Why Everyone (Everyone!) Needs Boundaries

Today I am joined by our resident Enneagram two on the team, the amazing Mary! Here at Christian Enneagram Coaching we want to make sure that our teaching has more of a conversational feel, so each new post will be shared with a friend of the show!
I really think that it’s important to help you learn about the Enneagram in a conversational setting, because that can give us fresh insights about how to apply it to our life, and help us see how different people process the same ideas in unique ways when we come from our individual perspectives.


Mary, since this is your first time joining me in this new format, I thought it would be a good idea to let you introduce yourself and help us get to know you a little bit more.

Hi, thank you for having me! I’m so excited to be here and to get to start this new way of doing the podcast. As you mentioned, I am a type two and I have been part of the Christian Enneagram team for a year this July. My role is Connections Coordinator for the university, which just means that I help run the community that we have, and I also get to take all of these podcasts, edit them, and turn them into blog posts, in case there are people like me that like to read to get this information. A newer task I have is helping to design the workbooks and resources that we do for our CEU events, which has been super fun; I love getting to tap into my creativity a little bit more.

Outside of work, I have been married for 14 years and I have three kiddos. They are ten, eight and six, and I homeschool them, which I really love. Something that I’ve just started recently doing for my own little “side business” is designing different resources (planners, workbooks, Bible studies) for families to make memories together while also learning about God.

Most EnneaMe Thing

Mary what’s the Most EnneaMe Thing that has happened to you recently?

A couple of weeks ago I randomly ended up with an inner ear infection, and I ended up needing to go to a few different doctor’s appointments. I was too dizzy to drive myself, which meant my husband had to take me and bring the kids along, and I actually apologized to him for needing so much help and transportation!

I’m having this medical emergency, but my main focus right now is how much of an inconvenience it is for you! That’s very good. Well, we are all glad that you are feeling better because that’s the worst!

Boundaries Discussion

So what I wanted to talk about today is why we need boundaries. This is very high on my mind lately as I have been gearing up for a workshop on this very topic! One of the things that I want to share my thoughts on is just the simple idea of why boundaries are good. I think that is an important discussion to have, because a lot of us don’t hold that belief. We aren’t not sure if they’re good; they feel wrong or selfish, and they make us uncomfortable. Mary, what has been your experience with boundaries? Was there ever a time where you thought you shouldn’t have them?

Yes, especially before I had started learning about the Enneagram and recognized my own type and its tendencies. I think also having grown up Christian, that can make it hard to balance between “I’m a Christian; how do I follow in Jesus’s footsteps, but still have boundaries?” So before doing a lot of the inner work and growing and understanding more, I did not have good boundaries, and I thought they were mean, or wrong!

I think a lot of Dutiful Stance (which is types one, two and six) and Withdrawn Stance (types four, five, and nine) lean towards deferring some of our own personal authority and autonomy, and are more likely to allow intrusion (or even encourage it) in order to form connections, do what we believe is right, or avoid conflict… whatever the case may be.

I also think that the types seven, eight, and three can benefit from setting boundaries, just for different reasons. But it can depend on how you were brought up, like you mentioned; the Christian culture and how that possibly informed a little bit of this idea, this back-of-the-brain belief that boundaries are bad because that means saying no; or that means not serving or not sacrificing myself for the good of others. And… I think we can hold this tension.

Boundaries, if we’re wise and intentional about it, is a way that we can hold the tension between what is best for us as a child of God, and what is best for how we approach, move towards, and serve others. If we lose sight of one or the other, then we lose part of ourselves. Allowing ourselves to hold that tension is one of the ways that we can be uncomfortable in the right ways.

I think it’s really wise, too, that we don’t have one or the other extreme: It’s not that we don’t have any boundaries because we have to always be sacrificing ourselves; and it’s also not that we only have boundaries and we just throw away any thought of serving others. There is a balance, the uncomfortable tension that you talked about. Somewhere in the middle of extremes is usually where I find things are healthiest.

Right! I have a quote that I’d like to share, and it’s from the resiliencecenter.com and I just found it helpful as a starting place for what personal boundaries are, condensed into a little paragraph:

“Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules, or limits that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe, and permissible ways for other people to behave towards them and how they will respond when someone passes those limits….They are built out of a mix of conclusions, beliefs, opinions, attitudes, past experiences, and social learning. Personal boundaries help to define an individual by outlining likes and dislikes and setting the distances one allows others to approach. Boundaries are essential to healthy relationships and really a healthy life. Setting and sustaining boundaries is a skill.”

I found this so helpful as I was thinking about the ways that our beliefs inform things like our boundaries, our values, our opinions, our attitudes, our Enneagram type…basically, where we come from, our coping strategies, help inform what our boundaries are.

