If you were not taught (or modelled) the art of setting healthy boundaries, you may find yourself caught up in relationships where a blurred understanding of ‘what’s your stuff' and 'what’s their stuff’ - impacts your inner world, your personal experiences and relationship dynamics with your partner, children, friends and family.
In my work with individuals and couples, boundaries features a lot . . . a lot . . . and for good reason.
Unhealthy boundaries can lead to:
Others coming into your bubble uninvited – this can look like a partner, or friend, trying to solve a problem for you, when all you actually want is for them to listen. In its most extreme, this looks like physical and sexual abuse.
You moving uninvited into someone else’s bubble – this looks like those times when your partner is having a bad day and you find yourself pulled into the vortex of their mood, unable to leave what’s going on for them inside their bubble, bringing it into your own, feeling like you ought to 'fix' it
Feeling unsafe or unable to own who you are – this looks like people-pleasing or not feeling confident to be authentically yourself.
Mid-2019, I created the concept of a 'personal boundary bubble ' to help my clients understand the impact of personal boundaries in their life and relationships. For me, and many of my clients, this image provided a clear sense of what it feels like to have a personal boundary that:
Has a gentleness or softness about it. It feels permeable, flexible, yet still clearly defined
Is transparent – you can see out and others can see in (to the extent that you choose to let them). You are clear about what is ‘yours’ and what is ‘theirs’
Feels safe – from within your protected personal boundary bubble you feel free to be who you are.
. . . all things healthy boundaries represent.
If you imagine yourself with a bubble around you, and your partner or another person inside their own, it is suddenly easier to visualise separateness with possibilities for merging - when conditions feel right, for both people.
When you have healthy boundaries you are able to invite others in when it feels safe and desirable
You feel comfortable seeking permission to enter another’s bubble without feeling rejected when they say no
You understand which emotions, thoughts and behaviours are yours and are able to take responsibility for them
You understand which emotions, thoughts and behaviours are NOT yours and are able to leave them at the foot of the other person (with compassion) to manage for themselves
You are empowered – more able to choose what to bring into your bubble and what to let bounce right off (that which serves you - and that which certainly does not)
You feel confident to say no when you mean no; and yes when you really mean yes.
Next time you feel your mood brought down by another person's, visualise their bubble, and then your own. Understand that when you respect their bubble - you allow them to take responsibility for their mood without needing to 'fix' it yourself. In this act, you give them the opportunity to solve it for themselves (resilience building!) or to reach out and invite you in (a privilege rather than a hinderance).
Next time you feel your body, mind or instincts telling you to step 'back' from another person - hold a curiosity about whether they may be pushing their way into your bubble uninvited - make the outer lines of your bubble clearer for them, with compassion and clarity.
Next time you feel you ought to look, feel or behave a certain way to make others feel comfortable or approving of you, sense your bubble - from within your safe space, stand up, gracefully and proudly, for who you are.
Get in touch if you would like support to explore this more deeply.
From my bubble to the edge of yours . . .