Figuring out boundaries can be hard. We know we need them, but our inner monologue is confusing: How much is enough? How much is too much? Where do I start? What if it leads to missed opportunities? What if I hurt somebody’s feelings in the process?
Learning simple tools or skills along the way can make creating and maintaining boundaries easier. One tool to add to your toolbox is something I like to call “Respecting The V.” It’s especially great for those who like a good visual.
“Respecting The V” is simple. Think about a V shape. The bottom of a V is closed, the two lines touch completely and there is no space between them. As you go up the V, the two lines slowly and evenly open up.
That model is a great way to begin and evolve your boundaries. You start with the teeniest tiniest amount of openness. As time goes on and the other person or institution earns your trust, you can start moving up the V, adding more space and flexibility.
This isn’t about being aloof, cold, or unkind. This is about finding value in guarding your heart, your mind, your space, your wellbeing, your whole life until experience and your inner wisdom have told you that you are safe to open up your V a little bit more.
Here’s why “Respecting The V” is essential: it is so very difficult when you’re faced with reversing it. Starting off with wide-open boundaries and then needing to pull it all back can feel impossible. A lot of hurt and damage can happen along the way.
This concept is applicable to any area of life, but let’s look at three scenarios in particular: children, work, and romantic relationships. It can be easier to understand a concept when you relate it to common real-life moments.
Respecting The V with Your Children
I used to do home visits with families and have seen households where the children have complete control—no boundaries whatsoever. Some would pull off my purse when I stepped in the door and go through it without asking. They would turn the TV on and off whenever they wanted. They would grab any kind of snack at any time of the day.
Similarly, I’ve worked with parents who open the gate to mature content far too quickly with things like violent video games, haunted houses, or age inappropriate adult discussions. Why are we placing ideas in these innocent minds so soon? We can never take them back.
Let’s be clear: all this is not giving your children freedom. This is immensely stressful for not only the parents (and visitors), but also for the children who do not have standards, routines, and rituals to keep them grounded and steady. No 5-year-old mind is ready to make all the decisions. It’s too much to ask of them.
In all these scenarios above, the V is way too open. While you can always start today to fix the boundaries, that road is tough. It’s better and easier to start small and open up as they get older and more mature.
Think about a healthy V in terms of bedtime:
- Your adult child decides whenever they go to bed (wide open)
- Your teen child may know they need to be home in their room by a certain time, but whether or not they are in bed asleep is up to them (mostly open)
- Your elementary school child has a time where they must be in bed, but they have the choice to fall asleep or to read for 30 minutes if they don’t feel sleepy (less open)
- Your baby/toddler has a strict bedtime, where lights are off and the sound machine is on at a certain time each evening (not open)
Want some more tips on parenting with boundaries? Check out my article on common sense parenting HERE.
Respecting The V with Your Job
When you land a new job, it’s important to take time to observe your new environment before jumping into making changes or accepting responsibilities outside your explicit job description.
Here’s an example: You are a teacher starting at a new school. On your second day there, you meet a fellow teacher in the breakroom, and they are really nice to you. They suggest you may want to consider joining the yearbook committee with them. Instead of saying yes right away, you can observe.
Maybe this teacher will be a wonderful friend, and they just want you to feel connected to your co-workers and some of the best students at your school since you’re new. Maybe this teacher hates working with the under-budgeted, overextended yearbook committee and sees you as fresh meat who could potentially take over.
You won’t know this right away, but there is something you can know for sure. Once you agree, it can be really hard to back out. If the situation is worse than you hoped, you’ll now find yourself with a new job at a new school (already a challenge) and stressing out about a committee you aren’t even being paid for—one that is taking time away from your family, friends, and yourself.
Similarly, if you jump into making huge changes to the position and/or the company right away, you may have missed some of the nuances along the way. Maybe the system for time off seems like it needs an overhaul, but as you get to know your co-workers, you learn the valid reasons behind it and realize it doesn’t need to be shifted.
That is why whenever you are in a new job, pay attention first. Act after you’ve gained wisdom and experience.
Respecting The V with Your Romantic Relationships
Many people who have found themselves in unhappy relationships did not have a partner who went from being a sweetheart to being a jerk in the blink of an eye. There are often signs along the way. When we start a relationship with boundaries that are too wide open, we may not pay close enough attention to the red flags; there is something to be said about the phrase “love is blind.”
Say you’ve reversed your V because this man you met checks off so many of the boxes. Maybe he is adoring, attentive, and kind to you, but you see him get overly angry and mean with staff at restaurants. Then maybe you see him take anger out on a pet. Then, at some point, you become the target of that anger. If you “respect the V” at the first signs of problematic anger, you can cut something off before it becomes worse.
Similarly, what is acceptable with a long-time married couple is not necessarily acceptable with a brand new relationship. A couple who has been together for a long time has built trust with one another, so the V can be wider.
Here’s an example: you’ve been married to your spouse for years. You are normally home early on Thursday nights. This last Thursday, you forgot to mention to your spouse that you were meeting an out-of-town friend for dinner. During your main course, you look at your phone and see multiple missed calls—your spouse was worried about you. You call them back, apologize for the poor communication, and all is well.
Now say you have been dating somebody for two weeks. They have no expectations about where you’d be and why. While out to dinner with your friend, you noticed several missed calls and texts from the person you’re dating because they wanted to know where you were.
You’ve loosened the boundary of total autonomy over your time with your spouse, and that makes sense. But that’s not the way you want to begin a relationship. Slowly widen your V.
Starting Over with Your V
Is it harder to narrow your boundaries back down than to widen them? Of course. But that doesn’t mean you cannot begin the task of starting over. It may be as simple as communicating a new set of boundaries and then holding to them, but it may be more complicated.
Reaching out to a therapist can allow you to have a guide to walk you through the process. Also, check out my blog on the Stages of Change to help you understand the process you’ll go through when making big boundary changes in your life.
- Book Recommendation: The Set Boundaries Workbook: Practical Exercises for Understanding Your Needs and Setting Healthy Limits by Nedra Glover Tawaab
- Mantra: I AM PROTECTION // repeat with diaphragmatic breathing
- Yin Yoga Asana: Dragon Pose
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