Boundaries: Not Just for Countries

Walkway to CanadaOur mother never obeyed boundaries during her lifetime. While most people understand these parameters of society to at least some degree, this concept was totally missing from Mother’s basket of eggs. I guess you might say she was hard boiled or cracked up or just plain scrambled. Whatever boundaries were tried, she crossed them every time.

Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify for him or herself what are reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave around him or her and how he or she will respond when someone steps outside those limits. They are built out of a mix of beliefs, opinions, attitudes, past experiences and social learning.

Personal boundaries define you as an individual, outlining your likes and dislikes, and setting the distances you allow others to approach. They include physical, mental, psychological and spiritual boundaries, involving beliefs, emotions, intuitions and self-esteem.

French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan considered them to be layered in a hierarchy, reflecting ‘all the successive envelopes of the biological and social status of the person’ from the most primitive to the most advanced.

Her Own LensMother’s view of life was through her own lens and she would argue with you about her perceived way to operate.

She was always convinced that her mode of operation was infallible and utterly logical.

As children, my sister Abby and I knew that other parents didn’t yell constantly.


We also knew the other parents were not out of control, and they certainly were not using baby strait jackets on their infants. I think, when looking back, we knew she was a few clowns short of a circus even then. It seemed that she had so many issues she was dealing with that she had no time to actually parent.

As adults, when our interactions with Mother were few and far between, Abby and I decided that there was a limit to just how much shit we were willing to put up with. We were honest and forthright about setting up the boundaries with her ahead of time and yes, you guessed it, she would cross them every time.

Then it was up to Abby and me to parent her. Being teachers, we were very good at positive re-enforcement. However, when there was nothing positive going on, we would have to figure out how to firmly remind her of what the boundaries were. And how she had crossed them once again.

Of course, Mother could have cared less. Her usual response was to holler:

What is this?  Since when did I ever take orders from you two?  I am the parent and I’m in charge.

Abby and I knew that this was not the outcome we wanted.

Our dad told my sister and I more than once that, in general with most people and in particular with personalities such as Mother, people do not get better with age. His theory was that if they were mean and nasty or had mental problems that were not treated, they only got worse as they got older. Truer words have not been spoken!

na3aKAs our mother aged, she became more difficult. What changed was Abby’s and my unwillingness to put up with it. If she was nasty, we would end our visit. If she questioned why we weren’t willing to put up with her bad behavior and refusal to accept the boundaries, we would remain calm (well, most of the time) and explain that we didn’t behave like that and we weren’t willing to put up with it anymore. We were no longer bound by her rules and oh my, was that freeing.

Mother may have believed we were snobs, too big for our britches or not “her type.” But Abby and I knew the importance of not allowing her to continue her bad behavior.

Our personal boundaries are just that, personal limitations we create to guide us to identify what is permissible with ourselves, and others. Creating personal boundaries supports one in meeting their wants FIRST and then the wants of others. We all need boundaries yet very few of us take the time to identify them and then understand where they fit into our lives and how to stick with them. In today’s world, we are all very busy people being everything to everyone. It is really easy to lose sight of your own wants and constantly be fulfilling the wants and needs of others.  Having a clear idea of what your boundaries are allows you to meet your wants first, in alignment with your values and then the wants/needs of others second.

Boundaries aren’t just for countries. They are an essential part of life, and an absolute necessity when dealing with difficult people. Our mother taught that lesson loud and clear; and as with so many lessons we learned from her, this was a lesson learned via observation of the very opposite behavior that we wished to emulate and apply in our own lifestyles.

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