It occurs to me that through most of my life I have had poor or incomplete boundaries simply because I was brought up to be a 'nice girl' and to acquiesce to others. Unfortunately this is a typical Christian way of upbringing for girls especially and my generation like others before it knew no better.

The past decade or so has taught me that such notions are flawed and that good boundaries are not just important but essential for a healthy sense of self.

So I wondered how others thought and felt about this. When working with others the boundaries need to be clear and strong yet flexible and yealding which makes for a sometimes confused understanding of what our boundaries actually are or do.

For example, it is great to be open minded and try to allow every voice to be heard but there has to be limits or someone will hog the limelight and take up all the time allowed with their own concerns. So in a circle we may have a talking stick and a time limit which allows everyone a say. These ground rules create strong boundaries between all participants. Likewise when attending an event, if we are told that there is a non-refundable deposit and then change our mind a week before the event, there is no point crying about the deposit. It may seem harsh if we are being selfish and thinking only of our loss but what about the organiser who needs to sell all the spaces to make their living?

Strong boundaries have sometimes been confused with arrogance but surely it should be the other way around. True authority has strong boundaries in order to keep everyone safe, arrogance only looks after number one and the boundaries set out there serve only one person.

In life I have allowed my boundaries to be crushed and all down to that early Sunday School teaching of being a nice girl, don't answer back, don't say bad things (which translates as say nothing instead of saying the truth). I don't blame the Church as such or my parents for bringing me up this way, it was just how it was but what I am saying is that now I see it differently and wish I had done so 30 years ago.

What are your experiences of or thoughts about strong boundaries, how they help etc?


This is a great topic!

I wasn't brought up in the church, but I was primarily raised in the south with Southern Grandparents, cousins, etc... I always thought that this "act like a nice girl" thing came from being in the South, but now that you mention it, maybe it's a Church thing. My mother's side of the family consists of very independent thinking and speaking women. I'm often in more trouble than not for speaking up when I should have kept quiet and it's something I recognize in my self but have a difficult time doing when backed into a corner. My step-dad's family were the ones who really had the mentality of we do things like this or that because that's how they are supposed to be done- society says so. My mom's side of the family couldn't give a rip about society's rules and does what they need to do.

Anyway, boundaries...though I wasn't specifically taught or expected to keep quiet- I did grow up feeling as though everyone else was more important than I was, and that I should always stand to the back of the line, wait til others were served before I got any, bend over backwards- even as an adult, I tried to to make everyone else more comfortable or sacrifice my time when others needed me, sacrifice my money for gifts for others and do without. I guess in the past I just gave freely of myself without expectation of anything in return- and I still believe that's the way we should give. However, eventually I saw the other side to that and realized I was being taken advantage of by friends, family, etc...

So, a few years ago, all of that stopped. I stopped trying to do things I didn't want to do for the sake of people who weren't doing anything for me. I stopped having people around me who were sucking out my life force and just started associating with people I enjoy being with just for the sake of being with them- not because they need my help-not because they want anything from me other than genuine friendship.

In the new friendships I've made there is a definite challenge with one of them to set boundaries and I have been successful in doing so- I think. I really do like this person, but as your example suggests- she will dominate the conversation and take up all your time if boundaries are not set. I have at times, thought my new way of being is selfish compared to what I used to be- but I'm really leaning towards calling it self preservation. With family and friends I will no longer do things I just don't feel like doing, I will not listen to things I've heard enough of, and I will not feel guilty for this. I think it's actually helped in the fact that some people are not leaning on me for as much time, support, assistance or whatever and they aren't even asking for it. I like that!!!

I was never a doormat, don't get me wrong, but I was guilty of giving a little too much of myself than I felt I had to give. It left me depleted, sad, a little resentful. with healthy boundaries I feel like I can give more to the people who bring me joy and less to those who don't. Again- I know it sounds selfish, but it's what has to be at this stage in my life. I firmly believe people treat us as we allow them to.


What I think is critical, and what groups like "the church" and "parents" and "school" do not realise is that no one boundary can ever fit all. But they try to impose them anyway. Sadly this can also lead to people who KNOW those particular boundaries are wrong for them abandoning all boundaries and doing just as they please - which I think has led to a LOT of the problems we see today.

Any boundary has - IMHO - to fit the person and the situation. (Leaving aside the ones about which side of the road we all drive... :bugeyed:) And because of this, boundaries may need to move.

Suppose you have been taught all your life that extramarital sex is EVIL and you will Go To Hell. And ignoring all those sinners is one of your boundary things.

Suppose your daughter comes home pregnant and tells you that she and the father plan to live together but marriage is not their thing. Move the boundary or disown your child ? Pick one. It isn't that easy !


Very interesting comments from you both and I agree.

I think I pretty much was a doormat for a while, one of my own making but that was a long time ago. I'm glad to hear that you never trod that road Disa.

Boundaries definitely should be flexible Gregory, I agree. Sometimes we really don't know enough about something to have firm boundaries.

Thinking about who I am and where others begin is where the healthy boundaries need to be strong. So it's not so much about not listening or being dogmatic but about the line in the sand where I preserve me and my integrity. How far do I allow people to walk all over my good nature? Should I have made it clearer that there are consequences to those actions if you do that to me?

