If so, there’s a good chance that it has something to do with the boundary busters in your life.
Writers tend to be more sensitive creative types. That makes it possible for us to write from the heart, to create characters that readers care about, and write with impact.
This creative sensitivity comes with a down side. Because we are sensitive, caring people, we often say “yes” when we should say “no.” We draw a line in the sand, but say nothing when people step right over it.
Four Types of Boundaries
In Why Writers Need Boundaries I pointed out that in order to write—and just to be healthy individuals—we need both inner and outer boundaries. We need physical boundaries (outer). We also need three kinds of inner boundaries: mental, emotional, and spiritual.
Why? Because if you want to write, all these areas need protecting.
Don’t get me wrong. The whole world isn’t out to get you or rob you of all your writing time. You won’t need to become a cactus or porcupine, so prickly that others give you a wide berth.
With many people, you can relax your boundaries until you’re barely aware of them. Safe people can come and go in your life, and you happily give them access to your thoughts and emotions and living space.
However, for many reasons (both conscious and unconscious), certain people are unsafe. Such people threaten your equilibrium. They steal your time, your space, your peace of mind, your emotional stability, and your joyful spirit. They are thieves. They need to be kept outside the walls of the city.
Boundary Types Defined
(1) Physical boundaries are the easiest to see and define. They are property lines: my office, my desk, my locked car, my computer with password protection, money in my bank account, and my body. We draw physical boundaries around our writing space and writing time like someone putting a white picket fence around her cottage. It marks the difference between what is yours, and what is mine.
All those physical boundaries are easy to see because they’re external. Internal boundaries are invisible though. They are harder to define, but just as important. And if you don’t rebuild crumbled internal boundaries, it won’t matter to your writing career how rigid your physical boundaries are.
(2) Mental boundaries have to do with our thoughts. For writers, intact mental boundaries are critical. It’s what enables us to think our own thoughts and form our own opinions. It’s what gives us the capacity to create, to pull words out of thin air. These boundaries also enable us to reject thoughts and opinions being forced on us that are contrary to our belief system.
When you are talking to another person with intact mental boundaries, you can share opinions back and forth and have great discussions. No one feels forced to agree with the other person. No one is told their ideas are silly or stupid. However, there are forceful people who aren’t content to simply share ideas, or have a meeting of the minds. Instead, they (overtly or covertly) demand that you agree with them. They don’t even like it if you “agree to disagree.”
(3) Emotional boundaries allow us to have our own feelings. Healthy emotional boundaries serve two very good purposes. They keep us from imposing our emotions on other people, dumping endlessly on anyone who will listen to us (and then regretting it later). Emotional boundaries help us handle our feelings in appropriate ways.
Emotional boundaries also keep us from taking on the emotions of others who are spewing their emotional garbage. And for writers trying to carve out writing time, emotional boundaries are what protect us from being manipulated by others through guilt and shame and fear. They help us not take on responsibility for someone else’s emotions. It does no good to lock your writing door for two hours if you’re psychologically shattered from absorbing someone else’s emotional junk.
You have a right to your feelings, and you get to decide if they are appropriate or not. No one else gets to decide that for you. Each person is responsible for handling his/her own feelings. Emotional boundaries help prevent us from taking on issues that belong to someone else to solve.
(4) Spiritual boundaries define our beliefs about God and our place in the scheme of life. When our spiritual boundaries are damaged, we unconsciously compete with God for power or (with the best of intentions) try to play God in the lives of others.
Spiritual boundaries allow us to define our own relationship with God, even when others try to impose their beliefs on us. Others may try to tell you what to do with your gift of words. With healthy spiritual boundaries, you are free to define and explore your calling, your gifts and your talents. Someone else doesn’t get to define that for you.
What’s a Healthy Boundary?
If the four types of boundaries are new to you, you may wonder just how to recognize them in your life—and how to know if your boundaries need repair.
That will be the subject of the next blog post: identifying unhealthy boundary issues. Some of us just need minor repairs in the walls. Others of us have healthy boundaries in two areas, but the other two have collapsed. Some of us didn’t even know we were allowed to have boundaries.
Next time we’ll explore how to identify healthy and unhealthy boundaries for writers. Do you already have an inkling about the type(s) of boundaries you need to work on? Please leave a comment!