We live in a society with little awareness of boundaries – Straight up. Most people don’t even consider it an essential trait despite its importance.
Personal boundaries can be defined as; guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave towards them and how they will respond when someone passes those limits- according to wikipedia. (I am always wary of definitions given by wikipedia however this one seemed to fit the ball quite nicely)
The article continued to define someone with soft boundaries as someone who often merges with the personal boundaries of others. This makes that person an easy victim for psychological manipulation. And I think that given the highly controlling nature of our society, unfortunately most of the programming and subliminal messages we receive from our media are designed to encourage soft boundaries. We often see men crossing women’s boundaries on dating shows/ movies and whats even worse is, in these scenes men are often awarded/ applauded for their boundary crossing.
See if much of the population has soft boundaries, then much of the population is controllable, and that allows the ‘controllers’ of our society to move us in their own direction and motives. For us as humans to regain our own sense of autonomy, we have to reclaim our power back by clearly defining our boundaries.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes in her book ‘Women who run with the wolves’ explains: “We often try to be nice to when we ought to be knowing. We may have to be taught to set aside acute insight in order to get along. However the reward for simply being nice in oppressive circumstances is to be mistreated all the more .”
I find this quote really insightful because it reminds us that often times we give up our personal needs, values and ideals in order to please others or ‘fit in’ so that we may feel needed, valued or ideal. It is interesting to note that there is often a correlation between self esteem and the state of healthy boundaries. If someone has a healthy self esteem, they know their value, what they have to offer their community, what value they add to people in their lives & they often act according to their own set of boundaries. They are governed by their own compass of truth rather that the boundaries that have been pre-set by others in their environment. Unfortunately it is those times when we are suffering within self esteem that we become more malleable to the demands of others.
I always love to remind my friends and clients the wisdom of the ancients that stated “Know thy self”. Meaning know your beliefs. Know what is important and brings value into your life. Be open to making a distinction and sorting through the variety of life – the good, mediocre or bad. Know your talents- and if you don’t already, try a bunch of things and have fun with the process of getting to know your gifts. And finally, have the courage to examine the ways in which you fall short. (for more see my blog on exploring self intimacy through meditation)
On the other side of the spectrum, those who have been abused in the past may have a case of fixed or rigid boundaries. (sometimes this also temporarily happens immediately after experiencing a traumatic situation as well). This may be because they have been so hurt by others in the past and they feel that they cannot trust anyone anymore. They often find it safer to block out everyone and very rarely let anyone in due to the fear of experiencing abuse again. Sometimes even in the event that they do let someone in, they feel as though they are unworthy or sabotage a relationship because they fear its going to lead to the same past abuse or they project wrongdoing onto a person who may have good intentions.
However when someone has flexible boundaries, they can achieve more of a healthy balance. This is when someone comes to terms with their sense of freedom often after a period of maturity and deep self exploration. When someone has this type of awareness, they are conscious of what their values, needs, and ideals are in a way that can coexist with even the opposition of others. However they will not let themselves be victims of emotional or psychological manipulation. They are actually still sensitive to even the most subtle cues of control and manipulation because their freedom is deeply important to them . And they feel comfortable communicating their boundaries to others. There is definitely a certain level of confidence and self esteem that accompanies flexible boundaries- They seem to stand rooted in their personal truth but with also the ability to allow others to stand and share in their personal truths/ boundaries.
All in all, boundary setting and awareness is a daily practice in personal development . Because our ideas and values are constantly changing with our rate of growth. Some days you will be softer, some days we will be more rigid. Where do you sit on the scale today ? How did you exercise soft/rigid/flexible boundaries in a situation ?