Better Boundaries

What are… Better Boundaries?

Boundaries are limits we need to honor and respect in order to love and engage together in healthy ways. Better Boundaries embrace dynamic limits of all kinds – including physical, emotional, and energetic – so that we can cultivate resilient, thriving relationships.

Boundaries often need to be consciously upgraded – made better! – from what we were taught we “should” or “have to” do. Better Boundaries bring clear choices and mutual agreements that feel safe, respectful, and sustainable.

See also: Co-Creating, Right Distance Right Depth

Benefits of… Better Boundaries

  • Builds up less resentment (especially for those who are generous-hearted and empathetic)
  • Improves emotional resilience with less depletion and distress
  • Encourages healthier dynamics
  • Clarifies individual and shared values
  • Models behaviors that are health-promoting from behaviors that are depleting, disempowering, and dysfunctional

Examples of… Better Boundaries

Have-to vs. Choose-to

When we feel we have to do something, or we have to make ourselves available to listen, take care of, and do what’s expected of us… it builds resentment.

Indeed, when you ask adults who have been forced into being caregivers, the level of constipated resentment is huge. Painful.

Resentment has a way of bursting out in many different dysfunctional ways including abuse, self-harm, addictions, and yes, physical and mental illnesses.

What matters to me in this situation?

We believe that Freedom of Choice is grounded in what matters to us.

For example, we may not WANT to get up at 4am with a baby who is not able to sleep, or to fix a meal for someone who in their grief is unable to be appreciative…

Yet…

If it matters to you: to be a calm presence your child can count on and feel your love even when it is hard… you’re actually choosing to get up at 4am. I mean, lots of parents don’t make that choice.

If it matters to you: to live in a world where we give people who are grieving a little slack, and generously assume that even if they are not expressing appreciation that kindness matters, then making the meal with love is… a choice.

When we’re clear we are coming from a place of deeper choice, even the “I don’t want to’s” avoid the build-up of corrosive resentment.

This is a way that Better Boundaries are grounded in the wisdom of knowing what matters to us and staying with those choices.

If it is a NO, then Pause Until You Know Your YES

Can you say NO? The sad truth is that many people cannot actually say no. They’ll say ok and resent themselves and the situation. They’ll gripe and complain the whole way. They will self-sabotage or procrastinate or get overwhelmed.

Being able to state a clear and solid NO is a sign of emotional well-being. It’s a Better Boundary.

And… sometimes that’s a bridge too far. Kids have been smacked for saying no… or worse. Adults have been fired for saying no. Love has been lost for saying no. Even if being able to say NO is a crucial aspect for thriving in safe and healthy ways… one can still have better boundaries even if NO isn’t yet in your vocabulary.

What would be a yes for me here?

Rather than resigning ourselves to doing something because we “have to” – take a Powerful Pause.

During the pause, breathe, feel gravity working, and consider what would be a YES for you.

“I have to do my taxes!”
Pause.
What would be a yes for me?
“I sure wish I could earmark my taxes for what matters to my heart.”
Ah.

While in this example we know we cannot actually earmark on the government forms for our taxes to go to what matters to us personally, it can still be helpful to know our yes. We might even choose energetically to intend that our money be used for what matters… even when we do not have direct control. That energetic upgrade can help us move forward.

Even better, as we get practice feeling into our yes in a situation, more and more often we’ll find ourselves in relationships where we can indeed state our better boundary.

“I am definitely a yes to going on a walk with you, and the place you mentioned has too much sun for me. Would you be willing to find a yes-yes place we’d both like, or find someone else to walk with today?”

Better Boundaries evolve as we deepen in relationships. Savvy co-creators understand that our boundaries are dynamic, too. Sometimes we may be a yes, and sometimes a no. That’s awesome!

While a boundary is a limit, better boundaries can also set us free to explore together with more calm and confidence.

Layered Boundaries are Better

Do you know anyone that goes from agreeable to raging? While that can come from a triggered trauma, it often comes because their boundaries do not “kick in” (literally) until they feel flooded emotionally. Flooded people are energetically messy, for sure.

It happens to almost everyone. We may not be aware we need layered boundaries until… woosh! We react WAY stronger than we’d have wanted.

Layering your boundaries is a worthy skill. A brief example:

Situation: People you know and want to be around have a history of gossiping in a negative way about people who are not there.

Invitation: Would we be willing to offer some respect and compassion for those who are not with us today, or keep the conversations about what’s alive for those of us that are here? That would feel really good to me. How about you all?

Request: I request that we stop talking about ____ right now. It doesn’t feel good to me. Can we change the subject?

Assertion: If this continues, I will choose to leave. It doesn’t feel right to me to talk about someone who is struggling like this.

Exit: (Leave or require that they leave if it is your space).

Protect/Defend: Leave me out of this. My integrity is not open to debate. Leave now or I will call for support.

As we are developing layered boundaries, an example like this can help us self-diagnose.

For example, maybe you wouldn’t even feel comfortable inviting or requesting. Perhaps an exit is what you can sometimes do, but only if you can come up with an excuse like feeling sick – and what-do-you-know… your stomach seems to help you have that “permission.” You get to leave, but you also get to feel sick to your stomach.

Some people are good at the defend/protect, but have yet to develop layers of invitation and request or assertion.

