Often, when we recognise our boundary issues, it’s all-too-easy to start chopping and cutting. We think that distancing ourselves, restricting our circle, maybe calling out the people we believe have taken advantage, is the way to go. But then we tend to second-guess ourselves. We wonder if we’re being overzealous, going overboard and being too hard on people. This is especially so when we maybe start to feel a bit lonely or the initial ‘high’ of taking action wears off. Given that we’re clearly new to boundaries, we might even wonder if our boundaries are wrong.
Boundaries are only overzealous or, in fact, not boundaries at all when they’re walls.
This is when, whether consciously or not, you’re guarded and creating defences against your fears and the past happening again. This is very different from boundaries, which reflect your values and awareness of your responsibilities and the type of relationship and dynamic you want to have with that person.
So boundaries are about trust at the very least in one’s self, whereas walls are about fear.
When you use a wall instead of a boundary, you attempt to control people (and the outcome) by telling them what to do, trying to influence or yes, manipulate them into being or doing things your way, or by having expectations of them without owning your part of the boundary. You’re avoiding responsibility in some way.
Check in with yourself about your attempts to be boundaried
- Are you trying to rule the other party?
- Is a part of you trying to control the uncontrollable?
- Are you scared of being hurt again and guarding against a re-run of the past?
- Is there an expectation for them to change in a way that would make you feel more comfortable instead of you having the boundary that would let you get on with the business of being you regardless of whether they do or don’t change?
- Are you being passive-aggressive and expressing built-up resentment and frustration about stuff you shouldn’t have let slide before?
- Is it about trying to make up for the past, including where family or other significant people in your past didn’t give you the attention, affection, approval, love and validation that you craved?
- Are you mad at yourself for where you think you messed up or even ‘failed’ before and so trying to mitigate for that with this attempt at boundaries?
- Is it about being angry and frustrated with people about various things that if you truly stepped back and were honest about what’s going on or you acknowledged the story you’re telling you, it’s old baggage calling on you to have a better boundary so you can move forward and heal that aspect of your past?
If you’ve said yes to any of these, pause.
Get a sense of how these influence your approach, including your choices and how you feel. Much of boundaries is about knowing your why and not playing roles or putting people in them. Aim for the landmarks of boundaried communication–compassion, clarity, congruency, ownership, grace. When you do, you won’t have to worry about being OTT with your boundaries.
The answer isn’t to remain angry and build a wall. Forgiveness and healthy boundaries come from being truthful about the missing boundary and evolving it in some way.
Boundaries are two-fold so when you set or know what the boundary is for others, you own your side of the street no matter how teeny tiny you might consider it to be. It means amending your boundaries so that you’re not open to the same situation in the same way again. That might be the mental boundaries of how you’re thinking about it or the physical boundaries of what you do. Or it could be the emotional boundaries of knowing the difference between your feelings and theirs, which stops you from projecting.
So, yes, you could, for example, after recognising your people-pleasing ways decide to step back from friends and family that you believe took liberties. Or, you could be more boundaried with your yes and come from a place of honesty and authenticity. That way, you don’t have to feel as if you have to cull people or be on guard—because you’re not screwing you over any more.