Having Good Boundaries Requires A Willingness To Lose

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“Having good boundaries requires a willingness to lose”.

When I first heard this in a training session, I couldn’t really make sense of it. Up until that point, I understood boundaries to be the opposite. They were the willingness *not* to lose. To stand your ground like, in my case, a slightly more feminine version of Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, proclaiming thou shalt not pass to the world.

To have good boundaries, I needed to prepare myself. To get ready to face whatever was *out there* and meet it in a way that was clear that I was not a person to be messed with. Such is the pendulum swing of someone who spent years with a porous layer between her and the world and some fairly well practiced people-pleasing skills.

I had made, like so many others, the classic mistake of confusing a boundary with a barrier, and they are not the same thing. So, what is the difference? And what does it mean to say that boundaries are the willingness to lose?

A true boundary is not something that exists prior to the moment it’s required for. Instead, it is responsive. A living, breathing, fluid entity that allows us to both step closer into a situation or further away from it, depending on what’s required.

To create a boundary means that I have recognized a pattern of behaviour in someone or something- a human, horse, or situation- that does not work for me. Perhaps it’s in conflict with my needs or values; perhaps a dishonouring of my time; perhaps it’s physical, a breach of personal space. We can conjure up a variety of examples.

But in response to the situation, I offer choices. I communicate what it is I am noticing about the situation, and I say (hypothetically speaking) that Option A and Option B are available to follow. In other words, I hand over power to the other party and say, in response to your choices I will act in “X” way.

And this is where the willingness to lose comes in. Boundaries require the willingness to lose for the simple reason that in response to the choices we’ve offered, the other party might pick the one we don’t want them to. They might NOT change their behaviour. And the holding of the boundary means we have to follow through on what we said and change OUR actions in response.

Boundaries do not require the other person or situation to change. They require WE change in response to a boundary we created.

A barrier, in opposition, does not offer choice. It says, this is the situation, you absolutely can’t do “x”. A barrier is not always the wrong thing. If my horse is about to run over the top of me, I am not offering choices. I’m saying you absolutely can’t do that. It’s a safety issue. If my child is about to run out onto the road, I, again, am not offering choices. I’m going to grab their arm and create a physical barrier to the behaviour.

But what I commonly see is people behaving in ways I described at the beginning- psyching themselves up with the don’t mess with me attitude- and proclaiming that from now on, they’re going to have good boundaries. But what they have created instead is a defensive mode of functioning that is not responsive but closed down. Instead of meeting the world and making decisions based on what presents, they are presupposing that it needs to be met in a certain way and they brace themselves as a result.

This next little while in JoyRide, my membership program, we are working with an exclusive focus on boundaries. Elsa Sinclair is giving a guest workshop this morning discussing boundaries from the perspective of her work and experience with horses, so if you want in, come join us sooner rather than later (we are kicking off in just over 90 minutes time)! It’s all recorded if you can’t make it live.

In addition, over the course of the next couple of weeks we will be looking at:

– The relationship of boundaries to your physical structure, including body mapping movement sessions and understandings of how pre-existing fight flight patterns can contribute to challenges with setting appropriate boundaries

– Workshops exploring the nature of boundaries and behavioural patterns

– Boundaries and their relationship to working and playing with our horses

What are your experiences with boundaries? And what are your challenges? I’d love to hear about them!

And if you want to join us, you can read more or sign up for JoyRide here.

Let me know if there’s anything I can help with,

xx Jane

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