The Foundation of Healthy Boundaries

What are boundaries, anyway?

Boundaries are our Constraints: "These are things I must not do. If I do these things I harm myself."

  • I must not continue a conversation with someone who is insulting me
  • I must not read these parenting books before bed
  • I must not have more than one after school activity per week
  • I must not take over bedtime just because it sounds to me like my husband's having a hard time with it

Boundaries are our Imperatives: "These are the things I must do. If I don't do these things I harm myself."

  • I must get in bed at least 7 hours before I'm supposed to wake up
  • I must ask my partner for help when I'm feeling overwhelmed
  • I must say 'I love you' out loud multiple times per day
  • I must keep my eyes open for beauty every single day

Your boundaries are about you and what it looks like for you to live with integrity, aligning your actions with your values and beliefs. Boundaries are in the service of love, honesty, faith, health.

Healthy Boundaries are actions you take to avoid betraying yourself.

By betrayal, I mean not doing the things you need to do in order to live with integrity.

For example, if you let your child speak to you disrespectfully, you are not acting lovingly toward yourself or her/him, not demonstrating faith that s/he could do better, not contributing to healthy dynamics. As a result, you will grow to feel like a victim, your child feels like a monster, and the love between you becomes toxic.

Or, another example, if you do not ask your partner for help, you are not being honest, not demonstrating faith, not loving yourself, and not taking care of your health. As a result, you grow to resent your partner, disconnect from each other, and contribute to an environment of powerless suffering.

What makes healthy boundaries hard is that other people might not like them immediately.

Other people, especially children, aren't necessarily going to see the bigger picture right away.

Other people may even tell you stories about what your boundaries really mean:

  • 'If you loved me you'd let me sleep in your bed.'
  • 'If you loved me you'd let me have no household responsibilities.'
  • 'If you loved your child you'd volunteer for this school event.'

Unless you are clear on your values and what is true for you, you will believe other people's stories about what your boundaries mean.

When people tell you that your boundaries mean you don't love them, what they're actually saying is, 'I don't like the feelings I have to feel because of your boundary.'

Next week I'm going to go deeper into how to handle other people's reactions to your boundaries, but for now,

Let's start with this foundation:

"healthy boundaries come from My knowing the constraints and imperatives that allow Me to live with integrity."

No one else can define these for you.

And if you don't define them for yourself, you will be constantly at the mercy of other people's definition of what you should and shouldn't do.

So start at Step One -

What are your Constraints and Imperatives?

What MUST you do? What MUST you NOT do?

Stay tuned for next week when we trouble-shoot staying true to your boundaries even when other people don't like them!

With love and optimism,

Dr. Jessica