That’s a trendy word these days, but do you know what it means? Today I’d like to discuss the three types of boundaries and what they mean in our relationships. And let’s use baseball analogies, because #LetsGoBucs?

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Nonexistent. Imagine standing in the middle of PNC Park, right on the pitcher’s mound, with no glove, no sunglasses, no hat… The sun beats down on you. The batter hits a line drive right toward you. Your teammates are yelling encouragement while your opponents are shouting less helpful things. Fans are cheering you on, but the visitors are throwing cups at you. You’ve got nothing to defend yourself, nothing to get behind for protection. When we’re living with nonexistent boundaries, we are left to absorb whatever is being hurled our way— both positive and negative. I’ve heard someone describe it as “trying to be all things to all people,” which just isn’t possible. We lose our identities and become defined by the roles we play. It’s exhausting, and we can’t sustain it over time.

Rigid. Now imagine standing on the pitchers mound surrounded by a brick structure. It’s about 6 feet in diameter and stands 30 feet high. It’s tall enough to protect you from the heat of the afternoon sun, the line drive headed for your face, and the insults being hurled your way. But it’s also blocking out the sun that was keeping you warm, the kind words of your teammates, the cheers of your fans, and the sport you love. With rigid boundaries, we isolate behind high, protective walls so no one can get in. Sadly, that means we also miss out on things that are beautiful and good for us. Rigid boundaries might be necessary during a time of healing or recovery, but they’re terribly isolating, and we can’t sustain that over time.

Balanced. This time, imagine you’re on the pitcher’s mound with all the appropriate equipment for the game. You’ve got a hat for the sun, a glove to catch the ball, teammates nearby to help with defense, coaches to guide you, and fans who drown out the noise of opponents. With balanced boundaries, we’re able to regulate the ways we treat others and the ways others treat us. It’s like having gates on a fence that allow some things in while keeping other things out. We’re empowered, strong, grounded, and healthy. We don’t view the world as all-or-nothing because we know we have power to influence the world around us, including our relationships. We can clearly communicate our boundaries to others (I don’t allow people to steal from me) as well as consequences for violations (and if someone does, I will call the police).

Let’s be clear: boundaries are not conditional love. You don’t get to say, “I’ll love you when…” because that’s not love; that’s manipulation. You absolutely can say, “I love myself enough not to tolerate that treatment anymore, and because I care about you I hope you can see why respecting me in that way is so important so we can remain connected.” It’s pretty painful when someone can’t (or won’t) see that, though, which is why having standards can feel intimidating and risky. Boundaries truly are a way we communicate love for ourselves as wel as love for the people around us. Clear expectations make the world go ’round! If you can be vulnerable enough in a relationship to express your needs, that’s great! And if the other person is able to meet you in that tender place and prioritize what’s important to you, even better! One of these days I’ll write about the Ten Laws of Boundaries (per Drs. Cloud and Townshend), but for today, focus on the three types of boundaries.

Can you think of times you’ve stood on the pitcher’s mound using each of the three types of boundaries? Where are you now? What steps can you take toward being more balanced? It’s helpful to identify which type of boundaries you most consistently hold, with the goal of balance in mind. You can do it!

Published by Jessica Gage, MA, LPC, NCC

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (license #PC007550) and a National Certified Counselor.

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