Updated: Jan 24
Boundaries have had a lot of air time. We know they are important. But the connection between boundaries and self-care is not always explicitly drawn out as a key lesson
Boundaries are vital in creating a powerful foundation of self-care and, because I love stories, and things seem to make more sense when we can connect with a straightforward analogy, I wanted to share with you an experience which brought home to me, in a very literal way, the relationship between boundaries and self-care.
When I first bought my flat, I inherited a fence which was a little beaten down and not very well maintained, so I would frequently find that people who lived in my block would throw things into my front garden as they passed by.
I would usually spend a part of every morning when I left for work ... and a part of every evening when I returned home ... being annoyed at this. Each morning I would mutter curses under my breath, promise myself I would move, get frustrated or angry and sometimes, when I found that, yet again, someone had thrown a half-eaten box of chips into my garden, I would just try not to see it and pretend it wasn't happening,
But I never did anything about it. I just picked up the mess and went on with my day.
As years went on, and my own personal boundaries kept getting violated, I learned through necessity how to better care for myself and how to have stronger boundaries.
Around the same time, after almost 10 years of living in that flat, I decided to invest in new fencing and paving and give the front of my house a little makeover. The old fence I had was low and had large gaps between the slats as well as a large gap between the ground and the start of the fencing - i.e plenty of gaps for rubbish to get in/be thrown in. The new fence was at least a foot higher and had no gaps at the base or between the slats.
I have come to understand that life is connected. That what is happening even in the most mundane elements of our life (such as fencing!) is connected to what is happening internally, emotionally and spiritually, and if used correctly, this understanding can be used to help illuminate blind spots, point us in the direction of healing, or signal to us how far we have come.
The symbology and timing of upgrading my fence was very poignant when I realised this inner/outer connection. It showed me that I had now truly learned how to value and protect myself and that this was reflected in how I was able to better value and protect my physical space and property.
The analogy is so striking because having either no or ineffective personal boundaries is the same as having no fence or a fence that is ineffective in marking your territory, and in keeping things that are unpleasant, dangerous or uninvited, outside.
Having no boundaries while you invest in your own personal growth is the same as building a garden carefully over the years, and investing time and energy into it, but finding that rubbish keeps getting through the cracks, thereby messing up your carefully cultivated garden. Basically, you cannot practise self-development or effective growth while your boundaries remain weak or non-existent. It is simply counterproductive and will result in having to take two steps back for each one forward.
When you don't have healthy, well-maintained, frequently kept-up boundaries, your self-care efforts are in vain and will be sabotaged. Your careful work on yourself, and ultimately your progress in being better able to love yourself, will be disrupted by people or elemental forces.
Fences give you greater control over your environment and also ensure that you protect what you are building inside of your fence, and you don't keep on having to start again. You only allow people to share in the treasure trove of your garden if they are respectful.
Having a strong fence keeps parasites out. It's the same with your personal boundaries. They keep people out unless they're invited in and given access, and those who try to get in without an invitation will find it harder to do so. Most of the time these kinds of opportunistic people will then probably just decide to try an easier target.
Having boundaries are great, but even if you have boundaries, if you don't look like you care about yourself, and you're treating yourself badly, those boundaries will be tested. Because people will not take your boundaries seriously.
Taking the story of my garden again ... when people were throwing stuff into my garden a friend of mine said, 'maybe if you cared for your front garden and it looked like someone actually lived there, people would be more respectful.' This was totally fair. From my perspective, I would have said I didn't want to take care of my garden as people would not respect my garden ... but now I realise they also didn't respect it because I didn't take care of it!
If we treat ourselves and our life like that garden, and it looks unkempt, a mess, and like the owner doesn't care (or even live there!), then even if we have a fence around it, people will still throw things into it, and treat it however they want.
In worst-case scenarios, it may invite squatters to try and invade our property, or it might attract thieves to attempt to rob, what looks like, a house with an absent owner! Basically, the less you look like you care about your life and yourself, the more you are attracting the attention of professional boundary testers.
To sum up, if you have a fence, that's great, boundaries are always great, but that is not always enough. Self-care and strong boundaries work together and equate to self-respect, as well as respect from others.
The fence analogy is such an important visual image for self-care and strong boundaries because it shows the relationship between the two things, and how they affect each other.
The better your own level of self-care and self-respect, the less people will feel they want to be rude or destructive. They can sense your energy as belonging to someone that loves themselves and so will assume you wouldn't put up with their nonsense.
But having strong, impervious boundaries provides another, needed, layer of protection. This is important, as unfortunately, some people don't respect anyone, no matter how they come across.
And we need to make sure we protect our beautiful, well-cultivated garden, into which we have poured so much of our pain, life experience and efforts, so we are successfully able to reap all this growth, which is ours to reap, and which we very much deserve.