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  • Lisa Smith Inman

Boundaries: Fortress, chicken wire or white picket fence

Boundary issues are probably one of the more common challenges we have and they tend to be wrapped up in why we seek therapy.

So what are boundaries and why are they useful?

Boundaries surround our identity; the parts of ourselves that involve our physical body, emotions, spirituality, thoughts and behavior. Think of boundaries as personal property lines. Where you stop and someone else starts They define our person, who we are and who we are not. Boundaries keep us sane. Some of us have very poor boundaries and others have extremely rigid boundaries; some have both, just in different areas. Some of us don’t know what boundaries are or what it means to have them.


Webster defines boundaries as: a line that marks the limits of an area. This is a good working definition, but I like a good visual example as well. Boundaries are like a fence around your house - and you are the house.


I invite you to Imagine a 4-foot-tall white picket fence with a gate around their home. You can see over it and interact with others on the other side and, if you so choose, you can open the gate and let them get closer. This is what healthy boundaries are like. They give us the option to let in safe people and to keep out those who are not safe. Just as a real fence around your home or property keeps people from dumping garbage on your lawn or letting their dogs do their business there, Healthy boundaries also keep others from dumping their “emotional garbage” on our property.





When boundaries are violated.

Abuse of any kind is a clear boundary violation and can change the way a person’s boundaries look. We can also learn unhealthy boundaries from important people around us as we grow into adulthood. In fact, many of us were raised to believe that we didn’t have the right to create or assert our boundaries.


People who’ve been extremely hurt by others, through verbal, emotional, psychological, sexual or physical abuse – those who’ve had their boundaries violated in any way – sometime learn that they need to build a large fortress with thick walls (imagine a castle) around themselves. It’s so high they can’t see over it, there is no way to see through it, and often there is no way to get in – or out.




And yet others try to repair boundary damage by building chicken wire fences to keep others out. The problem with both of these types of boundaries is that they’re not effective. While the fortress keeps harmful people out, it keeps all people out, even the ones with whom we can form loving, trusting relationships. The chicken wire type boundary doesn’t really keep anyone out or in - except maybe chickens - but it also doesn’t keep out those who are harmful or toxic to us – it lets everyone in. This type of boundary also doesn’t keep others from dumping their emotional garbage on our property because unhealthy people will often plow right over the chicken wire boundary that a person puts in place in attempt to protect them.




What is within my boundaries?

Your feelings: They should neither be ignored nor allowed to take you over. Be aware of them and own them. Feelings come from your heart and your feelings are your responsibility.

Your attitudes and beliefs: Attitudes are the stance you take toward others: God, life, work, and relationships. Beliefs are anything that we accept as true. Instead of blaming others, we need to own our attitudes and convictions. They fall within our property line.

Your behaviors: Behaviors have consequences. To rescue people from the natural consequences of their behavior is to render them powerless. Allow people/children to reap the natural consequences of their behavior.

Your choices: A common boundary problem is to disown our choices and trying to lay the responsibility for them on someone else. What is wrong with the phrase, "I had to" or "He made me do it"? We are in control of our choices. Setting boundaries inevitably involves taking responsibility for our choices.

Your values: What we value is what we love and assign importance to. Christians especially can get caught up in valuing the approval of men rather than the approval of God. When we take responsibility for our out-of-control behavior caused by loving the wrong things, Christians can turn to Scripture to get help and direction.

Your limits: Setting limits on ourselves is the essence of boundary making. It takes ownership, responsibility and self-control.

Your talents: We are much happier when we are exercising our gifts and are being productive.

Your thoughts, desires and your love



If you feel that you struggle with boundaries that are like fortresses or chicken wire and would like to work on developing or creating healthy boundaries, please contact Lakeshore Counseling to set up an appointment at 612-440-6882

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