A Beginner’s Guide to Boundaries

I was introduced to boundaries by my counsellor. At the time I was struggling with other people’s expectations. Even though I was an adult, I found it difficult to understand what was important to me and to say no.

My counsellor explained to me that it is healthy to have boundaries. The boundaries that we set show people how they can treat us and what they can expect from us.

She explained that boundaries are a bit like a garden. She said that some people had gardens with firm high walls and no gates. These people designed the garden exactly how they wanted it to be, and they didn’t allow anyone into their garden without permission. She went on to say that these people might recognise that they needed some help with the maintenance. However, as they wanted total control of their garden, they managed on their own.

She then explained about a second group of people. She said that these people had a garden that didn’t have a fence, or the fence might have holes in it. Other people came into the garden as and when they wanted and re-arranged the garden as they liked. She went on to describe how the garden’s owner might not be too keen on this, but they could find it difficult to say no. They might be afraid of letting people down and hurting their feelings. However, at the same time they might feel guilty and resentful for wanting something different,

Finally, she described a third way. This group of people had a garden, but it had a good fence and a gate. The owner could make a choice to welcome other people or not. Sometimes the people might have new ideas about how to landscape the garden, but in this third garden, the owner can listen to these ideas and decide whether to act on them.

Although it is only a metaphor, this final example shows healthy boundaries. The gardener is setting some limits about how he wants his garden to be treated. The garden has a fence, so it has some limits, but it also has a gate to welcome others. As well as having boundaries around his garden, the gardener in the third example is also choosing what he would like to accept in his garden. He is welcoming other people’s ideas, but he feels confident that he can make the decisions that are right for him.

I am wondering which garden you have right now, and which would you like to have?