The importance of boundaries to feel safe in your own skin, body and life
I have not felt safe for the past several days. There are some good reasons for this, as what used to be a very quiet, safe neighborhood is not feeling as safe anymore.
My lovely young neighbors who live just down the road from me and who recently added a new baby boy to their family, experienced some very scary trauma this past week. The woman’s mother, who has been staying with them to help with the baby, took the dog out for a walk the other day. She was in front of a grade school walking their French bulldog when two men jumped out of a car, pushed her onto the sidewalk and attempted to steal the dog. (French bulldogs, I hear, can be sold for quite a price on the internet.)
Fortunately and blessedly, some passers by helped and both she and the dog are physically fine, albeit shaken up and traumatized.
The next morning this same neighbor woke up to find someone had drilled into the gas tank of his truck in order to steal the gas from it.
Later that week, I drove down the road to find that all of our mailboxes had been torn open, even though they all have locks.
I stayed home for several days. It felt like too much too close to home. One violation after another, even though most of them had not happened to me directly. They have even more of an effect on us, I think, when they are close to home and when they happen to someone that we know personally and have come to care about.
That same week I had heard of several people that I had known, worked with, been acquaintances with, that had all died. All within several days of each other.
One of the men had gone jogging in the park and was found dead there. The cause of death is still unknown. His partner had dies a month ago. I believe that broken heart syndrome is real.
Another friend’s cousin died in a kayaking accident.
The third was a nurse who had worked well into her 80’s, retired several years ago, and recently died. Yes, she was older and this was to be expected. Yet it always seems to be a shock to me that someone that I knew and cared about will no longer walk the face of this earth. And it brings my own mortality into sharper focus each time.
All this sobered me into a quiet space of even more solitude than usual.
In some ways, being safe is really an illusion. The next moment is never guaranteed. Certainly not in terms of crimes and violence that we hear about all of the time. And not in terms of whenever may be our time to leave this earth.
This illusion of safety becomes more and more apparent to me as I continue on this path of aging. Yes, we can try to live in what may be safer communities and neighborhoods. We can be aware of our surroundings and not take unnecessary risks. And still there are no guarantees, no promises made, even with these choices that we can make.
I find myself thinking about other kinds of safety as well. Internal safely. Boundaries.
I come from a family that I experienced as intrusive. Boundaries were not allowed or encouraged. At least not for me, an only child. I struggled with even having a separate sense of self apart from my family, given the enmeshment I now can name and look back on and see.
Fast forward to becoming an adult, to being in relationships. I had such struggle with feeling a sense of self when in any relationship. And I struggled with setting boundaries. My limits were constantly pushed and tested. I did not feel that I had the right to set them firmly and mean NO when I said NO. I wasn’t even sure at times what and where my boundaries were. I was more focused on pleasing others in order to feel safe. I often wasn’t even aware where my NO even was.
I am older, and hopefully at least a bit wiser. I have worked on this issue. And I now can feel the strength that was always there, even though I wasn’t aware of it, wasn’t taught that about myself.
I now know. I can, and do say NO. And I mean it. I am grateful for all the relationships that I have had that continued to teach me these lessons.
I am so very grateful to have had the time for a while, finally, to live alone and to not be in a primary relationship, by choice.
I think that for me, this is what it took to finally be able to feel at home within myself. To finally be able to define myself without having to use someone else as something to bump up against so that I would know where I ended and they began. To learn to trust that inner part of me that reacted when something that someone said or did wasn’t feeling ok. Intuition. Messages from my inner gut.
This sense of being home within myself brings a quiet peace. A sense of gratitude that this part of me never left me, was only waiting to come out and be claimed.
I cannot always guarantee what may happen in the world around me, cannot always feel safe. Life is uncertain, especially in these very troubled times. That is the harsh reality. I need to be aware of my surroundings, my environment, where I go and when.
With the world within me, however, and the world between me and others, I can keep working to claim the right to protect myself, to set my own limits and boundaries. I can be clear with others on what I may or may not accept, what I want, what is not ok with me. I now know that I have the right to do this. Just because. I have the right to protect myself. To say no without having to make an excuse. As someone said, “No is a complete sentence.”
We cannot always set the boundaries adequately in the world around us. We can, however, continue to set them within ourselves and between ourselves and others around us. We have the right. Just because.
One thought on “The Safety of Boundaries”
Jo, during the brief months we’ve been acquainted, it is apparent that you are a very strong woman who is well accustomed to being able to set and maintain very strict boundaries for the people you allow into your life, men especially. For me, I never quite know when I have made my last comment to one of your blog articles. But since you are a great writer, and I like to live dangerously, I keep commenting, LOL. In the meantime, I think you obviously have a great deal to teach younger, more vulnerable women. With your background in social work is there some way you could perhaps consider doing volunteer work with this concept in mind? I’m thinking about all the women who fall victim to domestic abuse and violence each year, women who have never learned how to value themselves and to simply say ‘No!’ when the situation demands, as you have so eloquently expressed in your article about ‘boundaries.’