16 February 2009

Boundary Setting: Hard Boundaries: Three Issues

In my experience, the single biggest objection raised when someone sets a hard boundary - of any kind - is that this is an unkind [mean, cruel] thing to do.

The second biggest objection is that it's a unilateral act - and the person setting the boundary has no right to act unilaterally.

The third objection is that it's controlling - that the person setting the boundary is doing so in order to control others.

I'd like to address these issues.

-First: setting a hard boundary is almost always resorted to as protection from some form of abuse, misuse, or other inappropriate behavior.

Hard boundaries are not, generally, offensive in nature. They are resorted to, not initiated. One does not encounter them unless one is trespassing... They are inherently defensive. They do not involve attack, rather they involve constraint.

The boundary setter is raising a shield, not a sword. "Thus far, and no farther, shalt thou approach." There is nothing inherently unkind in this; but it often does involve a refusal to tolerate or enable, 'bad behavior'. And tolerating or enabling 'bad behavior' is often encouraged - if not demanded - by our socialization, as though it were a form of kindness.

Tolerating or enabling is not kindness. It's usually the exact opposite, for all involved.

-Second: boundary setting is unilateral because all self-defense is unilateral.

Just as trespassing / boundary crossing / misuse is unilateral. The objection to 'unilaterality' in this instance is merely a straw man - at best; at worst, it's a covert objection to the target's right to protect themselves.

-Third: constraint is not the same thing as control.

Hard boundaries, set as constraints, are intended to limit vulnerability to specific persons or specific types of abuse / attack. This is constraining, in the sense that it does not allow someone to abuse or misuse the boundary setter in specific ways. It is not, however, controlling in any other sense. It does not necessarily even prevent that exact same someone from abusing or misusing others who lack a similar hard boundary... nor does it deprive them of any other basic freedoms.

Of course, not all boundaries are hard boundaries. There are soft boundaries, too, and I'll think about those next.


Blogger TH in SoC said...

I'm greatly enjoying your series on boundaries. I could have used such knowledge years ago, when I was in my old abusive church and certain irritating people used to quote me chapter and verse on why I was supposed to "let" them be abusive toward me and others.

Ah, well. It's all in the rearview mirror now, and I've got the pedal to the metal...

16 February, 2009 23:44  
Blogger Stormchild said...

Thank you, TH! I'm glad that you're finding these posts interesting AND that the worst for you is behind and fading fast. Thus may it ever be.

Thank you also for the kind comment on From SoC To Points North, which I have meant to link to for some time now...

To me, the most difficult thing about boundaries is that there is no way to make them comfortable for all concerned. When we have been taught that others' comfort is always more important than our own [which is a good foundation for mutual humility and respect - but it must be mutual!] setting boundaries can feel like an impossible task, because there is no way to make it work within those parameters.

17 February, 2009 21:33  

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