Posted Mandy Murphy on 3/8/2016 |Featured Columns & Series
The concept of boundaries has been showing up over and over in my life recently. In GOTR BookClub, we are discussing Brené Brown’s book, Rising Strong, and one of the key components of courageous living is learning to set boundaries. I was recently facilitating a discussion on the GOTR values in a training. As the group dove more deeply into our value of “Stand up for ourselves and others,” the conversation migrated to the congruency between standing up for oneself and setting an appropriate boundary. In my personal life, I have been practicing boundary setting around technology and the constant draw to “get one more work task done.”
So, what really is a boundary and why is this showing up everywhere? On initial consideration, a boundary calls up images like a wall, a fence or a line. The literal side of me identifies boundaries with something that keeps something in or out. It implies rigidity. It feels solid. It is defined. Apply these concepts to life and it makes sense why boundary setting can be so challenging. Life is messy and fluid. Change is constant, and we all know that things rarely unfold exactly as we planned. So, why would we think it possible to build a wall in an oceanic-like current called life?
Additionally, boundary setting, especially when first practiced, invokes a parallel struggle with several challenging and strong experiences: guilt and selfishness. After a line in the sand is drawn, it is not uncommon for the internal dialogue to kick in questioning the need for or validity of a boundary. Feeling bad about being firm can fuel self-questioning and thus create reactionary desire to erase the line drawn or not follow through. It is interesting though: with enough practice, this wave of guilt and selfishness that comes after standing up for ourselves can be viewed as an expected and natural response. If we swim with this wave long enough without reacting, it eventually passes, leaving clarity and space for the boundary to stay in place.
Grappling with my understanding of what boundary setting means and the waves of emotions that come with it, I have begun to view boundary setting differently. Grounding in “why a boundary is needed” has led me to better understand that boundary setting is actually a protection of what is most important. The need for boundaries is really about rebalancing to be aligned with our values. It is part of the process for staying true to our priorities. When viewed from this perspective, boundaries feel less like walls to be built, requiring enormous amounts of rigid effort and energy and instead feel more like compassionate, fluid membranes that are holding space for the preciousness of life – those things that allow us to live balanced, wholehearted lives.