Does It Have To Hurt?

By the time most of us have reached middle age, we’ve learned a thing or two about boundaries.

Not only are they necessary for our personal and professional well-being and protection, they also add shape and depth to relationships by providing limits, creating a well-defined (even if invisible) container.

And creating, setting, and holding boundaries can be a challenging endeavor.

Case in point: several months ago I made an absolute hash of setting a boundary with my own sister. I came on like an angry buffalo raging through a china shop, when a few simple, clear words would have done a perfectly fine job…

And would not have hurt my beloved sibling.

No excuses, by the way. I was strident, confrontational, and totally out of line.

Last week I was speaking with a friend and colleague who was, for lack of a better way of putting it, recovering from a severe boundary bender.

Without breaking any confidences, they’d been pushed into a corner for the Nth time, and seeing the potential for damage with incredible clarity, stepped in with a level of protective determination they had not previously experienced – or expressed.

Given the history, what they did was precisely what the circumstance called for…

And however necessary, it was also a wildly uncomfortable and yes, painful.

In taking the actions to create the boundary, they found themselves on the unfamiliar side of a familiar fence. Landing suddenly in unknown territory, without map, compass points, or recognizable landmarks to navigate by was disorienting.

The potential of that kind of disorientation is but one reason people hesitate when it comes to setting boundaries. After all, even when patterned annoyances (or worse) rear their heads in relationships, they’re familiar and therefore on this side of the known. They’re within our comfort zone.

In the case of my friend, staying with the familiar also meant putting up with behaviors that impacted their entire social system. When the behaviors showed up, they were like rogue waves shaking the family foundation like a temblor – each successive after-shock adding to the damage.

And it hurt.

Because the boundary could not be clearly set without upsetting more than one apple cart, because it led to uncharted territory, it left them with more questions than answers.

We just happened to connect the day after, when the raw residue was still exposed and in need of attention, care, and healing.

Here’s the thing: While we can imagine, even plan, for what comes next in great detail and with wonderful intentions, as soon as those plans involve another human being, all bets are off. When our actions impact a wider family, community, or organizational system, there’s going to be an exponential increase in complexity…

And without access to a quality time machine, there’s simply no way of knowing what’s really going to be on the other side of declaring a clear boundary.

There is, of course, a lot more to my friend’s story than I’ve shared here – and time and conscious engagement on their part will determine outcomes…

When it comes to setting boundaries, does it have to hurt?

No, certainly not in every case.

On the other hand, the long-term consequences of not creating boundaries, allowing harmful patterns to continue, seems far more predictable – and full of potential for even more hurt.

My friend is one who courageously asks for help, digs in and does their work. I’m confident that, with time and practice, they’ll stick the landing.

What about you?

What are you facing that might, for the sake of the health of a relationship, your family, or your organization, require setting or updating boundaries?