In the Middle Ages, and indeed in ancient times well before that, walls were essential. Every decent sized settlement had a wall around it to protect the inhabitants from aggressors. Without it, the latter were able to come in at will to pillage and plunder. It was the people’s way of saying, “Without our permission, you are not permitted in this place. It is our sanctuary.”
Those days have long gone, but we can draw an important lesson from them. Without boundaries to protect us, people can violate our space. This can take many shapes and forms. From a friend who expects us to always be there for them, to an employer who demands more than is appropriate to a partner who is abusive, critical or demanding. Unless others know where they stand with us, unless we have set up clear boundaries to make it clear what we won’t tolerate, we leave ourselves open to be manipulated, overworked, and in the worst case, abused.
We all have areas in our lives that are in need of boundaries. We may be good at saying no to our employer but find it hard to refuse our children’s requests. We may know when we need time away from our friends but let a dominant partner manipulate us. The fact is, there may be a number of reasons why we don’t have boundaries in our lives. We may fear the consequences , that it will push people away, or that we may be perceived as being too strict or selfish.
What is important is to look at the consequences of not having boundaries. It can result in having stressful lives as we are so busy trying to please everybody. This can also lead to guilt as we are not able to meet everybody’s needs. Resentment can also occur towards the people who take advantage of us. This can in turn lead to feeling condemned and ashamed.
We need to have respect for ourselves and teach others to also have respect for us. Once we shift the focus off trying to please others and look to supporting and protecting ourselves, we can see the need for boundaries. It’s important to remember though that boundaries are not walls, we don’t want to keep everybody out. That’s why even the strongest fortifications have gates or doors to let those in who are welcome. What we really want to do is let the good in and keep the bad out.
When people see there is certain behaviour we are not willing to put up with, they will know where they stand with us. They will know we have boundaries and be careful not to cross that line. Of course, there will always be the ones that try and that’s where we need to stand our ground and have appropriate consequences for that sort of behaviour. It’s helpful to ask those you trust to give you honest opinions about what areas of your life are lacking boundaries. Sometimes we don’t see for ourselves areas where we are compromising. Having the healthy moral support of others can also help us stand our ground when we are tempted to waver.
The topic of boundaries is a big one and we’ve only begun to scratch the surface. But I hope these words have given you the motivation to start the process of contemplating areas of your life where you need to draw the line.
Who needs to hear from you, “Thus far, and no further!” ?