What I find is that many people have very blurred boundaries and can be hypocritical about them too. They do something but then become defensive and retaliatory when someone does the same to them. Others allow people to disregard them and challenge their good nature by trying to take more and more liberties so there are definitely healthy boundaries to be maintained but they may depend very much on how healthy we are psychologically.


Some thirty inches from my nose
The frontier of my Person goes,
And all the untilled air between
Is private pagus or demesne.
Stranger, unless with bedroom eyes
I beckon you to fraternize,
Beware of rudely crossing it:
I have no gun, but I can spit.

W. H. Auden

Says it all, I think.


Anyone who expects me to recognise them as themselves has also to recognise me as MYSELF.


That is a good way to look at it, recognising me as myself and it can take me to do that before anyone else will. All too often we can inadvertently allow all sorts of things into and beyond our boundaries to influence us without ever considering their validity. Church, state, peer pressure, family, media all get under our boundaries or through them sometimes and prevent us from thinking clearly, finding our own answers, seeing balance and finding our authentic centre.

Beautiful poem Gregory - perfect.


How far do I allow people to walk all over my good nature? Should I have made it clearer that there are consequences to those actions if you do that to me?

What I find is that many people have very blurred boundaries and can be hypocritical about them too. They do something but then become defensive and retaliatory when someone does the same to them. .

Wow. Milfoil, your whole post, and everyone's answers, were staggeringly revelatory and resonated really heavily in me. Thank you so much for posting that, as I am just working out the same sort of stuff and I will learn through reading this.

What I quoted from you uptop is the most pronounced part of my struggle. Thanks for voicing it, and it cleared up the way for something I was trying to say to someone but couldn't find the words for. Now I know how to say to them what it is they are doing to me, or how I am perceiving it, anyways ;) .

And Gregory, btw, I loved the Auden poem :) thanks for that!


I'm glad that discussing this subject is helpful to you Lotus Padma and what you say:

Lotus Padma said:
. . . it cleared up the way for something I was trying to say to someone but couldn't find the words for. Now I know how to say to them what it is they are doing to me, or how I am perceiving it.

This comment gave me a realisation too, about our responsibility to both ourselves and others.

a) Have no boundaries and abdicate all responsibility then we become open to everyone and everything else, every influence and our sense of self fades into a oblivion.

b) Have blurred or inconsistent boundaries then how can anyone know where they lie or what to expect from us and how do we know what our responsibilities are to ourselves or others?

c) However, when we are given the right encouragement and teachings we can recognise the need to establish, evaluate and take responsibility for our boundaries and as a consequence ourselves and how we interact with others.


I see it more as cowed by manners. I have a good friend who just turned 65 who can't even tell a cousin to stop sending virus warnings to her email. If someone pooped on her couch I don't think she could bring herself to say something in defense.

It makes me absolutely furious on her behalf but I knew her mother, and have heard a lot about her dad, and it was the way she was raised. What would the neighbors think?

Stuff the neighbors. Stuff the cousin. There are a ton of things I wonder about, worry about, wish I were better at, but boundaries? I got em dialed and it's wonderful. When I was 30 or 40? Probably not so much. If you are lucky life can teach you to value yourself, in order to value others.


...and then there are people like me who would be really, really grateful if more people had clearer boundaries (or maybe just expressed them early enough and/or more clearly) because otherwise people like me assume that we can go on doing what we're doing because you're fine with it. No resistance leads to the assumption there is no boundary.

I'm sure that makes me sound like a terribly insensitive person who walks all over her fellow humans unless she is stopped by some drastic means.

In my own eyes, however, there's only so much reading of body language and other subtle, ambiguous cues that I can do before I have to ask someone if they're still comfortable because I get the sense that they aren't. When such a question is met with the assurance that everything is fine, I'm very likely to proceed unless something feels seriously off. And then people get mad at me for not sensing that they didn't mean what they said... I'm sorry, but if I was able to do that, I wouldn't need to ask.

There are just too many "games" being played about consent for me. I don't understand the nuances of a "no" that is actually a "yes, gladly, if you ask again to show your seriousness in wanting this" or a "yes" that is actually a "no, I'd rather not but I don't dare say so." I don't even notice many of the subtle social cues that are supposed to communicate what one really means, especially not when I'm not paying full attention to the person at hand (which often happens in interactions that aren't in any way extraordinary). That means I'm better at reading the subtle cues of my Beloved than I am at reading those of a distant acquaintance. It also means that I'm better at reading cues in extraordinary circumstances (like asking someone for what I think is a huge favor) as opposed to ordinary situations (like asking someone for something I don't even think might be difficult for them to refuse).

Nowadays, if someone calls me insensitive because I didn't read their mind despite all of their efforts to prevent me from doing just that, I just don't accept the accusation anymore. I can't be the only one to make an effort to understand others, but they need to meet me halfway and at least try to say where their boundaries are.

I much prefer direct, honest communication, and I don't believe we have to let go of politeness and respect to achieve that. So, yes, I'm completely serious when I say I would be very grateful if more people were more aware of their boundaries and expressed them earlier and less ambiguously. If you want something, just ask. If you don't want something, just say so.

(All of which shows why I should never spend time in a country like Japan... :laugh:)