My husband and I recently bought a ranch. One of the attractions of this ranch is its great fences. The previous owner was meticulous in creating sturdy and definitive boundary lines for the cattle and horses. Because of this, we can contain our livestock with confidence, and easily keep the animals where we need them. It allows us peace of mind that our animals and property are protected.
Healthy relationships, just like a well-run ranch, require healthy boundaries. Learning to set healthy personal boundaries is necessary for maintaining a positive self-image. It is our way of communicating to others that we have self-respect, and will not allow others to define us. This is preserving our integrity, and taking control of our lives.
In order to achieve this we must overcome passivity, identify our needs, and assertively take care of ourselves in relationships. This allows our true self to emerge, and protect us from being manipulated, used, or violated by others.
Healthy boundaries become the fences that keep us safe.
Boundaries can be physical, emotional, or mental. Physical boundaries define how close another may approach us, or who can touch us, and how. Emotional and mental boundaries define where our thoughts and feelings end and another’s begins. For example, are we able to say “no”? Are we compulsive people pleasers? Can we ask for what we need? Do we feel responsible for another’s feelings? Do we mimic the opinions of others? The answers to these questions help define the “property lines” of our boundaries.
How are your boundaries? Do you feel they are good, healthy boundaries? Or do they have extremes -- so rigid that you’ve created a wall? Or maybe the opposite -- the lack of a boundary at all? Those who surround themselves with walls literally shut everyone out from their lives. They appear aloof and distant, and won’t talk about feelings or show emotions. They exhibit extreme self-sufficiency, and don’t ask for help. They also don’t allow people to get close to them physically or emotionally. They can be likened to a house surrounded by an immense wall with no gates – no one is allowed in.
On the other hand, people without boundaries put their hands on strangers, and allow others to touch them inappropriately. They get too close to others too fast, take on others’ feelings as their own, give too much, take too much, and are in constant need of reassurance. They tend to say “yes” when they mean “no”, and feel responsible for everyone else’s problems. They often lead chaotic lives, full of drama, as if they lived in houses with no fences, gates, or even doors.
In contrast to the above extremes is the healthy boundary, which is firm but flexible. People who create these kinds of boundaries are able to negotiate and compromise. They give and receive support. They are responsible for their own happiness and allow others the same responsibility. They have empathy for others, are able to make mistakes without damaging their self-esteem, and have an internal sense of personal identity. They live in houses with fences and gates that allow access only to those who respect their boundaries.
If you notice yourself feeling anger or resentment, or find yourself whining or complaining, you probably need to set a boundary. There’s an old Chinese Proverb that says, “Everyone pushes a fallen fence”. Listen to yourself, and determine what you need to do or say. Then communicate your boundary assertively. When you are confident you can set healthy boundaries with others, you will lose the need to put up walls. Remember the ranch with its sturdy, protective fences – the animals are easily seen, free to roam, and comfortably protected. Setting healthy boundaries allows your true self to emerge – and what a happy-trails kind of journey that is.
A fence should be horse high, hog tight, and bull strong.
American Old West Proverb
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