Some Thoughts on Boundaries

By Cathy Walls - 06/11/2021


In working with clients, the concept of boundaries comes up frequently.  Although we are all told to have “good” boundaries, the concept is actually quite nuanced.  This article speaks to one way of looking at boundaries.  I encourage you to do your own research and talk to others as you discover for yourself what your “good” boundaries are.   

At its foundation, boundaries are our rules of engagement, our yeses and our noes.  Who and what we let into our inner spaces and who and what we keep out.  On a continuum, boundaries can keep us walled off from others or they can be so porous as to allow others too much access.  Some boundaries are dynamic and some are more fixed.  

Three functions of boundaries that we teach at PCS include:

  1. Define us…boundaries grant a clarity about ourselves and allow us to celebrate the differences with others
  2. Protect us…boundaries grant self-care choices and protection physically, emotionally, spiritually, sexually, financially, etc.
  3. Contain us…protects me from you and you from me through mature containment versus impulsivity of emotions and/or behaviors.  

Any kind of boundary violation in our lives has an emotional impact on our personhood.  

Violations may present as a physical or sexual violation or verbal or emotional abuse. Boundaries are an assertion of how we allow others to treat us including the full range of comments we will accept and internalize from others.  These boundaries keep us emotionally safe and healthy in our relationship with others.  

With good boundaries, we feel secure, grounded, and able to cope.  We are able to set limits and say, “no.”  We take responsibility for our own feelings, choices, and actions.  We remain true to ourselves and attempt mutually satisfying compromise that respects the needs of those with whom we are in relationship.  It is important that we know ourselves, have healthy self-esteem, and knowing what we value in life.  One tool I use to check my boundaries is Marilyn Murray’s Circles of Intimacy, Responsibility, and Impact (For more information please see Murray, M. (2017) The Murray Method, Vivo Publications).  This tool helps us to make decisions that reflect healthy boundaries and priorities in our lives.  Ms. Murray teaches that our first priority is to know and care for ourselves spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally.  We and our higher power are in Circle #1. “One of the primary purposes of a healthy Circle #1 is to enable you to serve and give to others out of health, not through exhaustion or illness. (p. 194)” The other circles represent our relationships with others and other aspects of our life from more to less intimate. “Your responsibility to and for others directly relates to their position in your circles. (p. 196)”

One of the most important things to remember in creating an appropriate boundary is to know and trust yourself. Both your conscious and subconscious mind know what is best for you. When you get that weird feeling in your stomach, DO NOT DISREGARD IT. Your gut has many important things to tell you! In the movie The Sandlot, Babe Ruth was definitely thinking about setting appropriate boundaries when he says, “Follow your heart kid and you can never go wrong.”  Your life needs to be dictated by you, you need to be the only one writing your story. 

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