Can you clearly describe or define your boundaries with others, right now, even as you read this? In our lives, there are so many different types of relationships that each have their own set of boundaries. The boundaries between a husband and wife differ from those between a mother and child – which in turn are different from boundaries between co-workers, or a customer and vendor. And what about boundaries between friends? Clearly we need to create and apply different boundaries with each relationship we enjoy.
For most of us, it’s easy to discern some specific boundaries, and we would assume others would also have the same well-defined “lines in the sand.” Obviously, we don’t lie, cheat, steal or otherwise endanger or hurt someone else. We also do our best not to yell or curse at anyone, if we can help it. Many boundaries are reflected in our laws, as I just mentioned. But there is a gray area – a no man’s land, if you will – of boundaries that somehow always seem to be flexing and bending, depending on the situation and the type of relationship. It’s in these areas that we need to focus.
Good boundaries are established by clear, open and honest communication. Where communication is lacking, you can bet boundaries are being breached. Unfortunately, it’s in these scenarios where feelings can get hurt, and emotions too easily become our compass. So, what happens when a boundary is crossed, unknowingly?
For starters, let’s ask this question: what do you do when someone crosses your boundaries? If someone yells at you unnecessarily and uses curse words or other pejorative language – do you say something? Do you yell back in anger? Do you walk away? Do you sit quietly and build resentment within? These are all choices you can make. But when a boundary is crossed, our typical first reaction is emotional. Why? Because it was a violation. It was a violation of our emotional, mental (and sometimes personal) space. Addressing a direct violation can be reflexive. However, the real challenge comes in when the other person violated your boundary unknowingly.
Think about it this way: If you draw a line in the sand and someone defiantly steps over it – they are blatantly, and consciously, crossing your boundary. However, if you never draw the line in the sand (or you hold an invisible line in your mind), isn’t it highly likely that someone will eventually cross into your space, causing you to react when the boundary is breached? Sometimes, it takes someone stepping in our space for us to realize that we actually have a boundary there that we hadn’t previously acknowledged or accepted. If that’s the case, it might be a good thing to be grateful to the other person, because they just gave you an opportunity to learn something about yourself that you didn’t know. And sometimes having someone step over the invisible line simply creates an opportunity to build a stronger relationship, infused with greater mutual respect for one another. Either way, gratitude is a good approach to take when your ill-defined boundary has been broken. Because, as much as we all like to point the finger at the other guy, we played a role in the violation, by not communicating our needs effectively enough.
This isn’t to say that we need to go through our lives drawing lines in the sand everywhere – that would be impossible, and quite unwelcoming. But it is to say that unintentional boundary violations can lead in one of two directions, which is always a choice: 1) they can cause you to run away, build walls, or otherwise react to the unexpected stimulus in a defensive (or aggressive) manner; or 2) they can create an opportunity for growth, understanding and communication. Which, in turn, can strengthen your relationship with others, but also with yourself. And isn’t that the ultimate goal? Long-lasting, loving relationships with yourself and others?
So, the next time someone steps over the line, ask yourself first if you actually drew the line and communicated it to them. Then, be grateful. Because if they knew the line was there – then they just taught you something about themselves that you didn’t know, or you needed to be reminded of. And if they didn’t know the line was there, then they’ve given you an opportunity to strengthen your relationship and improve your communication skills. Either way, you will come out stronger, wiser, and more empowered to be yourself.
In Love and Light,