What Boundaries Are Not

Is it Mercury in retrograde? Holiday stress? The full super moon? I am not sure, and I don’t suppose it matters what is causing the boundaries to be pushed. But you know what? it’s a good thing. It’s practice for strengthening them and making them healthier. You can’t fix what you can’t see.

I’ve already written a lot about healthy boundaries, so this article isn’t going to be about that. This is about what healthy boundaries are not.

Healthy Boundaries Are Not Walls

Some people deal with stressful situations by shutting down, pushing away, or making sure that nobody gets close enough to upset you. This is not an example of healthy boundaries. These are walls. With walls, it’s true that no one can get to you, but walls keep everything from coming in. This means that you don’t get love, comfort, attention, or any of the good stuff either. Shutting others out requires that you shut yourself down.

Boundaries are more like fences. You can see out. Others can see in, but you are in control of the gate. This allows for you to have relationships and true human contact.

Healthy Boundaries Are Not Rules

Some people set rules for how things are going to be. This is actually pretty good… unless it’s dictating what the other person must agree to in order to have a relationship with you. The only way for two people to be happy in a relationship is if both have a say in how things are going to be. You want both to be free to be authentic and take care of themselves. If your rule is “You must be here when I get home from work,” the other person may have to jump through hoops and do a lot of self sacrifice in order to live up to those expectations.

It’s easier to understand what I mean by “rules” if you have some examples. So here are a few:

  • If I don’t like someone, you can’t hang out with them either.
  • When I get angry, I express myself in ways that you may not like. That’s just who I am. Don’t ask me to change.
  • I’m talking to you. When I ask you something, I expect an answer now.
  • Don’t ask me about my past, my relationships, my thoughts or feelings. It’s none of your business.
  • Don’t bring up topics that you know will make me angry or touchy.
  • Act the way I want you to around other people. Don’t embarrass me or make me angry.
  • I am only possessive or jealous if I like you. You should be glad I care enough to set boundaries.
  • I go to sleep at 10:00 p.m. You have to go to sleep then too.

Boundaries are limitations. They let others know what you want and who you are, but they don’t tread on other people’s boundaries to do so. When my boundaries don’t line up perfectly with yours, that’s when we have a conversation about how we to do things in a way that honors both of us. Without that, one of us will feel disrespected or less important. That’s not the goal. Healthy relationships go for the win/win so that both people can feel great about being together.

Healthy Boundaries Are Not Political Correctness

Boundaries are not about saying all the politically correct things when in the presence of others to keep from upsetting people. Political correctness is a rule that tells you how to behave that may not be reflective of your true nature. So in other words, it’s a mask. This is how people end up in long term relationships with people they feel they don’t know.

It’s true we want to be sensitive. Yet we also need to be honest and true to ourselves. Disagreeing or being different is a part of relationships that can lead to growth, creativity, and deeper understanding and connection. Disagreeing isn’t bad. Being upset is not the end of the world. Simply use it as fuel to go deeper into your truth. When both parties are exercising healthy boundaries, they are both being authentic and empowered. When they are wearing masks to please others, neither is authentic or empowered.

Healthy Boundaries are Not Control Mechanisms

Sometimes people pull the boundaries card in order to control others. That could look like me not wanting to give my partner a chance to speak up, so I shut it down by leaving, changing the subject, or going into hysterics. That’s not setting boundaries. That’s attempting to manipulate the situation to get my way.

Healthy Boundaries are Not a Guarantee of a Happy Ending

Practicing healthy boundaries doesn’t guarantee that you will always be happy. They will guarantee that you are always standing in your power and truth. That’s it. This may lead to unhappy, stressful, or challenging circumstances in the short term. Your self respect and self worth will be intact. This can help you recover from unpleasant circumstances more quickly. This can help you to leave abusive relationships or job situations quickly instead of wasting a lot of time there and slowly becoming beaten down. So even though there is a cost, the cost of not upholding your boundaries is generally larger.

When you are Effective and things don’t go your way, you could feel cheated, like “I practiced healthy boundaries! Why was I not treated well?” Being in a healthy space greatly decreases the drama that comes your way, but it doesn’t make you drama repellant. Others may still be inappropriate or demanding because you don’t have control over how others treat you or what their boundaries or values are. You only have control over your own. Being in a healthy space means accepting that and allowing others to be who they are and have their own experience.

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