We typically view boundaries as a hindrance to our freedom. We define freedom in terms of a lack of boundaries, an absence of limit. But ‘doing anything we want’ is not the same as being free. And setting personal boundaries can, paradoxically, expand the freedom out of which we live.
First, we need to address our understanding of freedom. Freedom is not the absence of boundaries but the absence of negative consequences. When we laud the value of freedom, we are championing a lack of oppression. We’ve perverted this to mean a lack of oppression imposed on us by others. But there are many kinds of oppression.
For example, our imperfect definition of freedom would allow for a murder without punishment. The murderer can do whatever they want. The problem is not just that murder is against the law. Murder is a burden on the soul. Even the person who gets away with it is not exactly free. They are shackled by guilt, oppressed by the inner demons created in the vacuum of wrongdoing.
Freedom, then, is living outside of oppression. This includes self-inflicted oppression. A self-imposed tyranny is no less than any other form. It is maybe worse.
And so, freedom is not about doing anything we want. Not in its purest form. Freedom is about peace. It is about doing anything we want without violating our peace. We can lie to ourselves about “not caring” or “not letting it bother me” or even feeling “good” about our negative action. But deep down, in the inner chambers of our soul, we know we have disrupted something within us.
Boundaries For Us
When we are children, our parents set boundaries on our behalf. Tight boundaries. As they will say; “I can’t let him our of my sight!” They tell us rules for crossing the road, set boundaries for talking to strangers, limit the distance we can go away from them. This isn’t because they are oppressors. They are protectors. Our parents set tight boundaries so that we might live in peace, in freedom. As tots, we bounce around almost unaware of how boundaries provide for our freedom. It is something we may not grow out of. We throw tantrums when we cannot do what we want. But it is this holding back that actually allows us to live freely.
As teenagers, the boundaries widen. We are moving up the scale of The Freedom V. We are allowed a little more ability to decide for ourselves. A teenage parent might say ‘be home by ten’. The adolescent is allowed a little more ownership within the boundaries.
And then, as adults, the boundaries widen even further. We get to a point where it is basically the laws of our government and religion that serve as our boundaries. When we step outside of those boundaries, there are consequences for us. Not all of them are physical. Some are mental, emotional, or spiritual.
But it isn’t just the laws of the land that show us how to avoid the oppression of conviction. Each of us has a different standard for what might steal away our peace.
Boundaries By Us
The classic approach of adolescence is to test the boundaries. When we are teens, we press right up against the boundaries set for us. Teens are testing the world around them, to see if the consequences are real. They are testing the same within their own souls. “Is this really so bad?”
The mature adult sets boundaries for themselves. The key to living in the fullness of freedom is not pretending you aren’t suffering the consequences of crossing boundaries. It is in the wisdom of knowing how and where to set your own boundaries.
Adults should no longer be dependent on parents or governments or religious institutions to set boundaries for them. We ought to be able to set boundaries for ourselves. What limits do I need in romantic relationships? In drinking/drug use? In religious disciplines? Food consumption? Foolish language? Etc…
Our parents and leaders model boundary setting for us so that we might learn how to set boundaries for ourselves. They are not oppressors with a sharp whip. They are freedom-fighters working to reveal to us the way the world works. Of course this can be abused, which is why so many of us struggle with setting healthy boundaries. We repeat what was modeled for us.
If we want to experience more peace, and more freedom, we need to own the practice of boundary setting. All of us value personal freedom. In order to achieve it, we have to stop looking at boundaries as the enemy. Boundaries allow us to live more accurately within ourselves. They allow us the freedom to be who we truly are. When we can couple our boundary-setting with self-awareness, we can discover what it is that truly brings us peace and what dangers of self-imprisonment are lurking around in our hearts and minds.