Finding Grace in Challenge Part 1: Healthy Boundaries

I don’t have a lot in common with my neighbor.  He likes to rebuild cars and go hunting- I like to work in my garden and have summer bar-b-cues.  But there is one thing that we share, and that is the boundary line between our properties.  Usually when we think of boundaries, we think of something that separates us from someone else. 

Consider the possibility that a boundary is not something that separates us but something that connects us.   It is the interface from where we join with others and the world around us. Once we see boundaries this way we can see that having clear healthy boundaries is essential to our wellbeing.    
Clear healthy boundaries foster safety, autonomy, and a sense of freedom. 

Here is something I have noticed about horses and fences.  Without a clear fence line a horse must be tethered.  Yet a horse in a fenced pasture has the ability to run safely, and have the autonomy and freedom to do all things horse - like.

When I take this to a personal level - the more clearly I know where I end, and you begin, (or vice a versa) the more I can authentically and creatively run free within the territory I define as myself.
A personal boundary is only as healthy as our level of discretion. Discretion is the freedom to decide what should be done in a particular situation: AKA autonomy.

I think of discretion as functioning much like the screen in my bedroom window.  It keeps out the bugs, critters, and debris, but lets in air, which is essential for health. 
Yet sometimes, even with the best of intentions, “critters” get past my screen.  On occasion I make a choice and I have a painful outcome.   My initial impulse would be to build a bigger wall or a shield to keep out all intruders who may bring unwanted consequences.   But instead of building a wall and shutting out life, I opt to fortify the screen, learn from my life choices, and practice better discretion next time. 

That way I begin to build healthy boundaries.

We live in a world of boundaries.  Physical boundaries like property lines. Ethical boundaries are seen in our laws.  Moral boundaries are reflected in social norms and in our personal behavior.    Staying on the ‘right’ side of the boundary allows for a healthy functioning society.

Our personal boundary and our ‘personal space’ is the edge of where “I end and you begin.”  It is commonly the space that extends beyond our physical body – usually about 3 feet. Though it is not really a physical boundary we certainly know it when someone crosses or gets too close to it. 

When that happens we usually get tense and stop breathing. Our body feels as though we are in danger - even if we know the person and they appear ‘non- threatening”.  That is because the edge of our personal space- which offers us both autonomy and safety - has been breached.  When this happens we are in the flight/fight/freeze reaction because we perceive a danger.    The same thing could happen if someone enters our home unannounced.  Trust this reaction.  Noticing and acknowledging this is essential to begin building healthy physical boundaries.

That way I begin to build healthy boundaries.

These days we are bombarded with so much coming at us from our surroundings- Cars and noise and people and information.  It can feel overwhelming.  These stimuli seem to crash our boundaries and overpower our “screen”.  This breach of our personal space can affect us on a physical, emotional, or mental level.  Maybe we get fatigued or anxious and tense physically.  Perhaps our emotions get frayed and we have frustration, anger or depression.  Mentally we may feel foggy brained.  We could accurately say that none of those stimuli are “ours”.  And we may try to build an impenetrable bubble or wall around us.  But again, in a healthy mindful life we looking for ways to be connected and compassionate and to have a healthy interface with others.  Building a wall to keep things out also keeps us in.  Thinking of a healthy boundary more like a screen empowers us to interface with others and our world from a place of insight, grace and resilience.

Click here to learn a simple visualization tool to create healthy boundaries yourself.


Steve Stroud
Executive Director
The Ripple Foundation

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