What Makes a “Good” Boundary Good

Boundaries have recently come back into my ponderings. It’s not like they ever go away-away, but I’m currently reading Atlas of the Heart by Brene Brown. (P.S. SO. GOOD.) She talks a lot about boundaries in her writing. 

It’s interesting, when I mention boundaries in my workshops and classes, I often get a mixed reaction about them. I have people that are like, “Yes! Boundaries!” and others that just groan and don’t want to talk about them. I get it. I sometimes groan about boundaries too. Like what even are they? And why are they so much work? And while there are definitely different views from people in my classes, both categories actually meet in the middle on one specific thing when it comes to boundaries: They’re confused about what makes a good boundary “good”. 

It’s not a black or white thing. There isn’t a set of boundaries that work for everyone. If it were that easy, I’d just make a PDF of boundaries to follow and print a million copies. We’re all unique. My boundaries may not work for you, and your boundaries may not work for me. So where does that leave us?

In comes Brene Brown to the rescue. (Thank god she exists!) She talks a lot about how boundaries are both “what’s not ok” AND “what is ok”. I think this is critical when forming our own. I know when I first started putting boundaries down, I really focused on only what wasn’t ok for me. But that really did a disservice to myself and those around me because I didn’t give them any real clear information on what was “ok”. I didn’t give them any idea of which direction to go. 

Brene Brown says, “When people set a boundary with us, we can feel that they’re denying us our right to our thinking and feeling. When we explain up front what’s ok, we move the focus to where it belongs: This expression of your feelings or thinking is the problem.”

Light bulb moment!

It’s ok to be angry, but not to scream at me.

It’s ok to have different religious views than me, but not to judge me or make me feel less than for not agreeing with you.

It’s ok to need something different than I do in a relationship, but it’s not ok to try to put me in your box or make me fit what you need.

I love this. A lot. She also includes this quote in her book:

 “Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously.” — Prentis Hemphill

YES. THIS. Healthy boundaries allow us to love both ourselves and the other person. At. The. Same. Time. Absolute Magic. 

So take a few moments today after you read this email and look at your boundaries. Do they tell people what is not ok AND what is ok? You may have done half the work already and just need to follow up with the other 50%. You may have to do 100% of the work. That’s ok. Just get started at cleaning up those boundaries, so you can love yourself and them at the same time.

And remember: A good boundary should make you feel expansive–not constricted.

You can purchase Atlas of the Heart by Brene Brown, and support local bookshops here:

Last Updated:
April 21, 2024