What is a Boundary?

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Hello Dearest One!

Together we are moving forward into a more whole self and a more whole life. One way we are moving towards wholeness is through setting boundaries. Many of you have asked me lately about boundaries.

What is a boundary?

And how do I set one?

Tiffany feels like she is a human vending machine always giving out always there for everyone, but she is EXHAUSTED! Her husband was supposed to cook dinner tonight… for a change…but notified her at the last minute that he is staying late for a meeting and cannot “help out today”. As she is leaving work, she realizes that she now needs to drop by the grocery store and pick up something to cook for dinner. Moreover, she offered to bring a meal to her neighbor who just was devastatingly diagnosed with MS. She is also volunteering at her daughter’s girl scout meeting tonight, and she will need to wrap up an extra work project she took on. Right now, she just cannot wait to hit the pillow at 11 pm! Maybe then she will find relief from the headache in back of her skull and the aching lump in her throat.

Tiffany, like many of us, has a boundary problem.

A boundary is a natural barrier. When we think about our skin, we see an example of a boundary. Our skin tells us where we physically stop and where we physically start. Emotional and psychological boundaries are more difficult to define because they are not visible to the eye; they are only decoded through our actions, reactions, and words. We set boundaries in regard to how we choose to live, what we show we value, what we do and do not do, what we will and will not participate in, and how we spend our time.

When we think about a fence, such as around a house or a property, a fence defines where that property starts and where it ends. An effective fence keeps the good in and the undesirable out. We want to keep the undesirable out. Our body is a great boundary analogy. My body needs fuel, and if I live on candy bars and beer, my body will not work well. If, instead, I feed my body wisely, using principles of gentle nutrition and moderation, it will work well for me. Psychologically-speaking, we want to keep the unhealthy influences out. We want to stop engaging in scenarios that make us feel used, dried up, or that are against our values. Sometimes, like with Tiffany, we might want to titrate how many “good “activities we let in, because engaging in too many “good deeds” to our own detriment can be like a yard with too many statues. It just doesn’t work!

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A helpful tool to keep in mind when we are deciding what boundaries to set is the Triangle of Pain. Author Melanie Beattie came up with an original version of this concept. The way I explain this concept is to imagine a triangle where there are three different positions, one at each point. At one point is the position of the Persecutor, at another point we have the Child or Victim position, and in the final point we have the Caretaker position.

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What can happen when someone approaches us from one point on the Triangle, such as our boss lays into us unfairly at work (Persecutor), or our brother who is an addict tells us again that he cannot make rent and has nowhere to turn (Victim), is we are tempted to pick up another spot on the Triangle. Part of us can want to join in the angst-filled dance, but when we join, we feel that old familiar raw feeling on the inside. Something in our gut just does not feel right, because we are not relating to others with good boundaries when we are on the Triangle of Pain.

Sometimes, we are so comfortable with one position on the Triangle, possibly due to being raised in a dysfunctional family, or perhaps due to our own faulty belief systems, that we relate to the world through a particular position even when others are not communicating with us from a position on the Triangle. This is particularly true of the Caretaker position for many women. This is the trap that Tiffany is in.

When we are on the Triangle of Pain, we lose our sense of boundaries and our sense of self because we are relating to people in a way is NOT adult to adult. When we relate to others adult to adult, we respect other people’s right to make their own decisions and our right to decide how we will participate. We do not do for another adult what they can do for themselves. In adult to adult interactions, we give with a cheerful heart, with intention, and not out of fear, guilt, anger, or “should.”

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want to stay off the Triangle of Pain and instead to respond adult to adult. We want to respond in a way that shows respect and belief in the other person to do their own “adulting,” even if the other person is not acting like an adult and not carrying their own load. This will give the other person an opportunity to grow, and keep us from being drug into an unhealthy place on the Triangle of Pain.

It is so important to set good boundaries, my friend. We'll be talking much more on this on the days to come, because setting boundaries is so vital for healthy living and finding the life we always dreamed we would have!

I believe in you. I really do. You can set that boundary even though it is hard. YOU CAN. Get some support and you can do it!

Always believing in you, loved one.

~Dr Barbara

Ansley Schenck