Boundaries used to terrify the shit out of me. OR, what I learned from watching Dirty Dancing…

Boundaries; Defining them, setting them, respecting them.  It felt incredibly limiting. I’m not sure who I was afraid to limit, you or me. I can now say, that at the very root of that fear, was that if I told you NO… you might not like me. 

It seemed plausible enough.  No one wants to be told NO or be told what to do. And was I really worthy of that respect?  And was I willing to pay the price of self-ownership, if that price was you not loving me?

I had no evidence to back up any of these suspicions. But every inch of my mind, body and heart was feeling that fear was truth.  When I start to blur feelings with facts, I’m usually half way down the wrong road of decision making.  I know this today, as one of my personal ‘red light indicators’ like the hazard lights on a car blinking frantically. 

I also wasn’t sure why I would want to keep people away. Wouldn’t I be ‘putting Baby in the corner’??   I desperately wanted and needed human connection.  What I was missing was, boundaries are not about other people, boundaries are about me.   An equal measure of one part protecting me and one part, creating a contained space for me to exist and flourish in my own domain.

Stepping out on some faith, on some evidence other people had of success with boundaries didn’t happen overnight. In fact, it was laughable and ugly learning curve. 

It went a little something like this…


1.     Here is the line, kind sir or madam… now don’t step over it.

2.     Oh shit, what have I done?

3.     I walk up, wipe clean the line in the sand, steps over and pull you over, forceibly if needed.

4.     Then get angry with you for ‘crossing my boundaries’



Then I worked up to

1.     Here is the line, kind sir or madam,. and here are the zillion and one reasons it’s important to me so hear me out, now don’t step over it

2.     Have I told you the zillion and one reasons you must never step over it? Okay good.

3.     Oh shit, what have I done?

4.     I walk up, wipe clean the line in the sand and pull you in.

5.     Now I am angry AND hurt you, after all I told you, would cross my boundaries


Yeah, it was a bit messy for a while there. I was confused and hurt. The people around me were confused and hurt. In many ways, I was a terrorist of my own space, taking emotional hostages at every turn, pushing and pulling.  Loving me, was a complicated thing.  

I thought it was up to other people to respect my boundaries, to respect me. However, it doesn’t work that way.  I had to respect me. I had to put down firm boundaries based on my own needs, rooted in the truth that this is what I desired AND that I was worthy of this space.

So, I started laying out boundaries, without the whole speech. I didn’t need THEM to understand, I needed to understand why it was important! I sat through the ‘oh shit, what have I done’ moments and stayed firm.   And then, the unimaginable happened.  People still loved me. My relationships with family, friends, lovers, colleagues improved dramatically. The exchange of love across those ‘state lines’, these newly laid boundaries, was EPIC and genuine.  

That’s the moment I realized… Johnny was right! 

THIS is my space and THIS is your space...

Dancers who pull off that flawless, effortless routine, do the hard work of boundaries, space, self-care and self-love.  They respect themselves and one another. NONE OF THEM START THAT WAY, they are not flawless on the first pass around the dance floor. There is loads of stepping on toes, stumbles, drops. Yet if we practice enough and create that luminous space between us, magic happens. 

Now, let me speak to this ‘What if I don’t love myself enough to lay down boundaries yet?’ that might be rattling around in your heart.  What is this ‘enough’ you speak of?  Wanna know a secret? Only a teeny tiny bit of self-esteem, love and courage are needed to start laying down meaningful boundaries.  However once a few lines of engagement have been drawn, and you white knuckle it past the ‘oh shit, what have I done’ moments, the other unexpected reward is worthiness and courage multiply naturally in that newly created breathing space.  

Boundaries don’t close me off from love,  they liberate me and those around me, to love more fearlessly than ever before.  They create the space between people for love to blossom, grow and thrive.

Now, I’vvve had the time of my liffffffe and I owe it all to boundaries!  Sorry, couldn’t be helped.

Now, I’vvve had the time of my liffffffe and I owe it all to boundaries! Sorry, couldn’t be helped.

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