Healthy boundaries

Boundaries are the distance at which
I can love you and me simultaneously.

Prentis Hemphill

A healthy boundary is one that supports us to create the conditions we or our group need, to be able to learn to love more of what we currently resist, reject and marginalise.

Radical inclusivity can be misunderstood to mean saying yes! to everything and not holding boundaries around behaviours that may undermine the health of an individual or group.

Holding healthy boundaries is essential for health and effectiveness in the world, at the personal and collective level. Many social and ecological change groups struggle or fall apart due to unexamined beliefs that holding boundaries around certain behaviours or ways of being is bad and wrong - when in fact they are an essential ingredient for health and transformation.

On the other hand, many large institutions tend to impose discriminatory rules and regulations that exclude people and ways of being. What's more this is often carried out in unconscious ways that are destructive for both the individuals involved - and ultimately the collective who bears the understandable wrath of those marginalised by our mainstream culture and the rules and regulations imposed to uphold it.

Imposing boundaries, or rules and regulations, unconsciously to avoid feeling the discomfort that difference can evoke, is not at all the same thing as holding healthy boundaries. To be healthy, boundaries need to be introduced with an awareness that they are needed due to our own limitations to welcome difference, rather than any behaviour being wrong per se - unless of course the behavior in question is clearly an abuse of structural or physical power inequalities.

Healthy boundaries require us to be aware of and work through our reactions and biases around difference to enable more informed choices about how to proceed in ways that are in service of the whole, whilst not going over our limits in ways that undermine our, or our group’s, ability to be healthy and contribute in the world.

Flexible boundaries

Finally, it is important to remember that healthy boundaries are flexible and responsive to change as it emerges - rather than fixed and rigid rules and regulations. Flexible boundaries require us to pay attention to and seek feedback from everyone that our actions are impacting so that we can stay attuned to what will most serve the whole, and our wider commitment to deep cultural transformation in service of the whole earth community.

Myriad inner practices can help us develop what is needed to embrace those behaviours, ways of being - or even types of people, that cause us discomfort and/or nervous system dysregulation, and to hold space for others to do the same. What's more, the more we learn to understand, welcome and love those aspects of ourselves that we've been culturally conditioned to reject, the more we learn to love and have compassion for any difference showing up in relation to others, even and most vitally those behaviours and people we've been conditioned to fear, reject and oppress.

White fragility

White fragility refers to the tendency for those racialised as white to resist acknowledging racism because it generates feelings we don’t want to feel in relation to the role white supremacy has played in the systemic oppression and abuse of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC).

The term ‘white fragility’ can be extended to all the other identities that our mainstream culture systematically marginalises and oppresses. For example; male fragility, able-bodied fragility; hetero-normative fragility; gender-normative fragility; neuro-normative fragility.

For those of us committed to co-creating inner-led change and the relational cultures that support this, we need to be inquiring into where we may unconsciously be imposing boundaries in relation to identies and ways of being as a result of our cultural conditioning.


Image credits

Dancer: Photo by Olivia Bauso on Unsplash

Eggshells: Image by Bruno /Germany from Pixabay