Practicing Boundaries, or Putting Up Walls?

I’ve been gifted a perfect weather week up on the North Shore, the kind that ushers you into fall with an aching for crisp air, sweaters, knee high boots and hot cocoa. Upper 60s, low 70s all week, I managed to get in a couple hikes up the shore to take in the early fall color.

My mornings have been deliciously slow, waking up when I wake up and making myself a cup of coffee. My days have been equally relaxing. I’ve done everything on this vacation that I wanted to – hikes, outdoor hot tub, reading, cooking, shopping, exploring, catching up on emails, OD’ing on Law and Order SUV.

My respite weeks at the lake always provide reflection time, but are near-forced when the weather flips on a dime. Lake Superior is dark and moody today, waves 3 to 6 feet high, and she has me thinking about relationships.

A couple of weeks ago in one of my leadership training classes, the compulsory nature of technology use came up. While we are more technologically connected than we have ever been before, we are more relationally disconnected than ever before. How can we be so alone in a world where we are always “on” and have access to everything we could have ever imagined that we wanted or needed?

Being alone doesn’t equate to social isolation. In fact, spending time alone can be extremely therapeutic as you look to re-connect with yourself. Instead, the disconnection we experience can often stem from a lack of meaningful connection – to ourselves, to others, to the work we are doing. When is the last time you stopped to really explore if you are living a life of meaning? Where are you spending your time?

Which leads me back to relationships. We need social connection – yes, even us introverts. We are hardwired for connection, and the feeling of disconnection is a very real pain. What is also very real is that we have all been hurt in relationships – friendships, marriages, work, community – the list goes on. We’ve all been there.

The way we protect our hearts, however, manifest in two distinct ways: We either put up walls, or we create boundaries. Walls are impermeable – nothing in, nothing out. They are the ultimate defense in working to people out; hardened to life, hardened to love.

Boundaries operate differently. Simply stated, boundaries are created to let other people know “Here are the edges. Here’s what’s ok, and here’s what’s not ok for me”. It doesn’t keep people out, but it keeps them in line with how we want to be treated. Boundaries invite people into your world, with respect and reverence.

Boundaries articulated and defined also help create trust. In her Dare to Lead(TM) work, Brené Brown shares that trust is actually a collection of behaviors that collectively create moments of trust, which over time, helps us discern who is trustworthy in our lives. Not surprisingly, the “B” in the BRAVING inventory is Boundaries but the elements I want to highlight are “N” and “G”.

“N” is for Non-Judgment, “G” is for Generosity. When it comes to relationships, these may be the areas that we need the most constant attention. The human experience is a vast as it is deep – we are uniquely patchworked with our defining experiences, Big T and little t trauma, disappointments, heartbreak, loss, laughter, moments of joy and everything in between. What we bring to our relationships is who we are.

If we stop and think about all that we have been through, all that we have experienced, all that we have done… all the moments we have regretted saying something, or pushing the issue to far, or behaving badly (with or without intention)… we can all probably agree that (at large) those moments don’t define us for who we are. Arguably, we wouldn’t want others judging us based on those experiences alone.

That is where the Non-Judgment and Generosity in the BRAVING inventory come in. When we approach, or choose with intention, an approach of non-judgement and generosity in our relationships, that is assuming that the other person is doing the best that they can given their circumstances, then we leave space – space for curiosity, for healing, for forgiveness, and for learning. It is leaving space for humans to be human – to screw it up, circle back, apologize and make amends. And that is what makes relationships rooted in Boundaries so powerful: it creates the opportunity for people to create understanding of what’s ok, and what’s not ok moving forward.

Ok, come up for air. That was a lot. Take it in, reread it. Chew on it and let it simmer. To dive a little deeper, ask yourself these 3 questions:

  1. Where have you put up walls in lieu of holding boundaries in your relationships?
  2. What purpose are the walls serving in your relationships?
  3. How would taking down the walls and establishing boundaries change your relationships – with yourself, and with others?

As someone who is actively recovering from years of Fort Knox around her heart, believe me when I say boundaries are much more satisfying. Let people in. They just might surprise you.

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