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A Metaphor on Boundaries

I explain the fuzzy concept of boundaries to my clients like this:

Imagine you have a back yard that you have worked hard on.  You have grown a beautiful garden.  You have installed a nice pool.  There is lovely seating.  You keep the lawn healthy.  You’ve worked hard to make a special place of peace for yourself.

The only problem is that periodically, “hooligans” from the surrounding neighborhoods take a shortcut home through your back yard.  And they like to have some fun while they are there.  For whatever reason, they like to trample your flowers.  They toss your patio furniture into the pool, they break things, they leave huge gauges in the lawn.  And you wake up to a sight of destruction that takes an emotional toll.

You’ve tried to just clean up after them.  You roll up your sleeves and get back to work.  You fix things or buy new ones.  You heal the damaged gardens and lawn.  And it’s nice again, maybe.  For a little while.  At least until they come back again.

One day, after a particularly brutal demonstration of vandalism, you decide you’ve had enough!  You are ready to put in the time, money and work to build a fence around your yard!  You do the hard thing and you feel assured that now you can rebuild your back yard for the last time and the work is over.

Except that it isn’t.

Those hooligans were walking home a couple nights later and what do they find but a wooden wall in the way of the path they used to take!  They can’t use the shortcut they used to enjoy.  They don’t get the have the fun they used to have tearing up your lawn!  This. Is. FRUSTRATING.  How DARE you put this damn fence in their way.  Who do you think you are, anyway?  They are angry and decide to teach you a lesson.  

The next morning, you come out to a broken fence and even greater devastation.  You feel even more emotionally wounded.  Not only did your plan not work, and your efforts amount to nothing, but the damage is worse than ever now!

Pay attention here: THIS is the time when you succeed or fail.  The moment you decide you deserve better in this world, the Universe will challenge you to see if you really DO deserve it.  Are you strong enough to keep it?  Your boundaries do not benefit the people who have been crossing them for years.  They will not accept your boundaries if they don’t have to.

Many people build a fence once and give up when it doesn’t work.  Better to go back to cleaning up the yard periodically like you used to.  It wasn’t as bad.  And you had gotten used to it.

But SOME people.  Those with strength and the ability to ask for help… they rebuild that fence.  They reinforce it.  They build it higher.  They put the fence up anytime and EVERY time the hooligans knock it down.  And this is what life looks like for them when they don’t give up:

Over time, the hooligans realize that breaking down a fence whenever they want to walk through your yard is too much work.  They may still be angry, but they can take their anger out elsewhere.  There are other yards with no fences to play in.

Those who were strong enough to maintain their fences get to keep the peace of their gardens.  They get to enjoy the cool refreshment of their pools, and feel safe at night under the starry skies.  They let safe, healthy people into their yards when they have established that those people will not trample the flowers or kick the chairs into the pool.

Over time, word gets out that your yard is a lovely place to be, as long as a person follows the rules and you decide to allow them to come.  You may take down the big wooden fence you built.  You may install an electric fence- something that allows yourself and others to see in and out of your yard, but which can be activated at any time if needed.  You have also attracted people to you that love your yard and want to help you protect it from damage as well.  Should a hooligan approach with intent to cause harm, they have more than just you to face now.

And sometimes… sometimes one of those old hooligans re-approaches your yard.  You may stiffen as they approach.  But sometimes… in the time apart, a hooligan will realize their bad behavior.  Sometimes they will apologize, and admit wrongdoing.  They may even ask if THEY can come and spend time in your yard with you.  Everyone has said how nice it is.  

Then it is your choice.  You may allow them to visit, if you see they are intent on following the rules now.  Or you may simply acknowledge their apology, and politely say that your yard is rather full these days with other people you enjoy.  Or you may choose not to acknowledge their apology.  Not out of spite and malice, we hope, but from a perspective that this is a person you have decided to give no further time to.  And that is ok too.  


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