It’s no secret that women can often find it challenging to maintain a distinct and authentic sense of self in relationships, both personal and professional. Finding yourself betraying your own true needs and preferences to accommodate another’s in order to keep the peace, avoid abandonment, or just because we’ve been taught that it’s a woman’s job to sacrifice for the relationship, is so common in our world it’s something we almost take for granted.
When I bring up the topic of boundaries at my live Vividly Woman workshops and retreats that make up the Embodied Leadership Training, it’s almost like I’m speaking a foreign language. “A Boundary, what’s that?” or “I thought intimacy was about letting others in, not keeping them out.”
The misunderstandings and lack of familiarity about boundaries is precisely why I bring them up at the beginning of each training. Establishing felt sense boundary awareness is what facilitates a sense of self, without which I think it’s pointless to attempt doing inner work. In other words, without a sense of boundaries, there isn’t really a Self to explore and do inquiry about.
What is a boundary?
So first thing first, what the heck is a boundary anyway?
A boundary is the periphery of the energetic field that emanates from your center 360 degrees around your body and orients you in the world in relationship to other beings, things and situations. Imagine yourself standing in the center of a hula hoop. The hoop can be any circumference. The hoop is a physical representation of your energy boundary.
When our boundaries are intact we feel a sense of wellbeing, autonomy and an I am-ness. When our boundaries have been crashed into by another, or if we fail to consciously set our own boundaries, we can become uprooted from our center, unsettled in our own skin, stuck in our energy, less potent and powerful.
Healthy boundaries are alive and ever changing. They change to accommodate circumstances, moods and current needs. Knowing this is essential. Expect your boundaries to organically shift if they are an authentic expression of you. This is your body and your energy speaking to you. A healthy boundary can and does change. For instance, when I’m presenting with a large group, I establish a large boundary, when I’m being sexually intimate with my husband, my boundary is much smaller.
Rather than being a wall to keep people or things out, a boundary is like a container that allows you to have more of you. While boundaries can be misconstrued as separating us from each other, the truth is that when we learn how to have healthy and distinctive boundaries, we can be more truly present with each other, and more authentically connected. It’s important to understand the meaning of having authentic boundaries because then we’ll be more naturally motivated to create them.
Here’s an example when boundaries serve me. When I teach, present or facilitate group process, I notice that the way I relate to and the way that the group perceives me, is strongly influenced by my ability to stay conscious of my boundary. Without a sense of my own boundary I’ll often feel unsure of being able to hold the space for the group, most likely because I am not even really holding the space for myself.
When first I hold the space for me, by consciously creating my own boundary however, there’s an instant sense of coming home in my own body. This connection to myself is what it means to be in my power. From this place I can hold a reverent and dynamic space for others, inspiring them to trust in my leadership.
Types of Boundaries
Boundaries can be fluid, fixed, contracted, and expanded. Most likely we all experience a little of each at different moments, in different situations, with different individuals, etc. Just as, the dance of life ebbs and flows, boundaries ebb and flow as well.
A fluid boundary flows and changes according to the situation. A fixed boundary is rigid and does not easily accommodate changing circumstances. A contracted boundary causes one to shrink back, shut down and/or lose power. An expanded boundary may cause one to be overbearing, approval seeking and/or lose a realistic sense of oneself.
By now you should be getting a sense of how true boundaries are always an authentic expression of you. The meaning of honoring authentic boundaries in your life is beyond measure because it will show up in every relationship and impact all outcomes.
Different relationships and circumstances elicit different boundaries. Often a certain relationship or situation has a characteristic boundary that we automatically step into out of habit. Awareness helps us to make necessary choices rather than be run by unconscious patterns or external factors, and facilitates a depth of meaning in relation to our own felt sense of boundaries.
Boundaries are a natural and essential part of relationships. Our ability to notice our boundaries when we relate will help us to stay in our power, remain in our integrity and encourage authenticity and true intimacy.
To explore your sense of boundaries it’s helpful to reflect on relationships that challenged you in the past. One of my early work relationships exemplifies this well.
Working for Jake was not a pleasant experience. His anger brought up for me the anger I had experienced with other important men in my life. His critical nature tended to feed the judgments I held about myself and reminded me of the anger I can easily turn inward.
When I began to practice taking a deep breath and drawing an imaginary boundary around my body during our interactions, I magically started to sense my own power when I in his presence. I could let him be who he is, how he is, and I no longer took on his negative projections. My boundary acted like a bubble distinguishing me from him and his issues that were truly not mine.
Healing Relationship exercise
This exercise will help you to take a look at your boundaries in your past and present relationships. This will shed a lot of light about you and the interpersonal dynamics of those relationships.
Make a list of some of the most important intimate, family and work relationships you’ve had. Using the types of boundaries mentioned above, go down your list and rate each one according to the type of boundary you had or have within that relationship. Fluid (FL), fixed (FX), contracted (C), expanded (E). This simple exercise will have you being more aware in these relationships and new ones that your form.
Enjoy the process of getting to know yourself better by getting to know your boundary tendencies and patterns. All our relationships have so much to gain when we establish, honor and stay curious about our boundaries, especially our relationship to Self; the place where all relationships begin!