Monday, March 26, 2018

The Importance of Setting Boundaries

The Importance of Setting Boundaries

I remember when I first took graduate work in the the field of mental health. I transitioned from memorizing psychology terms, classifications, and theories to learning the processes involved in mental illness, mental health, wellbeing, and healing.

A term I learned way back in the 1990s was boundaries. I had not considered such a thing-- that each person, entity, even agency has boundaries and the way that we co-exist without hurting each other or getting lost in each other is by knowing and keeping our boundaries.

The field of recovery in trauma and sexual abuse digs deep into boundaries. It is critical in re-setting or re-membering who you are after trauma and abuse. These boundaries are the edges of self. For some these edges have been betrayed, violated, or lost. For some, they never had a chance to establish themselves. In therapy, we work to re-discover and re-build them in the safety of a healthy relationship. It is really beautiful work.

Having and keeping healthy and functional boundaries is an ongoing process. It is required at home within the relationships we have with those we love and care for. It is required at work to make sure we work effectively and safely as a team. In each domain or your life, boundaries are an essential piece of living effectively in community—they are an essential aspect of connection.

As you work to set boundaries, it can become clear when a person or entity is not honoring boundaries. You can feel them push at your edges.

I always proceed with the assumption that the other does not, perhaps, know about boundaries as a concept (as I had not known years ago). Boundary conversations are not easy and often feel personal-- as in essence- we are talking about where each of us begins and ends. Still, it is good work to do and, like gardening, a constant work that is needed for us to flourish. Its also formative work- that is- as we work together to understand each others’ boundaries things might shift and move. When we work with each other and with love- those shifts and moves, like a lovely dance, can be creative beauty.

You can say, “Hey, I need to talk about x, y, and z and where my work (or self, or love) begins and ends and your work (or self, or love) begins and ends so we can work (or be and or engage) in harmony, safely, and effectively. Here are the places I feel our edges are unclear (add your edges stuff here).  When can you talk?”

Most people will honor this request. They will sit with you, connect and work to honor who you are-- and you will honor who they are-- and you will work together to honor the boundaries required for healthy wellbeing for both-- for all.

There will also be those who do not want to talk about boundaries for lots of reasons. Sometimes there will be those who do not hear you or want to hear you. There will be those who misunderstand you or misperceive your request. Some do not yet know. Some have no interest in boundaries. Some do not want to be bothered by boundaries or have the resources for keeping them. Some are too defensive, as they do not yet know who they are.

It is a process and we are all working on our own growth timeline. And so, we honor their path as we hold ours. No matter the response, remember-- it is always okay for you to do your boundary work. Always.

To you I say, hold good. Take time to figure out YOU. Find your edges- the healthy edges and work with those, the messy edges and clean up those, the not-yet-existing edges and build those—and your creative edges- those are the best and most beautiful—live those.  And know, in the process- your edges will bump up against others’ edges and with big loving-kindness-

… your boundary work.


Catherine Cook-Cottone

The Yoga Bag