Webster’s dictionary defines a boundary as “something that indicates or fixes a limit or extent.”  Boundaries are funny things. Depending on how we exercise, they can include, exclude, divide, protect, or even limit.

During the pandemic, most of us set boundaries to protect ourselves. We have maintained some of those boundaries for many of us, creating a sense of security – but at what cost? We, humans, have an innate need for relationships and community. We don’t do too well in isolation – something in us withers. I believe that I, like many others, have grown accustomed to a lessened sense of connection. It grew in our isolation from our need for safety from something unknowable, unforeseeable, and physically threatening us. I get it. I just encountered Covid for the first time since the outbreak, and to put it in layperson’s terms, it laid me flat out. In this new age, we must consider the boundaries we set for our physical safety and then negotiate our safe passage back over them. We need to find each other again and, in doing so, those things that brought us joy.

Thankfully, boundaries can separate us from those who are not emotionally safe. We have the autonomy to decide who gets a seat at our table and who has the right to have a voice in our world. Some people are too reckless with their words, actions, and intentions to be trusted. There is no crime in protecting ourselves. If you need someone to give you permission, I freely offer it to you now; you have the right to show people to the door who threaten, demean, or fail to support you. The most powerful thing I’ve ever learned was, “Excuse me. I never gave you permission to speak to me that way.” Sometimes when the chips are down, you have to decide – you or me. That is not to say that we need a scorched earth policy with the relationships in our lives, but we do get to set limits – our involvement with others and how involved others are allowed to be in our life.

Friendships can be challenging grounds for boundaries. If you are one of the chosen ones (you know…the friend who is a great listener or an empathic soul everyone calls), watch out. Often people want to feel better immediately and arrive to dump all of their unresolved traumas at your feet and then walk away – discharge, dump, and dip. I hope you know you were not put on this earth to become a convenient emotional garbage can.

Having said that, everybody needs a trusted ‘dirty friend‘ every now and then. That one person you have a history with, mutual love and trust so deep that you can just let it all go at 3 am… and at the end of the conversation, without judgment, hear, “Are you feeling better?” At other times we are ‘blessed’ by having emotionally reckless people in our families. Boundaries still get to apply. You can love someone without liking them or like someone without loving them. You are not required to throw anyone away, but you sure can love them from a safe distance. There are some people, no matter how much we love them, that for our own sake, we need to love from waaaaay down yonder where we can wave at them from time to time. 

The last boundary I want to consider is with ourselves – the hardest one. I don’t know about you, but my self-talk can get downright vicious if I don’t monitor it. It comes from low self-esteem and a place, or if I can beat myself up, I didn’t give you a chance. To paraphrase Martin Luther King, “I ain’t what I oughta be. I ain’t what I want to be. I ain’t what I’m gonna be. But, thank God, I ain’t what I was.” He knew a few things about life, you know. It’s a process of undoing learned behaviors. To change to this self-preserving internal boundary mindset is to work on self-regulation. If you engage in this type of negative self-talk, learn to say out loud, “Stop! Please don’t talk to me that way. I’m worth far more than that.” If you wouldn’t allow others to speak to you harshly, why would you choose to do it to yourself? Even the Bible says in Job 38:11, “Hitherto shalt thou come but no further….” This type of internal boundary takes practice and awareness.

Please give yourself enough love, enough grace, and the gift of growth to set a boundary for yourself. We walk through the world differently when we get really good at boundaries. It signals to the Universe and those around us that we simultaneously expect and offer love and respect. 


Photo by Edz Norton on Unsplash

Jonathan David Cain


Tennessee Valley Museum of Art

511 N. Water St. • Tuscumbia, AL 35674

(256) 383-0533

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