I’ve been thinking a lot about boundaries lately in conjunction with some reading and musing recently about my personality. As a life-long learner, I’m always excited to learn more about what makes me tick and helps me understand others. I’m familiar with the Myers-Briggs personality testing (If anyone is interested, I’m solidly an ISTJ) and I learned a lot more when I completed Strength Finders testing and discussions while I was working.
Recently I took a test to figure out my Enneagram type, which I now understand is loosely based on both Meyers-Briggs and Strength Finders. The nine (9) Enneagram types, which are organized in a circle like this picture, have underlying physical and emotional components:
In this circle, the arrows show that different types will do some things that mark a different type when something is going well or something is not going as well (bottom left). I am solidly a type 8, which comes with balconies/strengths in the way that I can get things done as well as basements/stress in the way that I can often get into a rut of only expressing anger and attacking people. There’s lots of great resources online for understanding your type and how you interact with other personality types; one of my favorites is SaraJane Case. I joined her community and was recently very convicted about how I’ve looked at boundaries in the past and currently.
Bottom line for me is that boundaries are not always bad and, while we don’t always set them in the best way, looking at how well balanced boundaries can be set and enforced is key in determining how best to go about it. Here’s a list of things to consider when you think a boundary might be helpful:
First, recognizing where a boundary is needed. It is often difficult to figure out if you are setting a boundary or attempting to control someone. For me, I have a high desire to control circumstances so that I can protect myself from being hurt. I have to think very carefully about why I’m setting a boundary before communicating it.
Secondly, if you conclude that you do indeed need to set a boundary, how would it help you? This is my version of beginning with the end in mind since you need to be able to think about the pros and cons of putting the boundary in place.
Third, looking at how someone else who has set a good boundary is also a really great fodder for research. The people in your life who you want to set boundaries for won’t likely be super happy about that since others often benefit when a person doesn’t have boundaries, or think they do. Here’s some good examples: no calls during dinner; setting office hours in the way that makes your life better; turning down speaking opportunities in light of diversity issues or time issues.
Fourth, here’s a step by step process that you may want to apply to your own evaluation of boundaries: 1) identify the boundary you want to set or has been violated; 2) express the boundary in such a way as it is the only “ask” among multiple positive things that are genuine and not flattery; 3) express the consequences of the violation of the boundary; and 4) follow through with the consequences immediately. Notice how it looks a lot like parenting??
Fifth, consider how your perspective, your personality will color how you view and interpret your own boundaries and the boundaries of others. Here’s a list from Sarajane Case that describes how she views how each of the Enneagram types may react within the subject of boundaries.
1 – You are only able to set boundaries about things that are coming INTO your space. Reaching into the space of another is not boundary setting.
2 – You are still going to be loved if you set a boundary for yourself.
3 – Your success isn’t dependent on your ability to over-sacrifice.
4 – You are in control of how you feel. What you allow into your field impacts your motivation and boundaries are here to support you in creating a life that feels the way you want to feel.
5 – Recognize where you have boundaries up that aren’t only keeping out what doesn’t serve you but also keeping out things and people that are here for good as well.
6 – You aren’t a bad friend/daughter/mother for setting boundaries are your energy.
7 – Be cautious of using boundaries as a way to escape feeling negative emotions. You can’t boundary your way out of feeling things that are uncomfortable for you.
8 – Setting a boundary after one bad incident may not serve you long-term. You may not “need’ other people but you may want them around in the long run. All people are flawed and will let you down. It’s about finding the people whose flaws you can live with.
9 – The only people who resent your boundaries are the people who benefit from you not having any!adapted from writings by Sarajane Case. Check out her Instagram feed and follow her witty and timely posts to learn more about each type and how these explanations might help you better understand your personality.
It helps me to put my reactions in to context and into words that resonate with me. My type’s greatest fear is to have others control me and to be out of control. Since boundaries are a way of controlling others and their interactions with me, I’ve often been too hard on others and set boundaries in a draconian way that doesn’t serve me or others. Recognizing this in my life helps me to identify when I’m being triggered and when I can take two steps back and think about what I really want before setting boundaries that are too harsh.
I’m still not good at this, but since I’m learning more about this, I’m working hard to apply these lessons in my daily life. And that’s all we can do, right? Continue to learn and when we know more, we do better.