Can we talk about boundaries? Everyone agrees that boundaries are important. What most don’t agree on is who gets to set the boundaries.
We all have our own sense of privacies, personal space, intrusive behaviors, etc. We all like to think we know what those are for ourselves, afterall it’s really all about what feels right and good and safe and empowered. What we never know is what another’s boundaries are. We make a mistake when we try to set the boundaries for another, especially for a child.
Boundaries have everything to do with personal integrity: what foods do I like, what kinds of people do I enjoy, what types of interactions do I take pleasure from, what is my relationship to my body, what kind of music and other noise appeals to me, for example. Everything in life, everything we think about and believe, the actions and interactions we have with our worlds all involve the setting of boundaries.
Do we trust or does it feel good or respectful to have a government, for example, set our boundaries for us? Laws are written and enacted to attempt to create boundaries of safety for the individual and the masses. Dissection of such laws shows us how this is actually quite silly and impossible to do. Laws regarding speed limits don’t prevent car accidents, laws prohibiting carrying handguns in public buildings don’t prevent violence, laws that abolish smoking in restaurants and inside buildings don’t prevent smoking or ensure the health of those who do not smoke. On the surface it may seem like the laws benefit us, but the big picture proves otherwise.
Integral to the setting of boundaries is respect. Respect is bound in the awareness and trust that each person is a sovereign being, born with the natural need and desire to determine and set the boundaries they require to get along in the world as joyful, responsible, fully alive and engaged beings.
Just as we feel undermined when a government attempts to set our personal boundaries, we feel likewise when others attempt to take our personal authority from us and set boundaries. One naturally feels squelched or oppressed when their partner wants to limit their thinking or friendships or the amount of weight they are gaining or losing or how much alcohol they drink. A child becomes stressed and anxious and rebellious when a parent attempts to tell him what to eat and when to eat it, when to go to bed or when he can play outside.
Most adults in our culture believe that our behaviors or those of our children will be completely undisciplined, crude and out of control if external boundaries are not set to curb what could become a problem. From birth onward for most of us, adults are setting boundaries for us: when to wear clothes and what kinds to wear, who are our friends should be, when to learn to read, when to learn to become team players, when to eat dessert and what kinds of weather we can play in, for example. Almost everything we learn to do as children is bound by some externally dictated boundary that another has set for us.
The more others intrude with boundary setting in our life, our personal space, our privacies, our thoughts, the more dissatisfaction we feel within ourselves, with those around us and with the worlds we live in. We create a myriad of ways to break free from the boundaries set by others: from anger outbursts to violence, insults to silent treatments, eating disorders to addictions, self abuse to abuse of others. Before long many of us come to believe that the ill effects and feelings that result from boundary setting is love itself and use this rationale to justify setting boundaries for themselves and others that focus only on the dysfunctional notions of control that result. I think it’s possible that most of us, perhaps as a culture, have completely lost touch with what it means to live and respect a life lived with personal integrity.
If boundaries and the understanding of them has gotten confused and discombobulated in your family and you’re ready for some rethinking, begin now. Start fresh. Here is one way to begin:
1. Effective immediately, allow yourself to see that each person, yourself included, has both a need and a right to determine your own personal boundaries. The foods you eat and when you want to eat them, the number of hours you sleep and when you choose to sleep, who your friends are and what activities you engage in with them, your preferences for music and noise, your needs for privacy, quiet and solitude. There are many other things to be included in this list, but this is a start.
2. Realize that each person in your household may have conflicting preferences with each other person in the household.
3. Believe and trust that each person has the right to establish their own boundaries, that it’s entirely possible to live together harmoniously and be different, that anything is possible.
4. Begin the work. The real work of setting personal boundaries requires self awareness, introspection, experimentation and self respect. Once some clarity is achieved and a family of more than one is involved, conversation is required as each shares their evolving decision-making on personal boundaries, listens as others present their perhaps conflicting decisions on boundaries, and works toward a consensual harmony that is always possible when all parties involved believe that everyone not only can, but has a right to get what they want. This is all possible without sacrifice, forced sharing or turn-taking, compromise, democratic voting, or other euphemisms for control.
Given the nature of personal boundary setting, there are no rules for how the conversation in your family will progress or what the end results will look like. Empower each person to be guided by how they FEEL about the evolution taking place. If each person does not genuinely feel comfortable, respected and honored, your work as a group has not been successful. There are unlimited ways in which your conversations can go, what the creative results will be that follow and what the ever-changing ways will be in which your family can grow and evolve.
The reason this is important and worth the work lies solely in the divine nature of life itself: we are here in this time and place to enjoy life, to feel good, to connect in love and respect with those of our choosing, to feel at home in our bodies and in the world. We cannot feel this good, this worthy, this powerful without an integral sense of self ownership and personal responsibility … which can result only through the powerful process of determining and setting our own personal boundaries.