—you can’t move on to higher level needs like those for connection, trust, and even affection.
Imagine living in a house without walls or locks, owning property without a clearly defined property line, or having a body without skin. Each of these are boundaries, and without them life—as we know it—doesn’t function.
Boundaries Give You Valuable Information about Other People
When you’re clear with others about what you will and won’t tolerate, you find out sooner rather than later if they are someone you’d like to develop a deeper connection with.
You also get valuable information about other people when you make a request (an integral part of boundary work) or create a boundary. The average person doesn’t respond well to other’s boundaries, at least initially, and someone who does is like a breath of fresh air.
If you get repeated pushback, defensiveness, or hostility when attempting to establish boundaries in a relationship, the other person is most likely not capable of being accountable or relational. On the other hand, if the other person more often than not makes an attempt to hear your requests and respond authentically—not just compliantly—to your limits, he/she is probably capable of long-term emotional intimacy.
Boundaries Enhance Intimacy
One of my favorite ways to describe intimacy is “into-me-you-see.” Intimacy is the experience of being known by, and knowing another person.
When people in your life don’t tell you that you’ve gone too far with them emotionally, physically, or sexually, you miss an opportunity to really know who they are—and even more importantly—understand the impact that your behavior had on them and correct your behavior, if needed.
And when someone does take the time to respectfully let you know that something you did or said—or didn’t do or say—crossed a line, they are letting you know that you are important to them. They’re actually making a bid for deeper intimacy with you.
Boundaries Create Space, Freedom & Liberation
And last—but by no means least—the most important reason boundaries do not equal bitchy is that they create space and give you more freedom.
Physical fences, like boundaries, not only protect your private property from anything you want to keep out, they also expand your freedom to enjoy what belongs to you. When you experience others as intrusive—emotionally, physically, or sexually—your use of personal boundaries expands your personal space and literally calms your nervous system.
*Moving Beyond Betrayal, a go-to guide on how to use the 5-Step Boundary Solution process for identifying, creating, and maintaining boundaries (for survivors of serial infidelity). Get the 5-Step Boundary Solution Clarifier here.
© Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW (2018)