Boundaries & Thriving Relationships: How Do You Have Both?

I've been thinking a lot of boundaries lately.


When I started my journey of self inquiry and I learned that boundaries is a form of self defence, I questioned what part it played in a functioning relationship when relationships were based on deep connection, and connection necessitated allowing myself to be vulnerable and have my walls down. 


When I had the 'ah-ha' moment a few years ago that I associated vulnerability with weakness, I started practicing a new story, where vulnerability meant connection. I did a YouTube video series for 14 days talking about what made me vulnerable, experimented with what emotional vulnerability meant to me (does it mean I stop wearing makeup and trying to impress people with my looks, or speaking what was in my heart? Turns out, both), and practiced in my relationships.


Unknowingly, I made vulnerability 'good' and self defences and boundaries 'bad', since any self defence that came up in relationships was as sign of me reacting to something I couldn't be with in myself, and a place to do further self inquiry.  


Because apparently in the perfect world, I would have no self defences, and a continuous source of love and energy would flow through me.




In my inquiry in to vulnerability and how I show up in the world, I slipped back in to trying to do vulnerability perfectly, ironically ignoring the humanity that is an intrinsic component of vulnerability. 


The question wasn't whether or not I needed to have boundaries, but rather did I have the courage and compassion for myself to hold people accountable when I needed to, and could I do it in a way that didn't involve shame or blame, but rather from my grounded, confident, loving self. 


Photo by María Victoria Heredia Reyes on Unsplash

Doing it this way would go directly against the people pleaser in me who wants everyone to like her and was afraid that if she had this conversation, the person wouldn't want to be in relationship (friendship or intimate) with her anymore (vulnerable thing to do #1). 


It would require me to speak my voice from my heart and potentially being rejected (vulnerable thing to do #2).


It would mean leaning in to the discomfort of potentially having conflict (vulnerable thing to do #3). 


I had set up relationships so I didn't have to do these things.


Instead, I would get self-righteous to find a reason why it was ok to set a boundary so I didn't have to face things that were vulnerable for me, like telling someone that they had hurt me. Rather, I would make them feel bad about what they did so they would have to make it up to me (the shame and blame game where I get to yield power).


I see it a lot in the world, and work through it inevitably with most clients.


In this way of doing things, boundaries becomes an attack on who the person is, not a conversation on what they did.

It’s... important that we can lean into the discomfort that comes with straddling compassion and boundaries. We have to stay away from convincing ourselves that we hate someone or that they deserve to feel bad so that we can feel better about holding them accountable... When we talk ourselves into disliking someone so we’re more comfortable holding them accountable, we’re priming ourselves for the shame and blame game.
— Brene Brown

What I've realized is that boundaries can allow a much deeper connection to people because I've come with authenticity and courage to have the conversations that matter, and to see and hear people for who they are, not what they do. 

If you want to practice boundary setting from a whole-hearted place, here are five practices to support you in starting:

  • practice looking at your loved one for the good in who they are (versus what they do). When they do something that is out of alignment with who you know them to be, don't make it mean that you didn't know them, rather get curious about what had them show up that way. 
  • Practice saying what you think, even if it's just to yourself in the mirror to start, then practice saying it to someone who you know is as safe space. 
  • Practice having those difficult conversations, starting with baby steps. Clearly say what there is for you to say, without making analogies or assuming people will just 'get it' if you tell them one thing that isn't actually what you need to say. 
  • Notice where you start to defend yourself in conversations by using shame.
  • Notice the line where you'll say something and when you will not. What's the difference? When do you choose to let things slide?

I'd love to know your thoughts.

What would make it worth it to you to come from setting boundaries from a place of whole-heartedness, even if it meant you had to get vulnerable? Comment below!