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How to Set Boundaries in Relationships (Without Putting Up Walls)

Have you ever put up a wall to protect yourself but then cut yourself off from the connection required to experience anything truly meaningful?

This is happening because you’ve put up a wall instead of setting a boundary.

In this article I want to share with you the difference between putting up a wall and setting a boundary and how you can set effective boundaries in order to gain something safe, intimate, meaningful and connected.

Having deep intimacy and connection with someone is such a beautiful feeling and the more vulnerable you can be the greater the connection will be.

This is true for couples that are romantically in love.

This is true sexually.

And it is also true for friendships.

The more vulnerable we are the more connected we will feel because when someone is vulnerable their guard is down and you can access deeper parts of them.

When someone has their guard up or a wall around them the relationship might make sense but it’s going to feel disconnected. Both people will feel separate from one another and eventually turn elsewhere to get their emotional needs met.

For both people it will become frustrating because they aren’t getting the connection they desire and eventually they will either settle for an emotionally mundane and stagnant relationship or they will go their separate ways to get their deeper needs met.

If sex is still happening at this stage it will be a physical process but missing the connection, depth and intimacy of true love-making.

Simply put, in order to have deep intimacy and connection, both people must have the ability to drop their guard and be vulnerable.

But, there's a problem…

Even though most people want this level of connection they struggle to be vulnerable because of the reason they put up walls in the first place which was to protect themselves from being hurt.

The same reason you’d put a fence around your house or build a wall between two towns, it is purely there for protection and safety.

Why do people put walls up?

When people don’t feel physically safe they build a physical barricade between themselves and the threat to keep the threat out and lower their chances of being hurt in the future.

When people feel emotionally unsafe they build an emotional barricade between themselves and the threat to keep the threat out and lower their chances of being hurt in the future.

The only reason you’d assume something was unsafe and needed protection is because of a painful past experience, and so essentially someone is assuming those past pains will continue to happen in the future.

If your house got burgled or your town got attacked then you might want to build a fence or a wall to stop it happening again.

If your heart got broken or you felt emotional pain because you let someone get close and then they let you down you might want to build a fence or a wall around your heart to protect your feelings.

The problem is that by putting up the wall based on a past experience you are simultaneously cutting off so much potential for future love and abundance.

A person with emotional walls up will be overly independent because the last time they were dependent on someone else they ended up getting hurt, but for a relationship to work there needs to be an element of dependence otherwise there is no purpose to the relationship.

Humans are dependent creatures, so anyone that rejects dependency is going to miss out on human connection. I know this because that was me, the independent ‘Lone Wolf’.

When two humans are partially dependent on one another we get a synthesis of dependence and independence called interdependence which is what we want in order to thrive.

The problem with putting up walls and being overly independent is that people not only become imprisoned behind their own wall, but other people will be hesitant to connect with them as the energetic barricade acts as a deterrent.

If a woman says “I can do it myself” or “I don’t need a man” then not only is she lying, but she’s also acting out of pain in order to gain safety.

If a man says “I’d rather have a dog, there's less drama” or “I don’t need a woman” then they are acting out of pain in order to gain safety.

By building walls we gain safety but we lose connection.

So what should someone do if they want to stay safe but also maintain the openness required to build deeper connections?

This is where setting boundaries comes in.

Walls V Boundaries

Walls and boundaries are essentially different degrees of the same thing.

Both are setup in order to gain safety, but there are small nuances that separate the two.

To understand the difference between walls and boundaries let's look at it within the physical plane.

Walls are physical barricades, nothing comes out or goes in unless of course you build some doors.

Boundaries are imaginary zones with rules and guidelines about who can or can’t enter and the expected behaviour once you’re within a set boundary.

For example; Look at the boundaries between countries, there are laws about who can and can't enter and the expectations around behaviour once you are within a certain boundary.

Walls are usually built out of fear to protect one entity.

Boundaries are usually built out of love to ensure the safety of multiple entities.

For example, a person would put up a fence to protect themselves, not to protect their neighbours, and a country would build a wall to protect itself from invasion not to protect their enemy.

But if someone was to set a boundary they are taking into consideration the complexity of multiple different aspects, contexts and entities.

So instead of building a fence the neighbour might call a meeting and make some suggestions about what is allowed and what is not allowed so that the energy between neighbours is less hostile and more friendly.

Or instead of a country building a wall they would negotiate terms on who can cross the boundary or border.

A boundary is a set of guidelines that are put in place so that everyone involved knows where they stand and feel safe enough to operate within the guidelines. This allows everyone to move freely without the fear of being hurt by someone else’s inappropriate behaviour.

This is the same with emotional walls and boundaries.

Emotional walls are barricades that are put in place to protect one entity.

Emotional boundaries are imaginary zones with certain guidelines that allow everyone to move freely without the fear of being hurt.

Your personal emotional boundaries are a set of guidelines for what is allowed and what is not allowed within your space.

