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Big. Beautiful. Boundaries!

Image showing a gate with the following quote: 'Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously' by Prentis Hemphill

Written byHelen Soutar

Helen is a strategist who specializes in Resilience. Mum to Harry and Kit who are both rapidly reaching the stage of looking down to her, she spends her days home educating and then escaping to her studio in the garden to work

10th April 2019

Big. Beautiful. Boundaries!!


Boundaries have been coming up A LOT with clients just lately – new issues with friends and clients, old issues with family members – and so often it seems that making a decision to tackle them sends a flare-up to everyone encouraging them to push them and test them just to make sure you were serious!

Anyway, I know that boundaries are an issue that lots of people worry about as well as one that can feel difficult to get a handle on, so I thought I’d share my much-used analogy with you.

So, boundaries are basically the fences we put up around ourselves.  Imagining yourself as the gorgeous clapper board house in the photo above, the first step is to mark out where is your space.  The lovely little white picket fence does a grand job of very gently saying ‘this is my space’.  Anyone walking past can see in but they also know that it’s your space and that stepping inside of it means they are now on your turf (literally!).

At the back of the house, you’re more likely to have a taller, more solid fence to give you an area of more private garden.  This is perfect for inviting friends over, sunbathing, getting on with a bit of gardening in your scrubs without feeling like you’re on show, and so on.  People invited into this space are likely to know more about you, and you will likely tolerate more personal or vulnerable conversations with them…it’s not for everyone though, only those you decide to invite in.

Finally, you have your safe room.  This is that secret space, hidden behind a bookcase or in your cellar behind a rack of shelves that very very few people know about.  This is where you keep your most vulnerable secrets and where you go to hide if you really don’t want to be found.  There are thick walls, no windows, and an impenetrable door.

Now, if you have all 3 types of boundaries like this in place – wonderful!  You are making it easy for people to know what they can and can’t do around you.

Problems can arise however, if you only have one or two types of boundaries.  For many of us, being taught to be polite eroded our picket fence and garden fence boundaries.  As children we were told to give hugs to people we didn’t feel comfortable with, to always say thank you for gifts even if we didn’t like them, to not make a scene, to follow the rules even if that means doing things you don’t want to and on and on.  It leaves us with the feeling that boundaries are the safe room – they are the hard rules about what is absolutely not okay and protecting and enforcing them becomes something we associate with extreme danger or unacceptable rudeness.  So when we are then advised to strengthen our boundaries we imagine it means spending more time in our safe room, rather than building our picket fence.

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