Someone I cared for deeply told me that when I used the word boundaries, they found it offensive. I remember how I tried to convince them that it was a healthy word and helped people establish strong relationships with themselves and others. Although for many reasons that relationship came to an end, it was ultimately due to my avoidance of setting clear boundaries and lack of communicating feelings, due to my fear of offending that person. I’ve come across this quote that I wish I’d had access to all those years ago.
Prentis Hemphill’s definition of boundaries feels like a monumental recalibration of myself and absolute freedom on many levels, “Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously.”
When I first heard this a year ago, I was forever changed. It’s impacted my trust in myself and my capacity to nurture confusion that arises when I’m fumbling in new territory. If I’d had this definition for the previous forty plus years of my life, I would be a different person. I wouldn’t have done things that felt devastating to my soul, I wouldn’t have stayed in unhealthy relationships for as long as I did. I wouldn’t have had as many conflicts in my workplace and in friendships.
Boundaries aren’t about building walls, it’s a process of maintaining space while we navigate our evolving truths and comfort in any relationship. It’s like a deep inhale and exhale. That moment of coming back to ourself. We get to check in, see how we’re feeling and decide what’s the best next right step.
There’s no powering over or closing someone off.
Even in our most intimate relationships, we’ve all had the experience when you need to take a few deep breaths so that you don’t say something hurtful. Making sure you don’t say something that will be deeply regretful is not only kind to the other person but also to yourself. Regret is a heavy burden to carry, and one that can lead to feelings of shame.
All the times I forced myself into situations that felt unloving, and made me feel uncared for and as if wasn’t honouring how I was feeling, left me feeling shitty because I didn’t recognize that I allowed those things to happen. Setting clear boundaries with myself, and understanding what I needed would have monumentally improved my relationships. I didn’t recognize that if I tend to the parts of myself that are confused, hurt, struggling, questioning, or stressed that I’d feel like a better person. I would also bring less drama and upheaval to not only my life but to those in my life.
This quote is not to suggest that we require distance from all things. In fact, life requires closeness to understand our own limitations and boundary requirements. It can mean, taking a day to compose our feelings of dysregulation so that we can feel clear headed when addressing the people we care about. We may require days, weeks, or months to unpack relationship dynamics that have felt unhealthy for a long time. It also means that when we establish a boundary, it’s because we either understand where we stand on a given experience or require time to figure it out.
An example would be, deciding that the friend who regularly cancel last minute, that you’re no longer going to make plans with them, and being brave enough to let them know why. Or minimizing your social commitments, because when you’re over scheduled you feel resentful and exhausted, and you take it out on yourself and those around you. Or feeling frustrated at work because you feel like you’re giving more than anyone else on your team, but you continue to take on work when you’re already above capacity.
I’ll leave you with this to ponder today ‘Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously’. Is there anywhere in your life where this feels true for you?