So often, when you look at the boundaries through the Enneagram lens, you’re looking at coping strategies and what boundaries our coping strategies set, but that’s really not where we want to end up! We want to end up with intentional boundaries that promote our health and not just promote our comfort zones.

I wanted to share a few reasons why boundaries are good, in case you’re one of those people who wants to think boundaries are good, but you struggle to get there.

1. Boundaries Keep Us Honest About Who We Are and What We Value

If I value rest, I will create boundaries around rest; I will know what my “no’s” are so that I can prioritize that, and I will know when I need to ignore or push aside that boundary for a time, while still recognizing that this means sacrificing something that I value, so I know that’s not sustainable over the long term. Setting a boundary around my rest not only helps me know when somebody else is intruding upon that, but also helps me know when I am no longer, with my actions and choices, prioritizing that.

Keeping us honest about who we are and what we value helps us see when our actions and choices are not aligning with those things. Being able to name what it looks like to value rest, or value this relationship or that role that we feel is important to us, knowing what it physically, tangibly looks like to value that thing helps us set boundaries that protect that value.

I hadn’t even stopped to think about how boundaries actually show forth who we areat the core of us–what we believe, what we value, whatever those really deep, more meaningful things are. It isn’t just about setting this boundary so you don’t get hurt feelings, or setting this boundary so that you have a good relationship; those are some really good consequences of boundaries, but it’s deeper than that. It helps us even understand ourselves more and have those “aha moments” of “What do I value? And what do my boundaries show that I value?”

Some people say boundaries keep us safe, and I think that can be true, but if all that we’re concerned about is safety, our boundaries will show that and could harm other things. We want to be careful that our safety is not the only thing that we’re thinking about, or we want to be careful that our desires and opinions and thoughts are not the only things we care about. Setting and naming boundaries can help us see if that’s what we’re unintentionally doing, and can also help us see if what we are prioritizing with our actions and choices is all the thoughts and desires of other people.

If we look at what our functional boundaries are, and we take the time to name what we actually do when it comes to say no or yes, then we might sometimes see that we are not actually prioritizing the things that we believe, because instead we are prioritizing the things that other people believe.

We are all kind of on a spectrum ranging from codependency to hyper self-dependency, and I think that boundaries help us strike a healthy balance; because many of us don’t hold actual beliefs that support hyper-self dependency or co-dependency! We hold beliefs that are tensioned in the middle, and boundaries help us strike that balance and remind us when we’re leaning towards our tendency to go one way or the other.

2. Boundaries Help Us Respect the Boundaries of Others

If I have no boundaries, I expect you to have no boundaries; if I have unhealthy boundaries, I’m going to expect that of you, but still feel entitled to my wants and desires. A “no” from someone else feels less like a personal attack when we have a framework for our own “no’s”; we know it’s not about us a lot of the time, but it’s about a boundary that supports who they are and what they value. Then we get to make choices for ourselves based on those yeses or nos that we hear, that support who we are and what we value, without it having to mean something about who we are to that person.

I think that type ones can struggle with this because we often feel like the right thing should be the right thing for every person, and type twos can struggle with this because when we hear a no, we feel a loss of connection, but all of can put meaning on a boundary that someone else sets, especially if we don’t hold our own healthy boundaries, and are intentional about how we set them.

And also, honest communication about somebody else’s needs doesn’t feel demanding; it doesn’t feel like they’re insulting us or requiring or entitled to anything of us when we give ourselves permission to have honest communication about our needs. When we have healthy boundaries about how we communicate, then we know that the other person is just communicating to us. They aren’t entitled to anything from us, but them sharing that with us is a good thing! They have trusted us with information about what they need, but it’s not a demand; we can still hold boundaries around what we are able to give and provide or defer to.

I can think back even to when I had just learned that I was a type two and was still growing in my own boundaries, and I remember hearing “nos” from people and it would crush me! I would wonder what I did wrong, and think I was asking for too much, or was too demanding, and would totally fall into a shame spiral.

And then as I started growing and learning more about how to hold my own boundaries, and had to start saying no to other people myself, then I understood more! I didn’t feel that they were asking too much of me, I just recognized that I couldn’t fulfill their request at that time. I think it helped me grow in empathy in that way!

Twos can be pretty empathetic; it’s kind of one of our superpowers! But I don’t think we always understand some of the stronger personalities that don’t have problems saying no; it’s so foreign to us, and we think they just don’t like us! I think when I started growing in my own boundary setting, though, it helped me to understand that it’s a healthy thing and it’s a good thing!

