The Boundary Pendulum

Jul 23, 2022

I was thinking about boundaries today after hanging out with a new friend who had been telling me a story about exploding in fury after being walked upon for a long time. Ugh. I totally get this. A long time ago I came up with what I call the Boundary Pendulum. My new friend said she hadn't been raised with boundaries. Yep, me neither.

There are whole generations of people who don't know about boundaries still. I've always been into self help and when I first started hearing about boundaries, probably in my late 20s—early 30s maybe, I remember talking to my mom about it and both of us saying, "What the heck does that even mean? Is that like putting up a wall? I don't want to live behind a wall!"


It took awhile to figure it out, a long time to even begin to understand how and where to use them, and even longer to actually use them. Having been walked on all my life, you can imagine that I had a long fuse. Or maybe it would be better to say, my fuse had been yanked out of me completely. So, once I figured out what my boundaries were, it still took quite some time of them being crossed before I could say, "Enough." The whole time that I knew my boundary was being crossed I'd be getting more and more angry until I was boiling mad and that "enough" came out as the bellow of a mama bear whose cub has just been hurt, "ENOOOOOUGH!!!" Oh dear...

After the roar came the moment that I realized that I had never even discussed the boundary with the person in the first place. Whoops. Sigh. I realized that in learning this, that I had never had any actual training, I was just flailing around figuring it out on my own. Here are the steps I wish I had known (feel free to jump in if you have more or different steps!:

Step 1: Define the word "boundaries." A boundary is just a limit we set with other people—the behaviors that are acceptable or unacceptable. If you're like me and so many others, and you didn't grow up with any, this takes some time to figure out. For me, some of that time was spent figuring out how I treated myself (putting myself last, internal negative self talk, negative self talk out loud, no self care, etc) which other people saw and followed suit. Ick.

Step 2: Find a safe person to have a boundary with. This can be surprisingly hard. Even perfectly lovely people, when faced with someone who has no boundaries, will often treat you the way you treat you. My safe person was my husband B-Rad. He has excellent apology skills and actually unknowingly taught me to apologize in the same way ("I'm sorry. I didn't mean it. I will fix it/do better," and actually mean it.) I didn't know people could apologize like that, particularly men.

Step 3: This one is really important! Tell your person what the boundary is! Out loud lol, not in your head. Not in the, "Well, it's obvious, they should have known," kind of way. Not in the passive aggressive way. And if you're having problems speaking this out loud, set up an appointment with me :-) the horses and I can help you find your voice! A simple example: When faced with someone mansplaining something to you, "That was condescending. Please don't do that."

Step 4: The next time they mansplain, you let them have it with both barrels. LOL, I'm kidding! Of course it would be great if you were to say immediately after the next mansplaining session, "Hey. That's not ok. I've asked you not to do that, it's really rude."

But that rarely happens the first time out of the gate! So, I'm here to tell you about the Boundary Pendulum! Get ready for the ride! The deal is, if you've never had boundaries before, you will absolutely wait too long to say anything after someone crosses that first boundary. It might be a week, maybe even a month! You will stew over it. I sure did. And each time he mansplains to you over that month of stewing, you'll get more and more mad. "I told him not to do that anymore! And he's not listening to me!" And you finally get so angry that you just explode, "I said, 'No more mansplaining!'" at the top of your lungs. Maybe you cry and scream. Maybe you yell so loud that the eyes of the person you're yelling at go wide and their hair starts blowing back from all the fury blowing out of you.

Once you blow yourself out and stand there panting, the other person looks at you quietly and says, "Gosh. I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to, I didn't even realize I was doing it. I'll do better."

You feel like an absolute idiot for biting their head off.

And that's the pendulum. You came in like a wrecking ball because you didn't say something the minute, the second, after it happened.

On the left is the no boundaries that you grew up with. On the other side of the pendulum is screaming rage when someone crosses one—because you waited so long to say, "No."

So with B-Rad, I realized that he had seen me in a certain way for a very long time. He was used to me saying ridiculous things about myself. He was used to mansplaining to me and I had put up with it for years. My wanting boundaries meant that I was making big changes in myself and that he had to make big changes to himself too. He had to start seeing me the way I was learning to see myself. I was making mistakes left and right, I had to accept that he would make mistakes too.

But I can promise that as you become more aware of the Boundary Pendulum, and the length of time between someone crossing a boundary and you putting your foot down, you will shorten the pendulum swing. Eventually it will be swinging back and forth, gently, just a few inches from center. Will it ever reach equilibrium? I don't know. Maybe. I'm not there yet so I can't say ;-)

And because I can't go a week without a few funny memes:


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