In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown wrote, “When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated. This is why we sometimes attack who they are, which is far more hurtful than addressing a behavior or a choice.”
Brown is certainly right but we’ve all been there, haven’t we? When someone does something that we dislike, when they pass their place with us or when they overstep our boundaries, we lash out like angry and perhaps scared dogs.
We feel as though we’re at risk and must protect ourselves from this other person, organization or institution from harming us.
Sometimes we don’t act like dogs ready to bite anyone that dares to try something inappropriate. Sometimes we betray ourselves and let the act slide. We don’t want the conflict and we don’t want the other person to feel bad, so we suck it up and bear the pain.
Regardless of which camp you find yourself in, you may think of boundaries are something too nebulous to really set for yourself. How are you supposed to even do that? People simply like what they like and dislike what they dislike. Why do we have to make it into this serious thing?
You may think that setting boundaries keeps opportunities you might be interested in from reaching you. By being so rigid, you may become inflexible and uncompromising. That doesn’t sound appealing at all.
You may consider yourself so multi-faceted that to consider boundaries is antithetical to who you are. You can’t be boxed in with labels and so to even try is pointless.
Or maybe it just seems way too difficult. You’ve never had to set boundaries before and now it seems like you’re learning some pop psychology thing that was never needed or mentioned decades earlier.
Honestly, I think these are all reasonable fears. But each of these illustrate the fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to set a boundary.
When a country defines its boundaries, it means that if a foreign country tried to siphon their natural resources, they would be stealing from another country. Obviously, there are penalties for doing that.
The offending country is depriving the citizens of a neighboring landmass from what they need to pay for imported goods, education, civil servants, government agencies, welfare, infrastructure, defense and the list goes on and on.
And if there weren’t any penalties, the strongest and biggest nations would run over the smaller, less powerful countries and take whatever they wanted. I think we’ve seen or at least heard about this being a thing in human history.
This is what you allow to happen to you when you do not set boundaries. People will want what you have and attempt to take whatever they can until you turn into the barking dog ready to tear them limb from limb because you finally realized that they’re depriving you of you.
So what exactly does it mean to set boundaries? How do you do it? Setting boundaries is about how you define yourself. That is the most fundamental way of approaching it. It demystifies the concept and gives it a realistic and largely desirable aspect to the process.
We all want to know who and what we are. That’s why we do personality tests. That’s why we compare ourselves with others. That’s why we join groups with ideologies we believe in. We want to define who we are.
And in defining who we are, that means we are defining what we like and dislike; what we desire and refuse; what we can tolerate and what we find intolerable; what we can manage and what is too much; what is good and what is bad; what we want to experience and what we can live without; what is fair treatment and what is prejudiced or unfair; what you want out of a relationship and what is unnecessary; what you can give and what you cannot afford to give.
Imagine not knowing what you would like to experience. You would be aimlessly moving throughout life and by the end of it question if you really lived. Imagine not knowing what fair treatment is. You would be constantly taken advantage of and left to wonder if deprivation is the theme of your life. Imagine not knowing what you can give. You could be bleeding out and still trying to give as you lose consciousness, or you could be so stingy that everything goes stale.
However, if the truth is that you don’t know what you want, that’s okay. As we live, we learn what we like, what we want and what we need. There’s nothing wrong with amassing information. The only issue I believe needs mentioning is when people have been amassing information for years and not using it to their benefit.
Or when people know what they want but then constantly compromise on it, resulting in them getting upset at other people taking advantage of them.
Defining your boundaries by defining who you are isn’t necessarily a bore. It could be a lot of fun as you get to choose what you want out of life. Not only is it fun, it’s empowering. Sure, one isn’t totally in control of one’s life. But one has some control over oneself. Being able to decide what they want to experience and to say no to the things they do not want to experience are tasks of authority.
You need to be the one in charge of your life. Otherwise, someone else will and you probably won’t like it very much. Someone else will define you and you will go along with it until you fight against it. Someone will decide who you are until you define yourself.
Previously published on medium
If you believe in the work we are doing here at The Good Men Project and want a deeper connection with our community, please join us as a Premium Member today.
Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS. Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.
Photo credit: on iStock