These guidelines are in place so that you know what is ok and what is not ok, what behaviour you accept and what behaviour you don’t accept, who is allowed in and who isn’t allowed in etc…

With good boundaries people can get close enough to connect with you but if you feel someone has crossed a line you can communicate to reinforce the boundary.

Boundaries let us both connect and protect simultaneously.

In intimate relationships this leads to depth, intimacy and incredible connections.

In friendships this leads to lifelong bonds.

For your personal fulfilment it leads to an openness and an expansive love for life.

Here are some core differences between walls and boundaries.

How do you drop your walls and set up boundaries instead?

Remember that walls and boundaries are different degrees of the same thing so it’s not an easy black and white “stop doing this and start doing that”.

It’s more about looking at why you have such strong defences and then deconstructing the walls little by little until you find yourself feeling safe enough to let someone in.

This means the changes that we can make in order to start moving towards healthy boundaries instead of concrete walls are more subtle and nuanced.

Intimacy needs vulnerability, and vulnerability needs safety, so safety is where we start when setting boundaries, but safety means different things to different people.

If someone has had a traumatic or deeply painful experience they are going to see safety very differently than someone that has been loved their entire life.

So it is your personal perception of safety that we need to look at and build guidelines around.

Once you are clear on what constitutes safety for you, you can create guidelines that allow you to feel safe and also allow you to attain more connection. Then little by little the walls start to come down further as your boundaries and guidelines become more well formed.

This way the level of intimacy you experience increases incrementally as you feel safer within your guidelines and proceed to deconstruct your walls.

“Your walls will come down and intimacy will increase at the same rate in which you shift your perceptions of safety”

-John Templeton

If I was with a client the most important thing I would need from them before we started looking at boundaries would be looking at their emotional state. If they were not present, grounded and in an authentic state then they wouldn’t be able to set accurate boundaries.

A present, grounded, authentic state lies at the heart of all successful decision making.

After I’d regulated their nervous system and brought them into authenticity, I'd ask some of the following questions to start understanding their needs for safety…

  1. What are red flags you look for when it comes to your emotional safety in a relationship? Why are they red flags?

  2. What would you want the other person to know about your fears and concerns? Why would you want them to know?

  3. What would you perceive to be a crossing a line within a relationship? Why is that crossing the line?

  4. What are deal breakers? Why are they deal breakers? Are you sure it’s a deal breaker, are there any scenarios that would change that? Why is it a deal breaker?

  5. Is it the action or the intention behind the action that makes you feel unsafe? Why?

The reason I would ask “why” is because it will get to the root of their belief systems where the truth lies and the biggest changes can be made.

If you’re doing this alone then the core difference between an empowered person that has healthy boundaries and a disempowered person that puts up walls is the fact that an empowered person will dive deep into the root cause, look at the specific details and assess how they feel within different contextual situations.

For example, if someone says they will be home at 3 and they get home at 4 you might say they are a liar and hold resentment towards them; but if you found out later that the reason they were late was because they were arranging a surprise for your birthday then maybe you wouldn’t feel so bad about it.

Remember, what is not ok in some situations might be ok in other situations and healthy boundaries are intricate, detailed and forever moving and adapting.

You also need to build your guidelines around what your heart desires and not just your ego taking a protective stance which is essentially what a wall is.

The next hurdle people find is that even if they do have guidelines they struggle to communicate or enforce them because they fear losing the other person's love or acceptance. This then leads them to getting hurt again and going back to building walls.

Once you have your guidelines setup and have openly communicated them then you are ready to relate at deeper and deeper levels. The safer you feel the more the boundaries can move and allow more and more intimacy into your relationship.

Here are the 6 logical steps that someone should go through.

  1. Ground yourself so that you are poised, rational and in a state of authenticity.

  2. Discover the beliefs and rules you currently have in place for safety in regards to specific situations within a relationship.

  3. Break down the rules and beliefs to fully understand where they originally came from.

  4. Remove old beliefs and rules and replace them with new updated ones that allow more connection and maintain enough safety.

  5. Build your new rules and beliefs into a set of guidelines of what is and isn’t acceptable depending on the context.

  6. Communicate your guidelines with the necessary people at the appropriate times.

  7. Continue to shift your perception of safety to open up deeper and deeper levels of intimacy.

The safer someone feels the more open they become.

The more someone heals and shifts their perceptions the more invulnerable they become which enables them to provide safety for themselves regardless of other people's actions.

This is why people that have empowered perceptions have the healthiest boundaries because they are emotionally invulnerable and have no need for walls whatsoever.

So if you find yourself lacking deep connection and intimacy because of your solid defensive structures then it is a step by step process of redefining safety based on more truthful perceptions rather than old wounds.

Once you have redefined safety and built your guidelines you must then communicate those guidelines openly and honestly without the fear of losing love or acceptance.

I hope this article has been beneficial to you and if you have enjoyed this article please leave a comment or share it with anyone you feel could benefit from reading it.

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