Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Boxes & Boundaries

Boxes and boundaries. We've all got 'em.

Our boxes contain our current capabilities, comfort zones, thoughts, and beliefs. As it is often just outside of our boxes that we grow physically, mentally, and spiritually, we are encouraged to "think outside of the box," "push beyond our comfort zones," or as my yoga teacher says, "play the edge."

Our boundaries, on the other hand, are limits we set for ourselves. They are established as a means of self-protection and should be reverently respected.

Boxes & boundaries.

I've spent a lot of my time focusing on my boxes -- growing them, and, in turn, growing me. It's only in the last few years I've turned my attention towards my boundaries.

I'm not typically one who likes boundaries. I generally find them to be confining and stifling. But the more I've thought about my personal boundaries as a means of protection, the more I've come to embrace them. With this embracing, I find myself building sturdier and more steadfast walls.

If you think about it, it's actually the boxes that are confining, as they present obstacles to possibility. Boundaries are liberating; they guard our values and integrity so we can thrive. By establishing and defending our boundaries, we safeguard our time, our energy, our physical health, our mental well-being, our independence, our dreams, and most importantly, our hearts and our souls.

Boxes can exist around most everything -- capabilities, comforts, thoughts, beliefs, etc. We remain most open to possibilities when we establish boundaries solely for how we relate with others. It is people, after all -- friends, family, lovers, co-workers -- who test our boundaries, whether it be intentionally or unintentionally.

One of the first boundaries I consciously constructed served to protect my positive energy. I had a co-worker whose negativity infiltrated my space. She always complained about her life, but never sought to improve her situation. While I'm all for lending an ear to friends and serving as a sounding board, I have no tolerance for people who complain day-in and day-out and never do a damn thing to change their situation. I was allowing this co-worker's negativity to poison my positive energy. No longer was I going to permit my co-worker to walk through my mind with her dirty feet. And so I put a boundary in place. As ill-mannered as this may sound, I fired the co-worker as my friend. No longer did I allow for her constant complaining, depression, and anger to contaminate my joy.

Each of us has our own unique boundaries. Because they are invisible, other people are unaware of these boundaries. In our overly-sensitive-to-politeness society, we often sacrifice our integrity in the name of civility. In exhibiting courtesy, we aren't always adamant about presenting or defending our boundaries. Regardless of societal expectations, each of us needs to take responsibility for communicating our boundaries through our words, decisions, and actions.

Another boundary I created served to maintain my autonomy in romantic relationships. In the past, I had recognized patterns of becoming overly enmeshed with my partners. With the intention of supporting my partners, I was allowing myself to become absorbed in my partners' agendas. By giving my partners priority over my own wants and needs, I was denying myself the activities and space I needed to maintain my own identity. In relationships since, I've been adamant about establishing boundaries. I've let my partners know that in our relationship, it is essential that I continue to pursue the passions and the interests that make me me.

While it is important to establish boundaries, it is also important to know how to defend them -- how to deal with people who are on the verge of violating boundaries and how to deal with people who have full-on violated boundaries. When someone comes close to violating our boundaries, we need to quickly put up our guards before we get hurt. For me, I envision being surrounded by a force field of confidence. Regardless of whether my boundaries are actually violated, my self-love and self-respect are impenetrable. If someone goes so far as to violate my boundaries, I move them to my mental black list. I no longer trust them, confide in them, or take risks with them. By doing so, I protect myself from further hurt.

There have been moments, with people standing nose-to-nose with my boundaries, when I have softened my boundaries. In doing so, I treated my boundaries like boxes, justifying that if I pushed back the walls a bit, maybe I'd grow. But that never happened. In softening my boundaries, all I ever did was dilute my integrity by compromising my values. Boundaries should never be confused for boxes.

In contemplating boundaries, I've questioned whether boundaries should be in place for perpetuity. I think it's okay to redefine boundaries, because as we change throughout our lives, we require different structures to support those changes. While it's perfectly acceptable to refine our boundaries, we need to be careful in the timing of our remodels. We should never alter our boundaries in the moments our boundaries are being tested, because doing so makes our integrity susceptible to being invaded. We should only remodel our boundaries when it is clear there are no impending threats.

While I'm going to continue to break beyond my boxes, I'm going to be meticulous about remaining within my boundaries. It is actually both the boxes and the boundaries that enable us to grow.


  1. So if I may, in trying to make sure I understand fully. It is as if the boxes govern out day to day activities, I know my skills, I know what I can do, and if need be, I can bust out of the box in an emergency. After which the box might be a bit bigger.

    The boundaries now, that is the 'me' the overarching self that is Tony. This boundary not only protects me, but allows me to take care of others I have let inside. The boundary is much firmer than the box, and even thinking about expanding it is a much bigger risk.

    The hardest part, I would think, is having he guts to move someone out the boundary that has been let in. As you said, the wrong one can be toxic, and if inside, can severely damage that which makes me who I am...

    One hell of a post!


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