Do you patrol your fences or wear your armor?
Personal boundaries are often invisible but protect our emotional and spiritual space like a sturdy fence around a yard. Some boundaries can create needed distance, like a fence, but a different kind is more like a suit of armor, worn tightly to protect our greatest vulnerabilities. The personal boundary of the armor variety has to be stronger to allow us to get close to others, but the very strength of it can sometimes shield us from others as well as protect us from them. Safety can come at a cost when it comes to interpersonal relationships.
Which type of boundary is better? The fence boundary is great for meeting new people in a new place. Random social interactions or being on a team at work are situations where good fences make for positive and productive relationships. The distance these provide can make learning and observing easier while letting people choose how and when to show up to others. You may prefer a wide plot of land between you and a stranger while at a party but with a clear and reliable fence up you can choose to open the gate to someone who shares some of your interests. (And they can do the same for you, assuming they too have a reliable fence of their own.) You also control who stays outside the gate and why.
Generally, this fence is built with a combination of queues you offer (or withhold from) others. How readily you join in a conversation, smiles or affirming and animated gestures when someone else is talking, requests for more information can all be signals you send or receive that create a sense of space that is preferred and maintained – a safe space. However, this type of boundary can be exhausting to patrol – especially if the fence covers a wide diameter around your personal space, with lots of conditions and unending requirements. In this case, for example, a person goes to a party and sits alone, not wanting ANY engagement from or with others. This fence is so wide and distant no one can get in.
The positive thing about armor is that it is worn close and can let others have more access to you, get closer, but while you are still protected and feeling safe and secure. You may not be ready for complete transparency but you can reveal and receive more when you have your in-close boundary on, your armor, and this can help you remain engaged with the world, not fenced in by it. Personal boundary of the armor variety also gives you a sense of safety when trust hasn’t been established between you and someone new. It also is made of words, gestures, and actions…all of which protect you from sharing more of your story with someone before you feel secure. And it helps them to learn about and know you at your pace, not theirs, respectfully but firmly.
One Thing To Do: Make a short list of words (phrases) that can create your version of a healthy boundary for you and that would be helpful for others as well:
“I’m not sure I feel like talking about that right now.”
“Thanks for the interest but maybe some other time.”
“No thanks – not right now.”
“I’d love to talk about that but not really right now.”
“That would be good to discuss but when I feel abler to, later on perhaps.”
Dawna Daigneault, Ed.S., LPC.