The Link Between Boundaries, Barriers and Compassion, Demystified

most_boundaried_people_are_most_compassionate There is a vast difference between boundaries and barriers. VAST. EXPANSIVE. Huge.

When I first learned about the concept of boundaries almost a decade ago, I had a hard time figuring out how to put them into practice. Not because I didn’t agree with the concept, but I first had to get over old thinking where the term “boundary” was used in conjunction with “negative discipline.”

While boundaries are used as a form of protection when something negative happens, they are also used in the wonderful, beautiful daily business of living.

It’s a way of living honestly. In our truths. Vulnerably.

Boundaries allow clear communication to happen. Barriers shut down communication.

Setting healthy boundaries takes a lot of courage. It all stems back to allowing ourselves to be vulnerable.

The process goes something like this:

  1. Acknowledge any pain. What’s truly hurting deep down. Is it really someone or something “out there” or is it something within?
  2. Identify your triggers.
  3. Acknowledge how much you can and can not handle. What are your limits? This is especially tough for those of us---myself included---who think they should do it all.

The bravery it takes to even get to this place is tremendous. GINORMOUS. Did I mention it takes guts? Yeah, those too.

After getting clear (see above), the intention of setting a boundary will naturally come from a place of making communication clearer. A compassionate beginning. Nothing messy or twisted. Just, clarity.

“Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look.” ― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

Boundaries allow everyone to be on the same page. Everyone knows where the other stands which brings in clarity. Clarity allows next steps to be taken by everyone, because there are no mixed messages.

Sending mixed messages is a sign of using barriers instead of boundaries. We are stuck, so to speak. There’s no clear path forward, no movement on either end.

Being on the receiving end of someone’s boundaries which provoke or make us angry isn’t easy, either. But everyone knows where everyone stands. That understanding gives parameters for what there is to work with. Clarity.

Personally, I’d rather work with clarity, as opposed to confusion or mixed messaging, ANY DAY. I've been in that confusing space of mixed messaging---both on the receiving end and as the messenger---and it didn't feel good in either position. In fact, all it did was cause pain for myself and for others.

So where does compassion come into play? How is it, as Pema Chodron states, that “the most boundaried people are the most compassionate?”

Doesn’t compassion mean to do good, be good, and be open and loving to any and all?

Nope, not even close.

People who have strong boundaries have, quite simply, done the work. And they continue to do the work. They understand and feel their pain, they know their triggers and they know exactly where their limits are. They know themselves and they are clear about what they need or what they don’t need. Plain and simple. Not easy, but very straightforward. This is also known as self-compassion or self-love.

“The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.” ― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

The key words used are “honestly and gently.” Compassion!

Boundaries set us free. They are also evidence of our inner work made tangible to the world. This can be a very powerful, and empowering, message we send out.

That message says: I am worth it. I know and love myself enough that I can not and will not accept X. Here are the parameters I’m willing to work with to move past X. But if X doesn’t stop, then so will this form of our relationship.

Many times, when talking about setting boundaries, the example of physical abuse is used. Of course, this is a prime example where boundaries are so very necessary. But there is a huge spectrum where boundaries are beneficial, physical abuse being at the very far end. This means it could be something seemingly minor, but still necessitates a boundary.

It could be at work. It could be with a friend. It could be with a family member. I could be with yourself, even.

Example: I’m going to find a new route to walk to work because the pastry shop is too tempting for me. I’ve made a promise to lower my sugar intake. I know that if I smell those pastries, I will stop in for one! I’m going to honor my promise to myself by not putting myself in temptation’s way.

A simple boundary to keep yourself on track and healthy.

They key is to recognize when you’re feeling drained or anxious. This is usually the first tip off that a boundary hasn’t been addressed and is being crossed. Of course if you’re feeling angry, frustrated, rage, depressed, or afraid, then there are most likely some boundary issues happening that haven’t been addressed, as well.

If you’re struggling with boundaries, you are not alone. This is a skill that develops and refines itself over an entire lifetime. Each time a new boundary is needed, it’s an opportunity to flex that muscle of self-compassion. To send a powerful and empowering message to yourself: yes, my dear, you are so worth it. You are loved.

Next time you’re confronted with setting a boundary, try remembering:

Healthy boundaries set up clear communication. (Sweet!)

Healthy boundaries take courage to create. Start with being vulnerable with yourself. (You can do it!)

Healthy boundaries can stop unnecessary suffering in it’s tracks. For you, of course, but also for the entire situation.

And they are WORTH IT for the clarity and forward momentum they inspire. For everyone.

“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” ― Pema Chödrön, The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times

Thank you, Pema.

My mission is to leave the world in better condition than how I found it. I’d be grateful if you shared this post with someone for whom it may make even a tiny bit of difference. Let’s start creating that positive ripple effect, together! Big hugs xo