Some people would NEVER exit; they have beliefs that keep them stuck, and yeah, they don’t want to be one of the people that they gossip about! Ugh.

Layered boundaries really do help us love, parent, and co-create with much more ease and resilience. We invite you to develop out 3-5 layers of boundaries for situations that too often arise in your life… practice with a friend… tap on any of the blocks and fears… and notice how your sense of safety and respect heals and grows.

We invite you to share life examples where this concept has played a role.

Useful Questions

  • What matters to me in this situation?
  • What would be a yes for me here?
  • Do I feel I should or have to?
  • If I can’t say NO in this situation, is it because I don’t feel safe? Or feel the consequences would be grave? Or is it because this matters to me so much that I’ll do what I don’t want to do?
  • How might I be crossing or pushing other people’s boundaries (including ones they have not made clear)?

What other questions come to mind for you? Please reply and share your wisdom.

Resources for… Better Boundaries

We welcome links to audios, videos, books, and courses that add to our shared understanding of this concept. Memes and quotes are also welcome.


Contributors: @Rick @gibbysan

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“Some people are good at the defend/protect, but have yet to develop layers of invitation and request or assertion.”

This would be me, I believe. Just learning to say “This doesn’t work for me” in whatever form I choose to say it, has been huge.

A useful question for me would be “What if I’M the one who is stepping on or pushing the boundaries of others?”

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See the book

This goes to the dynamic nature of Better Boundaries.

For example, someone may generally love hearing about our day. And… sometimes they can feel pretty darn “full” of other people’s stories. What they need (and can handle) is quiet time to reflect and journal and get their own clarity.

A Better Boundaries allows for (and recognizes) that our co-creator’s limits and loves can (and will!) change from moment to moment, day to day. Some boundaries will evolve over our years together, too.

I added this as:

  • How might I be crossing or pushing other people’s boundaries (including ones they have not made clear)?

Does that capture the essence?

And YES! Assertion of “This does not work for me” is indeed HUGE.

I notice that with parenting, too (learned it from my partner). There’s a quality of self-ownership in “This does not work for me” (or “That does not work for me right now” for things that might be different in an hour or week). It is saying, “This is MY boundary. Someone else might be a YES, but I am not right now.”

While someone might “argue” with that – even gaslight – it’s I believe a solid place to stand. It’s far more solid a place to assert than “You need to stop doing ____ because…”

Thanks for adding the question and to the explorations!

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I really appreciate this reminder of the concept of choice — becoming aware of our agency rather than thinking we “have” to do something — I first came across it in the book Non-Violent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg, and I think it is so powerful/empowering!

I can definitely relate to being in situation where I’m agreeable and then – boom, I can’t take it anymore. Usually this shows up in the form of some kind of physical shutdown. And I know it comes from a long history of overriding my needs, my instincts, etc. etc. etc., so I love all these examples of layered boundaries! I find them really helpful and I want to practice using them. Thanks!

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Layered boundaries feels so key for well-being – especially for those of us that generally like being pleasing, agreeable, resourceful, competent co-creators.

One layer for me is the “self-check”:

How am I doing?

It’s a shortcut way of asking about the state of my energy, my nervous system, my capacity, and how much of a YES the current situation is.

If I use that self-check, I am more likely to know as I approach some of the more “limitations” boundaries… ones where I might need to redirect or even leave.

Also, glad you brought up NVC with Marshall Rosenberg. One breakthrough in there for me was the separation of Needs from Strategies… that needs are not in conflict but strategies definitely can be.

Raises an interesting question about whether our boundaries are mostly about strategies or not. Energetically, though, I can sometimes need more space from certain needs if my system cannot regulate.

It always seems to surprise me when I hop on this center. This has been really helpful! I was feeling highly overwhelmed by the toxicity of my work supervisor, and the hopelessness that I feel from being “stuck” in that situation… and this really helped! from all her “shoulds” that I’ve should’ve been working faster, more independently, skillfully, more flawlessly by now… it’s so challenging to break away from her truths about me… but now, instead of framing it as a fact that I’m stuck in her negative spiral, I could maybe start to gain awareness of my own autonomy, my inner guidance and my initial decision to decide to work here. Though the struggles are becoming more overwhelming, I could perhaps start to reframe these into choices that I’ve made to guide me to what matters. Even if the choices I’ve made invites a lot of “NO”s from others and myself, I can learn to take more minutes to pause to trend towards a “Yes” eventually… it’s a lot of hardwork to practice but it is what garners true freedom! Thanks Rick!

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I believe that boundaries can also help us understand and feel our precious and unique expression.

You’re seeing a human who is in a position of leadership, who doesn’t have any other way to lead than to pressure, criticize, and (it feels like) put the onus on you to perform better without taking responsibility as a leader-teacher herself.

When I see that, almost everywhere, I realize how early those of us who are developing Real Skills. It’s like the “emotional internet circa 1992” when we’ve got some emotional technologies and concepts that could (and I believe will) transform how we work together – and also boundaries where the truly skilled will simply say NO to being a part of work cultures that are toxic.

And yes, not everyone has that privilege right now. We’re part of exploring and crafting concepts and approaches that allow for everyone to thrive even as Sovereign Individuals who choose to co-create.

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