Setting boundaries is handy. Knowing that we can say, “no”, or put physical distance between us and another means we know ourselves, at least a little bit. When we state a different opinion other than the popular one, or decline an invitation, we set ourselves apart. Socially setting ourselves apart requires a resilience to rejection and loss as well as an openness to teachability.
Put Up Your Dukes!
For me, surviving my father’s suicide included putting myself on emotional guard. Since I’d trusted my father and it ended catastrophically, it made perfect sense to me to shield myself from being duped again. Just because someone acted trustworthy did not mean they were trustworthy. I’d been fooled once, and I vowed never to be fooled again.
Fear, as well as freedom from pain motivated me to keep my distance from all people at all times. The result? I built a strong fortress between myself and the rest of the world. Imagine a castle with a mote and a drawbridge and you will get an inkling of what I constructed.
But building a fortress is not the same as setting boundaries. A citadel constricts and limits us while boundaries allow growth and movement. Learning the difference between what constitutes a healthy and an unhealthy interpersonal relationship takes time. It requires a commitment to a lifetime of learning.
When I sense real or imagined danger, drawing up the drawbridge to my fortress and not allowing others to enter is still an automatic default setting. Now-a-days though, I am much more aware than ever of those times that I am ready to flee to the safety of my castle.
Reactions inside my body cue me. My heart beats faster, I may hear thoughtless words running willy-nilly out of my mouth or I press my personal mute button.
Those who know me well, know best how to respond. They will gently remind me that we are on the same side and that there is no need for me to get defensive. I also know that when I sense a real or imagined threat, I can take a few deep breaths, give myself permission to put some physical distance between myself and what I perceive to be the threat and tell myself that I can fully assess the situation at a later date. I’ve learned from more than one close friend that you can never be in a hurry to figure out the complexities of any relationship.
I am also aware that I know how to be gracious. I know I can decline an invitation with simplicity and without having to defend myself. I am beginning to understand the great value of knowing where I stand and where I need to stay put. I do not need to feel threatened by someone’s rejection just because I do not conform to their system of belief.
Why bother with boundaries? Making our limits known to others with grace and ease takes time and practice. We will never arrive at perfection, but the more we practice the more grace and ease we will experience.