There’s a lot of talk about boundaries these days, isn’t there? We read and speak about creating boundaries, maintaining boundaries, and perhaps even setting new boundaries when we see things aren’t working very well for us.
But what happens when we don’t recognise our boundaries have shifted, perhaps because something occurs unexpectedly at work or in an intimate relationship, or something challenges us and brings our boundaries into question?
We already know that people can’t smell what our boundaries are. They also can’t be expected to guess what our boundaries are (even if they love us very, very much) and that’s because boundaries vary from person to person, much like our personal values do.
Often when relationships falter, it’s because we haven’t communicated our boundaries to one another properly. We don’t know what the other person’s boundaries are and when something happens we’re quickly offended and become very indignant about how s/he hurt me!
One client I remember was furious about a family member not respecting her boundaries and said: “Well he should just have known better!” The fact that he was of a different generation didn’t register with her until we’d looked at what was important for her and whether it was necessarily the same for him. Sometimes we just don’t feel the same way about certain things, even if we’re from the same blood! When she understood how broadly their values differed, despite the familial ties, she was able to come to terms with the situation and it was resolved more easily.
Do we truly know where our boundaries lie?
Sometimes the relationships and the years don’t count for much if there is a fundamental difference that emerges as we grow and develop within ourselves. The lesson I have learned on my own journey is this: we’re quick to jabber on about how others must respect our boundaries, but do we genuinely respect our own?
I had a relationship falter because I felt strongly about something that it turned out the other person didn’t, and ultimately we parted ways because of this misalignment. I also had a lifelong friendship fade away because, despite repeatedly asking for support, I felt I gave far more emotionally than I received and came to realise that I was tired of being used.
Were my boundaries in place?
Yes they were. Did I communicate them clearly? Indeed I did. Were my boundaries responsible for the break ups? Absolutely they were. When I saw that I was no longer prepared to ‘put up with’ things for fear of losing my relationships, I realised how I had changed within myself. I had become an adult and respected my own boundaries enough to stand by them rather than automatically change them (which is occasionally necessary as we evolve), and which for a long-term people-pleaser like me was a pretty big AHA moment!
The decision to put myself first helped me move from playing a constant loop in the Transactional Analysis ‘drama triangle’ of Perpetrator – Rescuer – Victim and ‘I’ll do better next time’ to stepping into the ‘winner’s circle’ where I found my power and my voice and decided that ‘the next time’ had arrived.
Boundaries are great, yes, but if we’re applying them from within the drama triangle they don’t always work as effectively. We continue to blather on about our boundaries, expecting others to jump through our hoops without realising how we’re sabotaging our own efforts, and feel indignant and annoyed when all they’re doing is sticking to their boundaries too.
Was I saddened by the loss?
Of course – I’m not bloody heartless! – but at the same time, I saw that I was no longer prepared to be bullied and used by another to keep them happy.
I shifted from the pain of the drama triangle to the resolution of the winner’s circle, a far more empowering, adult place for me.
Because the ultimate level of responsibility for any of us is recognising that we’ve become an adult. And adulthood is not achieved by reaching a chronological age, it’s a choice.