Boundaries are comforting. They can make us feel safe. But as much as we love comfort, there comes a time when we can and should bend on our personal boundaries. We often knowingly and unknowingly set boundaries with strangers to keep us safe from the unknown. As we get to know the person, however, we may feel more comfortable with them and feel we can trust the person with our physical and/or emotional safety. In those instances, we often ease up on the boundary we originally set.
There are two kinds of boundaries though: Firm/Unchanging and Flexible, and the meaning behind them is pretty self-explanatory: you don’t bend on the firm/unchanging ones (e.g., don’t get into the car if the driver is drunk no matter how much you like them or trust them), but you can be more flexible on the flexible ones (don’t share all the dirty details of your whole life story with a person you just met). Being flexible, however, doesn’t mean completely removing or letting up on the boundaries. It just means you are “flexible”. Try not to go from one extreme to another (It’s really easy to do this. I’ve caught myself doing it unknowingly far too many times…)
What makes a firm boundary different from a flexible one?
Distinguishing between the two boundaries is a personal decision only you can and must make, and if you’re not careful, you might mistake an unchanging boundary for a flexible one. As long as you can distinguish between the two, however, bending on the flexible boundaries (only when you’re ready!) becomes easier (even if it’s scary).
Just like there are two kinds of boundaries, there are two kinds of people: People who care about your well-being and people who do NOT care about your well-being. In determining the flexibility of your boundaries, it is important to determine what kind of person you are trying to be flexible with. If you are trying to be flexible with a person who doesn’t care about your well-being, you are setting yourself up for great pain and disappointment. If you are not sure if the person has your well-being in mind, a wise choice would be to remain from compromising that boundary yet. If you are confident the person DOES have your best interest at heart (because their actions- NOT THEIR WORDS- show it), then you can move forward on determining how to be more flexible (if that is what you want to do).
The rule of thumb in bending boundaries is to ask yourself if by bending, will you be jeopardizing your own integrity? Will it threaten your safety? Will you have your self-respect in tact?
Human relationships are pretty malleable. That means that they can change their form from one moment to the next. When determining the flexibility of your boundary, you need to determine if the person or relationship of which boundary is in question has changed to a point in which you feel confident about that person’s personal integrity, motivations, and character. In other words, do you trust this person enough to bend at this point? If not, that’s ok. That’s why the boundary is there in the first place- to protect your safety.
If you feel your relationship is at a point where you can ease up a bit (i.e., you feel a little more safe), you need to ask yourself WHY you feel that way. This is the most important piece of the puzzle. Really sit down and write it out if you have to. What has this person done to make you feel more safe? What has changed from then until now?
IMPORTANT: If you are bending on your boundary because you just “feel” like it’s safe now, think again. Trusting is important, but after a large betrayal, for example, trust must be earned back through changed behavior. It is not possible for even the healthiest and smartest of individuals to just “know” if another person is a good person or not. We simply don’t have the ability or capacity as human beings to make that decision and it is exactly because of that false belief that we got ourself into this mess (unhealthy relationships) in the first place. That doesn’t mean that we have to go around assuming everyone is evil and out to harm us (that would be going to an extreme). It simply means that personal boundaries are the foundation from which all healthy relationships form.
That said, if you are at a point where you feel you can ease up on, or be more flexible with certain boundaries, make the decision based on facts and actions – not a hunch. I don’t know how they do it, but the people that don’t have your well-being in mind tend to be people that are experts at false impressions and manipulation. In my experience, as bad as these people truly are, they are also experts at making the rest of the world believe they are really great people. Your boundaries are the key to your safety, always.
- IMPORTANT: Just because a person may have some great traits doesn’t make them a great person. E.g., A really smart person doesn’t always equal a really kind person.
Boundaries are created to protect what is important to us. For me, honesty and accountability in a relationship is one of the most important keys to telling me if I can be more flexible or not.
I was in a relationship in which my partner was unable to be honest to me about both big things and little things. My partner was habitually unfaithful and I had no idea it was happening because he was so good at lying about where he was and what he was doing. For me, the determining factor of whether I could trust this person wasn’t if he told me the truth about his past affairs and swore he’d never do it again (Hello?! That better be a given!), but if he could continue to tell me the truth about small things. Small things like, “What time are you coming home?”, “Where did you go last night?”, and “How many beers did you get with the guys?” as well as reliability questions like if he says he is going to do something, does he actually do it? Does he make excuses for why he couldn’t? In that relationship, although he wasn’t acting out anymore, I could tell he was clearly still struggling to live an honest and transparent life. I knew I couldn’t count on him to be completely honest so I had to maintain several of my personal boundaries until I felt we were at a place I could trust his honesty.
Specifically, if a person is continuing to violate your boundaries or trust, unfortunately that means that he/she doesn’t respect you or your boundaries. Ending that relationship is usually the best way to go. If someone disregards small boundaries, they will disregard the bigger ones and the disregard will only get worse. If the person has identified your boundaries (because you made them clear and adequately maintained them) and was able to respect them completely, you now know you can be more flexible on certain flexible boundaries (and because relationships are always changing, you have the right to reinforce the previous boundaries if the person has slipped and violated them again or has proven untrustworthy). If, for this specific person, he/she continuously violates this boundary, then for this specific person, this specific boundary now becomes a PERMANENT boundary. This is why the boundaries are so important and why they serve as a key to both your sanity, health, and happiness.