Boundaries are amazing! I love them and I owe so much of my beautiful life to the fact that I have clear boundaries. That being said, there are two places I have been seeing the limitations of how boundaries tend to be spoken about, and lived in people’s lives.
The first is that we think boundaries need to be rigid, or static.
Sometimes when we are first learning to set boundaries there can be value in getting clear on what is never OK, or a firm boundary across all circumstances. However, there are stages beyond this that are equally essential to living a full life, with rich relationships.
The growth beyond being rigid about our boundaries is learning the dance & understanding that boundaries can be flexible. The boundaries you set with one person can be different than those with another, and they can change within the same relationship, depending on the circumstances, or over time. If we use the example of a house, this makes a lot of sense. Just because I invited one person over, doesn’t mean I need to invite another. Just because I invited you over yesterday, doesn’t mean you are also invited today – but we seem to forget we can do this in the more subtle dynamics of relationships.
When we relate to our boundaries as rigid, we tend to set our boundaries out at their farthest point, because we are afraid we won’t be able to dance with our own boundaries, and both know & communicate what works for us in each moment. This often created distance & mistrust in relationships – intimate & otherwise.
[Listen to the video to hear a story about how this relates to intimacy in romantic relationships]
Instead, you can have flexible, semi-permeable membrane boundaries.
It’s important to speak to boundaries beyond the kind of rigidity we tend to fall into when we first start setting them. I like to think of them more as being semi-permeable cell membranes. This means you let in what nourishes you, while still being able to hold firm on what you do not want to allow inside your space.
It is true that when we treat boundaries as semi-permeable membranes, there can be greater complexity and greater risks – but there are also much greater rewards, not only in terms of intimacy, but also with regard to being much more deeply connected to ourselves! Checking in with ourselves & shifting boundaries moment to moment is an art form!
Honoring the truth of your flexible boundaries requires asking the questions: Where is my boundary in this circumstance? In this moment? Where is my boundary with this person?
[In the video I go into much more detail about how to practice with this if you have a hard time working with flexible boundary-setting]
Getting stuck in responding vs creating
The limitation I see around most teaching around boundary-setting is that, if we get swept away in the culture of boundaries, we can end up operating entirely in response to things & this can limit our capacity to actually ask ‘what do I want?’, rather than, ‘do I want that (thing being offered) or not?’
Many people I work with end living off a menu of options in life & in relationships – without even realizing they have limited themselves in this way! Very few people are fully aware of how much power they have to create in their lives. It comes from having put ourselves in ‘always in response’ mode. Response mode asks ‘am I a yes or a no to what’s being offered?’ – which is how many people relate to boundaries. Going off-menu – out of the realm of response, and into the realm of vision & creation – can be vulnerable. It can be scary too ask ourselves what we really want, but as uncomfortable as this might be, it is essential to living a truly fulfilling life.
Something I see a lot when I work with couples, is that people often think they can’t have something because they imagine the other person doesn’t want it. Both people are imagining what is acceptable for the other and creating the menu they get to choose from, based on what they imagine the other person wants. The most painful part is that there is almost always much more overlap in desires than people know – and they go for years, or decades, with neither person really getting their needs met because they’ve never taken the risk of revealing their truest desires!
Going beyond boundaries means asking yourself: What do I want? Without first assuming you know what you can have. This requires a high level of self-awareness & I highly recommend also reading this article on The Connection Between Love & Boundaries.
Watch the video here:
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I just watched Aziz Ansari’s newest standup show in which he addresses the sexual misconduct allegations made against him. I appreciated that he did. It was pretty simple and probably not enough for some (although it was enough for me): he said he feels terrible that the woman feels the way she does. He also talked about what he learned.
The reason I thought of that in relation to this blog is that we have a responsibility to EXPRESS our boundaries and EXPRESS them clearly and unambiguously.
I think what you say here about realizing they are not static will help: that is we may need to express boundaries and then RE-EXPRESS boundaries to be clear about our CURRENT status.