Personal boundaries are about how we interact with each other, how we respect each other, and how we manage differences.
Let me use an illustration to show poor versus good personal boundaries.
Picture two houses side by side. Let’s call them number 27 and number 29 Garden Lane.
Now Mr White owns number 27 Garden Lane. Number 27 is a pristine white house with a very neat white fence all around it, and the neatest trimmest lawn you can imagine. Everything that’s inside the white fence, plus the fence itself, belongs to Mr White. It is Mr White who is responsible for looking after everything that is on the block number 27.
Number 29 Garden Lane is a green house with a green fence. The garden is full of all sorts of interesting plants, hanging pots, and garden gnomes. Mrs Green lives there. Everything that is on the block of number 29 is under the care of Mrs Green and Mrs Green alone.
You can just imagine how Mr White might wish Mrs Green had a neat and tidy place like his. He might think to himself: “If only she would tidy up her garden – and get rid of those silly old garden gnomes! It’s embarrassing.”
When Boundaries are Blurred
This is precisely where boundaries can be blurry for some people. In Mr White’s mind, the contents of Mrs Green’s garden were blurring into his and he was worrying about how it may affect his image.
Perhaps if Mrs Green lived further away, or on another street, it would not be an issue. But they lived right next door, on Garden Lane of all places! “If people see that I live next door to someone who likes garden gnomes, they might think I like them too. Not cool!”
Communication: Key to establishing Personal Boundaries
Mrs Green worked out that Mr White was worried, so she asked him to meet her on the footpath in front of their houses. She pointed to her yard, then to his, and then to the dividing fence.
“See?” said Mrs Green. “There’s no need to be embarrassed. Anyone walking along the footpath can clearly see the garden gnomes are in my garden and not yours. We don’t get to know what other people think, or whether they like garden gnomes or not.”
Mr White realised it is up to Mrs Green how she wants her garden to look. But more importantly, he knows that it is her garden not his. It is hers to look after, just as his land is his to look after. Her garden is not a reflection of him because it is not on his land, and so he does not need to be concerned about it.
And so it is the same with us as people. You are responsible for managing your own words, thoughts, emotions, actions, beliefs, choices … These are yours to look after. And the more you look after your own, the less you worry about others.
If you are struggling with personal boundaries in your life, whether it’s maintaining your own fences so that others can’t just roam at will, or you have recognised yourself as the one trying to set other people to rights, I welcome you to make an appointment. Together we can work on some strategies to help you build and maintain some healthy personal boundaries!
Author: Naomi Griffin, BA (Psych & Music); Grad Dip in Pastoral Couns; PG Dip Psych; Grad Cert Case Management; Grad Cert Ed Studies (Career Development); STAP; MAPS; MCCoun.
Please Note: Naomi is not currently practising at Vision Psychology, but is continuing to provide supervision for provisional (including 4+2 and 5+1) and registered psychologists, and for ministry agents in the wider Christian community. If you would like information regarding supervision, or want to book an appointment with a Christian psychologist, please contact Reception on 1800 877 924.
- “Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No, to Take Control of Your Life” by Dr Henry Cloud and Dr John Townsend, latest edition 2015.
- “Boundaries” Workbook