I think there is a conversation around, and we won’t be able to get into it today, how to set a healthy boundary that promotes healthy communication and promotes a relationship! You mentioned, “I don’t have to make this about me, or their connection to me, or make this mean anything rather than what’s on its face” and I think that that does help us be empathetic, because that is recognizing what somebody wants to communicate and allowing it to be that instead of us digging deeper under the surface.

3. Boundaries Help Us Develop Equitable Relationships with People

We want relationships that have shared responsibility, power, and autonomy without any imbalance, and that really contributes to better communication, mutual respect, mutual trust, and mutual sharing of our inner world with each other.

If all we’re doing is saying yes, yes, yes, yes, yes…then we don’t have the autonomy or power to really share what’s going on with us: that a line was crossed, or that we’re starting to feel taken advantage of.

And if all we say is no, no, no, no, no, then we aren’t soft to what the other person might be going through.

Having that healthy balance between codependency and hyper-independence helps us recognize the safe spaces of our relationship, and keeps the relationship a safe space for everybody involved. That’s really what you want when you’re talking about boundaries; we want to feel safe.

I often recommend starting boundaries with ourselves, because those are the only ones that we can enforce; that’s really the power that we have. But as we start to set those, we have to recognize that we don’t want those boundaries to create a power imbalance that’s now in our favor; we want this to be a balanced relationship. Boundaries help us balance that out, and being soft to other people’s and respectful of other people’s boundaries, help us maintain that for them too. That’s how boundaries really help us make our relationships a safe space for everybody, which is one of the main goals.

I think that is so powerful, because I think sometimes we get scared that having boundaries will make us lose relationship, or take away relationship. But in reality, they actually give us the kind of relationships that we’re longing for: the mutual relationship, where both people feel safe. It isn’t just the other person, and it isn’t just me feeling safe and loved and cared for; it’s mutual. And that, I think, is really what we all really want: mutual relationship that is safe and enjoyable; to enjoy them, but also be enjoyed.

It really helps people who might take advantage, intrude, or manipulate to either grow and help promote a healthy relationship… or self-eliminate. And again, that’s a conversation for another time, but I think that recognizing what is healthy, safe, and appropriate when it comes to how we are treated not only helps us not be manipulated, intruded upon, or taken advantage of in our relationships, but it also helps us recognize how to not do that to other people.

A Practical Exercise to Try

Some of you still might be wondering what it looks like to have good boundaries, or are still unsure that it is even something you want to dabble in because it feels selfish. I want to honor that, and I also want to give you an option to see it from a different perspective. It’s normal for a lot of us to feel like boundaries are wrong or selfish or even unChristian. If that is true for you, I have an exercise I would love you to try.

  1. Take out a piece of paper, or open the notes app on your phone.
  2. Think of somebody that you love; someone that you feel a little bit of responsibility toward or a little bit of care for: a spouse, a child, someone you mentor, a sibling… someone that you feel like you can speak into their life, and maybe even protect them or guide them a little bit.
  3. Write that person’s name at the top of the page, and underneath that, make a list of things that other people are not allowed to do to them, say to them, expect of them, or make them carry in their life. You will have a long list! I encourage you to pause for a few minutes and make this list, because it’s going to be so transformative.
  4. Cross out the name at the top and put your name there; because that’s true of you, too! Boundaries are good, and we can often recognize that boundaries are good for other people because we know how we want them to be treated. We don’t have to be the “relationship martyr” that we know we don’t want other people to be. We don’t have to put all of that on ourselves.

Boundaries matter; if you’re listening to this, boundaries matter for you. You’re not the one person who would be wrong or selfish to implement them. We are unique in many beautiful ways, but boundaries is not one of them. You are not uniquely wrong or selfish if you have this list of things that that are no-nos, that are things that people don’t cross without some sort of conversation, communication, consequence, or requirements of repentance or need for forgiveness.

Please hear me: you are not uniquely selfish in having these things. It takes a lot of intentionality; boundaries often need to be shifted as we grow or change, or our relationship grows or changes. I’m not saying that you need to have these hard and fast rules that don’t leave room for the nuance and the uniqueness of the people involved, but boundaries matter; you matter, your wholeness matters, your safety and relationships matter.

Final Thoughts

Mary, do you have any final thoughts around boundaries for us?

I love that exercise; that is super powerful! When you think of the people that you love and care about and want to protect, that’s the way that God thinks about each of us too. Why would he want us to allow ourselves to be treated any differently than all of these people that we are called to love on?! The way that we want to treat other people is also the way that we should treat ourselves; you can’t love others the way that you love yourself if you don’t love yourself.

Loving Latelies

Mary: Weird But True

Kim: Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud

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Follow Mary on Instagram || @mary_had_a_little_theme

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