Let’s Rethink the Word ‘Boundary’

I struggle with the word ‘Boundary’.

Lets rethink the word 'Boundary'
Photo Credit: dogbomb via Compfight cc


Not because I don’t believe in the concept of boundaries or because I don’t think they are important.  Its just that the word ‘Boundary’ doesn’t convey any sense of relationship value. The word ‘boundary’ feels like its all about the one making the boundary and not about a relationship offered.

When I was a child I grew up on a farm and we had boundary fences between ourselves and our neighbors. These were post and wire fences marking where our ownership was limited.

Human life must be about more than building boundaries, protecting identities, and teaching impulse control. Richard Rohr

It was there, it was solid, marked out, and the relationship was defined. This is where we had responsibility and control and this is where they had responsibility and control.

I think though the word ‘boundary’ has become a word of self centredness. A word that is all about ones own need of security and control.

I think we need to go deeper into a relational balancing of the concept.

What is the relational significance of a boundary?


Perhaps an example might help to explain.

I drive through a small town often. As I approach the town there is a sign with a big ’50’ on it. This tells me that there is a boundary imposed on this area by our lawmakers that I am only allowed to travel up to 50 kilometres an hour. Faster than that and I have broken a boundary limitation.

Its law, a legal boundary. Its declared and I must comply.

But why is it there?

Are the imposers speed haters, are they picking on me, do they just want me to be late. I can become very narcisstic about the boundary and believe its all about me.

However that boundary was set up out of concern for the safety of the people living in the township. By driving through the township at wild and reckless speeds there is no concern shown for the safety and well being of the people.

Out of love and respect for them I slow down.

I could focus on the number or I could focus on the relationship. When I focus on the relationship something deeper happens within me. Something of love and respect for the needs of my fellow man is stirred up within me.

Another example.

Something a bit deeper.

I have a relationship with my body. I am not my body but I sure am stuck with it. Out of love and respect for my body I care for it by washing, feeding, taking medication, resting, exercising.

I have a relationship with my soul, my very self. I want to see my very life nurtured and cared for. I love myself, not in any self centred narcissist self adoration way, but in a way that says that I’m OK. So out of a desire to nurture the ‘self’ I will have relational lines of love and respect around me that limit the influence of those that would not show love and respect to me.

I have at times given too much access to some that have showed no love and respect for me.

For some it is no longer a line, easily crossed over and abused, it is now 10 foot high wall with snarling dog behind it if they even come near intrusion into my life. I care for myself, I am worth it.

Another example.

I remember the day that I was visiting someone hoping to help them in someway. They asked about how they could contact me and so I explained my boundaries, my lines of love and respect. Then I turned the table and asked them what their boundaries were, their lines of love and respect, their expectations were.

They were quite shocked at this. Never had they been asked by a supporter about what their boundaries needs were. By asking this simple, yet highly empowering question, they felt they were on a level ground in relational power with me. Their needs were considered as just as important as mine.

So why ‘Love and Respect’?

More on that next time.

Questions to consider and leave a comment.

  1. What does the word ‘Boundary’ mean for you?
  2. Are ‘boundaries’ a self centered concept?

Barry Pearman

3 Replies to “Let’s Rethink the Word ‘Boundary’”

  1. This is an interesting question about the word boundary!!

    Just this morning I’ve been pondering how, in order to take the best care of myself, I actually have to lay myself down. It is my pride, shame, entitlement, etc which cling to things I crave that are self destructive. It is only when I surrender my feelings of self protection that I am truly able to take care of myself well.

    Similarly with others, it is only when I surrender “ownership” to those I love that I am able to love them in a way that is healthy and truly loving.

    To me, healthy boundaries are about letting go more than self-protecting. I surrender my right to be offended and at the same time respect my need for loving, reciprocal relationships.

    Thank you for this thought provoking post!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *