What does the term boundaries mean to you? Does it mean the common definition of boundary that states a boundary is a line that marks the limits of an area or is a limit of a subject or sphere of activity? Or does it mean something different? To me, it depends on what we are talking about. If we are talking about a property boundary, the definition above is what I think of. But if we are talking about life in general or relationships, my definition is a little different. I have defined boundaries in life or relationships simply as being the boundary that I establish to protect my peace.
But I recently heard a different definition of boundaries that has me thinking. On Glennon Doyle’s podcast, We Can Do Hard Things, Sister described her definition of boundaries as being the process of deciding the things you are responsible for. My mind was blown! I hadn’t even considered that aspect.
So, what does that mean? To me, it’s simple: what am I responsible for? My new definition of boundaries in life and relationships is the boundary I establish to protect my peace and the process of deciding what I am responsible for.
I think we are all familiar with establishing boundaries to protect our peace, but I want to talk about that for a minute and what it means to me. When I establish a boundary to protect my peace, I say no to an event or I distance myself from specific individuals or put boundaries on topics I discuss, like politics. If something triggers my anxiety, I am probably setting a boundary. If my stress level is increased by something, I am probably setting a boundary. If I physically can’t do something, there’s a boundary. If someone has used my empathy and support so much that I am drained, there is definitely going to be a boundary. If I feel like I care more about a person’s life than they do, a boundary will be set.
Now, I have new boundaries I want to set with the addition to my definition. I am going to start deciding what I am responsible for. These boundaries will echo off of everything I just told you. Examples of boundaries I have already set with this definition would be realizing and deciding I am not responsible for how people in my family perceive me. I have worked my ass off to get where I am today and if they don’t approve or they want to spread gossip, I am not responsible for that. Another is with my neighbors. The majority of my neighbors are members of the LDS church and do not approve of or support the way I dress, communicate (cursing), or my consumption of alcohol or large amounts of coffee. I am not responsible if they feel that I am a bad influence.
I have a lot of things that I can work on to determine what I am or am not responsible for. There are boundaries I can put in place that will allow me to be less stressed, have less anxiety, and feel lighter and happier. A lot of these will be with my friends and family. I wouldn’t say there are major problems, but I can see ways that I can say “that is not my responsibility.”
I’ve also been learning about things that aren’t the responsibility of my friends. Months ago one of my friends mentioned something about if she were to accidentally get pregnant. It offended me for multiple reasons. I wrote up a long message to tell her how rude she was and asked another close friend for feedback. My friend told me that it isn’t my other friend’s responsibility to make sure that she doesn’t offend me. We had a long conversation and I learned how fragile the eggshells that I placed under my feet really are. They are eggshells I placed because I didn’t want to offend others. I caught myself doing this the other day with another friend. I asked for a referral and then have asked a couple of questions about the referral while also talking about other things and my gut was telling me to apologize about following up. It is not my responsibility to apologize for respectfully following up. I mean, I’m not harassing her about it every single day demanding that she do something about it.
Boundaries like these are things I had never considered being boundaries. I am challenging myself every day to consciously think about what I am and am not actually responsible for. Where am I pushing responsibility on myself when the responsibility isn’t actually mine?
What boundaries do you have in place? Do you hold to them? Do you need to reinforce them? Have you considered boundaries in terms of what you are or are not responsible for? I challenge you to take stock of your boundaries and what they mean to you and for your life. You might find some areas you want or need to make changes in.