Boundaries

I actually wanted to avoid writing about boundaries today, but the topic wouldn’t go away, so here I am.

So, by boundaries I don’t mean anything like Trump’s absurd and over-hyped wall. Yes, boundaries are about drawing lines and keeping things out or keeping things in. But the kinds of boundaries I am talking about are personal. They are generally less intrusive and much closer to the heart than whatever the orange miasma is talking about.

Boundaries are complicated. Oftentimes, they are uncomfortable. And yet, they give us shape. My boundaries give me shape — and I am a little bit ambivalent about that.

Growing up in a household with skewed boundaries, I learned that my personal boundaries were meaningless, and the world was to be walled-off.

  • Saying “No” to an invasive adult never meant anything.
  • And on the flip side, what might have appeared to be a boundary was really just the constant (and futile) effort of trying to keep what was happening in the house a secret from the outside world.

So, actually, there’s a lot to the experience of Trump that matches my skewed experience of boundaries growing up. It was a world in which the equivalent of “Grab ’em by the p***y” coexisted with “Build the wall.”

And for most of my days I have been good at having those big and rigid boundaries that keep life at a distance. But up close and personal I’ve been kind of like a sieve.

What I’ve been learning, in more recent years, is that having good boundaries is at its heart a matter of intimacy. Having boundaries means that the distinction between inside and outside is clear and strong. I can let you come close, knowing that I can and will say no if I want/need to. It means that I am not porous. Yes, I let things in and I let things out, but there is always choice involved. It doesn’t just ‘happen’ to me.

This is as much about self-trust as anything else. Of course, I can’t control what others do, but I always have a say in what I allow to come in and what I let out. It is self-revelatory to say yes and to say no. It is self-defining, affirming, and powerful — even if it doesn’t ‘work’ in a particular situation.

And here’s the other thing: Holding something is different from hiding it.

To hold something, be it a feeling or a piece of third-hand information, is a capacity you develop. It’s like a muscle. With use that muscle gets stronger and your capacity expands.

Being able to hold things feels to me like a kind of wisdom — not reacting to feelings and/or information but having a self that can contain and tolerate uncertainty — a self that makes choices about when to act and when to let things be.

And this isn’t about being passive, either. In fact, it’s the opposite of passivity. Being porous is passive. This is about having a boundaried self that is:

  • Defined enough to have shape/to exist, and
  • Strong enough to recognize when to act and when to let life unfold, ‘holding’ the feelings that non-action elicits.

Having boundaries, I have shape and heft. With that comes responsibility. I make choices. I make mistakes. I am human, and I am not behing a big f**cking wall — I am right here!

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