Whether we are willing to acknowledge them or not, boundaries exist.
They are always there, and exist everywhere in life – for all people (and even more-than-human beings!). Wolves leave their scent markings to create defining lines between different pack territories, which tells other wolves that if they’re crossed there will be consequences. The natural world is clear and distinct, and yet constantly changing in its boundaries, and the human world can learn a lot from this.
In our culture, there’s a stigma around boundaries that assumes they are selfish. But the truth is, boundaries are not something humans created, and attempting to live without them or ignoring their existence only does a disservice to us all.
Boundaries are not solely the personal responsibility of the boundary-holder
We have a tendency to assume that it’s up to the person who has the boundary to take 100% responsibility for stating, asserting and maintaining the boundary. While I do believe this is an important skill for every human to have, it’s not the only – or even more effective or elegant – way to relate to boundaries with the people in your life. If we’re in relationship to others, we are in relationship to their boundaries—it’s a package deal—and that means their boundaries need to matter to us. Instead of pushing a person’s boundary and waiting for them to say something, we need to acknowledge and respect it ourselves – regardless of their skill-level at speaking & holding their own boundaries.
In this way boundaries become community responsibility, rather the sole responsibility of the boundary holder. Boundaries as community responsibility is actually more true to how boundaries are meant to be held & related to. Humans are pack animals & we were never meant to live with so much emphasis on our own agency & individual freedoms. For all of us in relationships – whether it be intimate partnerships, family, business relationships, or community – it’s up to us to determine what creates the most love, freedom, joy, expression and aliveness in the relationship, and discover what boundaries are required in order for that to happen.
Assume every boundary someone sets has value
In any relationship, there’s value in assuming anything anyone says about their boundaries has value. It’s always possible someone is stating or holding boundaries that come from habit, relational trauma, or something else. Even so, whenever someone you are relating with sets a boundary, they are offering you valuable data about themselves, and what they need for the relating to be the most open, loving & free. Any boundary they share shows us something about what that person wants or needs in order for the relationship to be filled with more love and this is incredibly important information.
It might not always be the end point, but we must assume it has value.
If you care about another person, you have to care about their boundaries
“When we deeply understand that boundaries create more life, we suddenly want to learn the boundaries in our relationships because it doesn’t mean a loss for me, it means more for all of us – including me.” — Kendra Cunov
This orientation takes us out of wondering what we can get from another, to getting curious, and creating a space where people actually want to participate. I’m not suggesting anyone be a martyr or disregard what they (also) want & need in a relationship, but when we care about other people, we have to care about their boundaries more than just trying to get past them when it seems like they are in the way of something we want.
Most people resist boundaries from an underlying assumption that when someone else sets a boundary, they will lose out in some way. This is a fundamentally flawed perspective — there are plenty of instances where this isn’t true. We have to be willing to see & seek a win-win solution, which might not always look like what we think, but often is actually better than we could have imagined!
Of course, we are always at choice in if, how and when we want to relate to other people and their boundaries are part of that.
Boundaries are a place of intimacy with each other & the world
We are often so afraid of bumping up against people’s boundaries, but these are very deep points of connection to another.
Boundaries are a place of contact and connection with the world. If we touch another person’s boundary, it means we are in connection and this is a good thing. When we take on this lens, we immediately want to know all the boundaries in our relationships because when we are seeking to know other’s boundaries, we are seeking greater intimacy (with them).
Boundaries are the responsibility of the one with the most awareness
When we come from this perspective, we start to ask the question around responsibility. Who is responsible for boundaries? I will always teach and guide people to know that we are all responsible for our own boundaries because this truly is an essential skill.
However, in a relational dynamic, whoever has the most awareness (in the moment) is the one responsible for seeing & holding the boundaries for the relating. If I’m in a relationship with someone who doesn’t know their own boundary around x, y and z, but I can feel the aliveness go out of the relationship when we start to enter that terrain, then it’s up to me to hold that in some way.
If we don’t want that responsibility, we either need to extricate ourselves for a moment or a time from people who do not have that awareness, or bring the awareness into the relational dynamic ourselves.
It’s essential that those in the masculine role take more responsibility for boundaries
Boundaries, in the framework I work in, are a masculine energetic. The banks of the river are the Masculine; the flow of the river is the Feminine.
Boundaries can be held by any being – male or female – but the question to ask is: Who do we (in this relational dynamic) want to be holding the masculine pole in the relationship right now?
Culturally speaking, there’s a misunderstanding that women (and femmes) are the ones who need to learn better boundaries. Of course, women can understand, know, and feel more confident in knowing, stating & holding their boundaries – and that will be better than if they don’t know how! However, if you are wanting the person you are in a relationship with to let go more, relax more, or hold a more ‘feminine’ energetic — which is not just in intimate, sexual dynamics — it’s up to you to hold the boundaries.
In the realm of personal growth, there are some men looking into the work of boundaries but an avalanche of women who are doing it. While I am glad women are learning better boundaries, we will see an exponential shift culturally when more men step in and learn boundaries; when more men take responsibility for being the ones for seeing, setting, and holding the boundaries for all involved.
Males are taught that to be ‘masucline’ is to push for what they can get. Females & femmes are taught that it is our role to stop that push. This is a deep misunderstanding & one that is causing enormous pain in the world today.
One of the most extraordinary shifts those in the ‘masculine’ can make is to understand that their role is NOT to push for what they can get, but to sense where the natural stopping point is that will create the most joy, freedom, love and aliveness in the moment – and take responsibility for holding that place.