Protecting Your Garden: A Lesson on Boundaries

A common side effect of experiencing trauma* is a lack of boundaries in our inter- (between us and others) and intra- (between parts of ourself) personal relationships.

A lack of boundaries shows up in a myriad of ways. • Someone forgets to text or call you back and you find yourself convinced that you’ve done something wrong and they no longer want to be in your life. • Your boss asks you if you have time to do something that isn’t in your job description, you immediately say yes without thinking, and then later notice a feeling of being taken advantage of or over-extending yourself. • Your partner comes home and starts complaining about their day. You start suggesting things they could do to feel better and when they don’t take your advice, you feel defensive and frustrated. • You spend time with someone who is depressed or anxious and when they leave you notice that you are feeling down, as if you have taken on their energy.

Your inner space, your well being, your emotions, your sanity, your ability to make decisions, and your energetic presence make up your garden. This garden is yours to plant, arrange, protect, and nurture; you are the master gardener.

Each of us has a garden. All of our gardens are unique and beautiful in their own way. Each of us also has the decision about what separates our garden from other people’s gardens. You get to make the decision about what the partition looks like in every scenario and relationship you encounter. These partitions represent the boundaries that we have the power to establish, notice when they have crossed, and hold when they are being tested.

Through this post I will take you through an exercise I commonly use with my clients to identify where your boundaries are and how you might make them more aligned with how you want to be. Now, I invite you inward, into your sacred space, into your garden.

Bring up a recent experience where you felt that someone else’s behavior significantly effected how you felt. Hold this experience in your mind’s eye and allow an image to form that represents the worst part of that experience for you. Now, follow these cues and answer these questions for yourself as pertaining to this scenario:

  • Holding the image in your mind, what emotions are you feeling now? What body sensations do you notice? These are your triggers for noticing that a boundary has been crossed. Take note of these.
  • Bring in the visualization of your garden and the garden of the other person in this scenario. Who’s garden are you in? Who’s garden is the other person in? Are either of you picking each other’s flowers, with or without consent?
  • What does the partition around your garden look like right now? Is there a fence/wall? How tall is it? Is there gaps in it? Do you have a door on your partition? Is there a lock on it? Does the other person have a key?
  • If they are in your garden, how did they get in? Did you (unconsciously or consciously) let them in, or did they come in without your consent?
  • Notice what emotions and body sensations come up from answering these questions. Take a breathe into your belly.
  • Now, let’s think about how you would like to be in a future situation similar to this one.
  • What kind of partition would you like to have with this person in this scenario? What does your fence/wall look like? Does your partition have a door? Is there a lock on it? Would you like this other person to have a key?
  • Consider how you might communicate with this person between your separate gardens, or not communicate.
  • If this person wants to come into your garden, or you want to let them in, how does this happen? Are they allowed to come in when they please? Do they have to knock on the door? How do you decide when they have to leave (if you’ve let them in)?
  • If you are someone who tends to stray into other people’s gardens, ask yourself how your garden looks when you spend so much time away from it.

Next time you notice an emotion or body sensation (noted above) that triggers your awareness of a boundary being crossed, take a moment to check in with your garden. Ask yourself where you currently are, and where you would like to be. Visualize the partitions between your garden and the other persons, and place yourself where you want to be. Take a few deep breaths, and re-enter the experience with your new awareness and established boundaries.

Your responses to these prompts could fall anywhere on a large spectrum. Boundaries look and feel different for every person, in every scenario. What is important to remember is that, while we can’t control what anyone else’s gardens or fences look like, we always have control over our own garden, sometimes it just takes a little gardening. 

*trauma: any disturbing experience(s), internal or external, that disrupts your ability to biologically, psychologically, socially, or spiritually function in a stable manner, relative to your level of awareness as a developing human.