Crossing Boundaries and Respecting Other’s Space

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By definition, a “boundary” is anything that marks a limit.  

Marking the Limit

Personal boundaries are the intangible guidelines, rules or limits that each of us has established during our lives.  It is like our own unwritten rulebook of what we deem as fair, safe and acceptable behaviour in how we interact in the world, but also how we expect others to treat us and how we respond if someone crosses those limits.

I want to share an analogy I heard recently regarding personal boundaries that was just so powerful, it may forever change the way you function in relationships.

Establishing Your Fences

Imagine that you have a fence around you and inside that fence is a beautiful garden.  In that garden you are allowed to plant whatever it is you desire. You may grow flowers, vegetables or maybe both; you can water, weed and tend that garden however you like.  This fenced garden represents your life. Everyone has one, everyone is allowed to cultivate, plant and nurture their own garden exactly how they want to. This means that everyone in your life, your partner, children, family, friends and work colleagues have a garden too.  

However, as the perfectly imperfect beings that we are, some of us, more than others, tend to poke our noses over the fence and peek into other people’s gardens.   We check out what are they growing and perhaps judge the state of their gardens or compare our garden to theirs! This can bring up not so pleasant feelings of resentfulness, jealousy and inadequacy. Even more dangerous, maybe you do more than just poke your nose over the fence, you may jump right over it, land on the other side and start digging around, telling that person how you think they should be tending their garden and what they should plant.  In other words, judging the choices they are making and telling them how they should be living their lives.

Trespassers beware

What you need to remember, however, is that you were never invited into that person’s garden, you just trespassed!  More importantly, when you are so focused on what everyone else is doing aren’t you neglecting your own garden?

Think of a time when someone has made a comment to you that as soon as it hit your ears it stung like crazy?  It may have been delivered innocently enough but hurt you nonetheless. Maybe you just got back from the hairdressers feeling a bit glamorous and your mother said “I prefer your hair the colour it was before” or you spent hours trying to figure out how to solve a problem and your partner says “You should have done it this way”.  Ouch – someone has scaled your garden fence!

Reflecting on my trespasses

When I had time to reflect on this, I first of all felt guilt.  I could see very clearly whose gardens I had trespassed and dug around in.  Firstly, my partner. I dug around so much in his garden it is amazing there was anything growing there at all!  I told myself I was doing it out of love and to make him happy, but to be totally honest maybe I was just trying to make myself happy and change him into who I wanted him to be, which is just a no-win situation for both of us.

My daughter; yes, I can see the times I have tried to reorganise her garden to conform to my gardening style and vice versa.  So once I realised this, we sat down and discussed the topic openly and came up with a signal if we feel one of us is trespassing – we simply call out “garden!” and the other person knows to back off.  Sometimes, when you are so close to someone and would do anything to help them, you may not always be aware that you are overstepping boundaries. So, this has been a great way for us to let each other know when one of us is getting a little too close to that garden fence!

I could have beaten myself up when I looked back over my relationships and where I had done this, but that is just a futile and pointless exercise, so instead I am grateful that I have been given the gift of awareness instead of never receiving it.  It has also allowed me to put up boundaries when I feel that someone is telling me how to tend my garden!

Just sit with this awhile and see if you get an “aha” moment like I did, but most importantly be kind to yourself, after all we are all just masterpieces in progress!

About the author

Soul & Wellness Collaborator

Suzie de Jonge is a Transformational Therapist/Mentor and the founder of Beautifully Selfish. She supports women who know they are here to do something special in the world. In her downtime she enjoys hanging out with her two furry daughters and her two-legged daughter, Alex, as well as laughing and making each day count!