Boundaries and Fences: A Visual Comparison


So I was meeting with a client over the course of the last week, and we ended up talking a bit about boundaries and how to apply them to her life. Much of the conversation had to do with how to set boundaries with family members and people she loves, which feels something like trying to spoon out spaghetti sauce with a fork. So we sat there and tried to define what boundaries looked like, and how we could define them a little better.

Now I hate to think that I’m anyone really inspiringly smart. I mean, there are a lot of people out there who know a whole heck of a lot more than me. But every now and then, God throws me a bone and gives me something really cool to share with people. I think this is one of those things.

When you think of boundaries, what comes to mind? Personally, I think of fences and walls. When I think of fences and walls, I think of all different shapes and sizes. If you can visualize those boundaries to look like those fences, it could be easier to set those boundaries with the people who are more likely to step all over them.

The size of the fence involves the size of the boundary. For example, there’s a small, 2 foot high wooden fence outside the parking lot of my office building. It wouldn’t take a whole lot for someone to step over this fence, right? A little effort, and the boundary doesn’t exist anymore. We can look at these boundaries like the ones we set with our significant others. We tell them that these areas are off limits, and based on our involvement with that person, we can hope that they don’t step over those boundaries. Think of them as fences that surround a flower bed, and that if the person you love doesn’t want to step on your flowers, they don’t overstep the boundary (even though they could at any time).

Now, think about fences that are chest high. You could climb over these fences and hop over to the other side, but its likely that the person who put the fence up, doesn’t want you in. The boundaries that look like this are more like clear areas that you don’t want people to overstep, and they can know right up front what the boundary is and why you have it there. So think about what kind of issues those are, and where you would set up a chest-high fence. Boundaries like these could be the punishments you set for your kids, or how long you decide you’re going to think about work after you leave for the day.

 Then there are the 10 foot high brick walls, like the ones you see at most mansions in Newport. These often have tall, spiked iron gates with vertical iron bars to prevent climbing. These boundaries are boundaries that mean business. These boundaries have a “No Trespassing” sign on them, and when you set boundaries like these, those who try to step over them should proceed with caution. Boundaries like this are areas that you don’t want to share with others, like personal details, sexual history, and the political discussions your family have at holiday dinners.

Remember, the things you can change are your boundaries, and these are things that are in your Inside World (the world of stuff you control, or your WATER). What other people do is part of the Outside World (or the world of stuff you can’t control), but telling them your boundaries and sticking to them is you way of taking charge of your life and whether or not you allow others to affect your world.

So what do your boundaries look like? How big are your fences and what do they represent?