Op-ed Showcase

The walls we actually need: the importance of boundaries

Photo: Eric Ward via Unsplash

I read a quote online recently that went a little something like this: “Sometimes we put up walls – not to keep people out, but to see who cares enough to knock them down.”

On the surface, this looks like nothing more than your run-of-the-mill sappy Tumblr post, one that glorifies the idea of letting relationships save you. I think the quote was attempting to be somewhat romantic, and I can definitely see what the speaker was trying to get at –  sometimes our walls are built to see who will put in the effort to be with us. This does make sense.

But as I pondered these words more and more, I began to realize that maybe there are some cases where this isn’t the best way to approach a situation that involves two or more people being vulnerable with one another.

Maybe we don’t build walls to see who will be our knight in shining armor and take them down, rescuing us from the deep, dark pits of ourselves. Instead, maybe we put up some of our walls to see who is willing to respect them and let them stand.

A boundary is a line that definitively marks off what is and is not okay with each of us. It is an individual and very personal practice, involving each of us acknowledging how we prefer to be handled. These walls that the quote mentioned are boundaries. They do not exist to keep everyone out until we can be persuaded by the right person to keep them down. Rather, they exist to make sure that only the right people are allowed into our meter, to take up precious real estate in our lives.

When we establish a boundary, it isn’t because we are trying to make things difficult for the people we meet to know us and love us. We make them so that we have the rightful control over what happens to our minds, bodies, belongings and the like.

According to BreakTheCycle.org, a website dedicated to ending abusive behavior and educating young people on how to form and maintain healthy relationships, “Establishing healthy boundaries in a relationship allows both partners to feel comfortable and develop positive self-esteem. In order to establish boundaries, you need to be clear with your partner who you are, what you want, your beliefs and values and your limits.”

Someone who is worthy of our time and space will not attempt to tackle the walls that we have built for ourselves to keep us safe, comfortable and happy. This applies for all relationships, whether that be a relationship with a romantic partner, a friend, a family member or even just a coworker or acquaintance.

While the aforementioned quote was meant to be sweet, it is important to note that setting up boundaries or walls and letting them take root in a healthy way does not make us an irrational or overly-guarded person.

Several days after seeing that message on the internet, I happened to stumble across another one, this one simply stating in bold letters: “I am allowed to make a big deal out of things that feel really big to me.”

Often times, our boundaries or walls seem irrational to people who do not share the same need for it. This second quote makes it perfectly clear, we each have the right to place value on the things that are valuable to us.

Perhaps you don’t like having your hair touched. This can seem super miniscule and even a bit odd to your friend who doesn’t mind having their hair touched at all. However, that doesn’t mean you are being unreasonable by making clear your desire to have your hair be a hands-off zone.

Furthermore, we aren’t looking for anyone to convince us to neglect our boundaries for them once we have healthily build them up. The idea that we are all just waiting for someone to come along and get us to abandon our thresholds is one that needs to be rewritten, as we are all sanctioned to protect ourselves as we see fit.

Normalizing the convention of setting up our own personal boundaries, as well as respecting everyone else’s, allows us all to feel safer in communicating our wishes and takes away the romanticization of being completely unguarded and open in ways we don’t enjoy.

Though we may not immediately be able to get rid of the borderline cringeworthy social media quotes telling us otherwise, it is important to keep in mind that building walls doesn’t have to be a bad thing. They are not made to keep everyone away, but they will let all of the good people in.

Ali Kochik is a second-year student majoring in English writings track with a minor in journalism. AK908461@wcupa.edu.

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