Building Boundaries

If we are everything to everyone that we meet, then what will be left for those truly blessed to share their presence with us?
— Unknown

You may be thinking to yourself, "well...the last few topics were about ADHD, the interwebs and money. Donny must be running out of things to talk about if he's deciding to tackle boundaries." It's a decent thought; but from my experiences, ambivalence towards boundaries have got to be in the top 3 most common issues I've seen individuals, couples, and families face. It's a real problem, though often overlooked. 

So what are boundaries?

In the broadest sense, boundaries are forces we create and maintain to protect our own personal limits. Our lines of defense to overextending ourselves. These limits can be emotional, mental, or physical - and we have varyingly different ranges of them too. We set these boundaries through our daily transactions with our spouses, our kids, our immediate and extensive family members, our friends, and even our coworkers and members of our community. Sounds simple, right?

Well, things can get complicated - especially through our intertwined network of relationships. There are many dynamics that come to play, including family roles and culture, region, experiences, personalities, level of transparency, etc. What may look like rigid boundaries for one person may be loose boundaries for another. Not to mention that one may have different limits for different groups of people.

It's important to remember that "rigid" or "loose" boundaries bring in their own sets of problems. Though rigid boundaries protect our limits, they can also stunt growth in relationships in that they're restrictive to openness. Loose boundaries may cultivate openness; however, they also invite privy information to fall into the wrong hands and cause intense friction in our relationships. Ideally, we want to fall somewhere in the middle of two - flexible boundaries that are malleable and open to newer connections, but also take into consideration our ever-changing needs and limitations.

So how to build and maintain healthy boundaries? It can be a long process that takes discipline, but here are some prompting questions at least to chew on when you have time:

  • What are my mental, physical, and emotional limits?
  • What are the mental, physical, and emotional limits of my partner? Of my family?
  • Does a system exist to where these limits are established, respected, and reconsidered?
  • Do children in my family (sons, daughters, younger cousins, nieces and nephews) have their own set of boundaries to protect them from developmentally inappropriate life stresses?
  • What kind of transparency would I want to cultivate in my relationships?
  • Is there a hierarchical system I have in place as to what level of "personal clearance" I give to those in my life?
  • When is the fastest I have divulged to another person I've just met delicate personal information? Does this happen often?
  • How many people in my life possess the "highest" level of clearance?
  • Are there people in my inner circle, the ones that have "top clearance" of my most intimate thoughts and feelings, who abuse that power? If so, how do I respond? Do I fall into this issue often?
  • Are there a scarce amount of people who fall into this category? Do I, or my inner circle, feel in any way isolated? Does the "Us vs. Them" narrative apply often to my daily experience?

There's a book series on boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend you can find on Amazon that's pretty affordable . It's rooted in Christianity; but even if you're looking for a more secular approach to establishing healthier boundaries in your life, it's got a wealth of information on how to do so from a number of different categories.

Questions? Comments? Feel free to write me at and take care!