towards non-shrieky boundaries

…had ah a-ha moment about boundaries. Many a therapist, coach and wise woman counsel the importance of having boundaries, and as soon as they do, my heart shrivels. I get the ick, uncomfortable feeling.

And not because I’m lacking in self-esteem and fear that people won’t love me if they can’t walk all over me.

But because all the talk about boundaries feels so off-putting, so arms-length, so much about distancing people from you, keeping them out. With a vengeance. I’ve seen people discover the gospel of boundaries and become shrill evangelists/customs officers. Borders are preached and patrolled and rigorously, angrily, loudly enforced.

But maybe they don’t have to be that way. To quote a cheesy film that you probably haven’t seen (I’m sorry if you have), boundaries don’t have to be about putting or keeping people out, they can be about inviting people in. They can be circles. They can be circles of protection.

A good man draws a circle around himself and cares for those within. His woman, his children.

Other men draw a larger circle and bring within their brothers and sisters.

But some men have a great destiny. They must draw around themselves a circle that includes many, many more.

Your father was one of those men. You must decide for yourself whether you are, as well. – TicTic in 10,000 BC

This is the way I’ve been thinking about boundaries: as an invitation, a circle of protection. Come inside.

We need boundaries to keep the people we want in our circles safe. Boundaries protect relationships because they ensure that you will NOT resentfully stretch too far and then snap and end a relationship.

My history is very snappy.

I don’t think I’m alone in this. I think there are other women out there, too, who avoid confrontation and awkward situations until they can’t anymore and poof! it’s all over.

So let’s get some boundaries. We don’t have to explain them, just stand in them, stand in them, stand in our circles, invite people – mates, children, family, friends, community – into these protected, safe spaces so we can take care of them without snapping.

And let’s do it like the most powerful young women I know: my daughter, Sophie. She’s eight years old, gentle, quiet, elegant, tall and thin and looks like a fragile flower. You might think she’s a fragile flower because she’s shy, she doesn’t fight, she doesn’t argue, she doesn’t explain, she doesn’t excuse or make excuses. But she has boundaries and if you cross them, she simply will.not.play.barbies.with.you.

But if you come correctly, she’ll play anything – including, oh god, the harmonica – for HOURS.

So it behooves certain five year olds (and everyone) to come correctly and respect her boundaries. Because then you’re in.

And – note to newly converted boundary-setting adults – there are no awkward conversations about the new fences. They’re just in place. Your limits become obvious to others when you respect them yourself.

Stand in your circles. There you can invite us in and keep us safe. Boundaries aren’t a no-trespassing sign, they’re an invitation, a promise of protection. They’re a gift to your people, not an awkward conversation.

About the author

Kelly Diels I'm Kelly Diels. I'm a writer, the founder of Cleavage (The Lines that Shape Us), and I wrote this blog post just for you. You can also find me on Twitter and darlin', please do. xoxo, K

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