One of our natural habits as people is that we can very quickly close down or shut other people out when we are afraid. These closures can often look like boundaries, or even be presented as if they are boundaries, but there is an important difference between a healthy boundary and a reactionary closure.
Step One: Recognize the wisdom in (y)our closure
All of our responses, including our habit responses, our closure responses, and our guarded responses, have wisdom in them. It doesn’t mean that they are “correct” responses, or that we always want to experience them, or that we should act on them – but we can always learn something from them. But we cannot learn from our, or other’s, closures if we automatically dismiss it. Anything that we use to either dismiss ourselves, dismiss other people, or dismiss our own experience will ultimately do a disservice to our capacity to know ourselves and each other more deeply. So, examining these automatic, habitual closure responses can help us form healthier relationships with our own boundaries, and the people we choose to be in relationship with.
If we dismiss a response rather than being curious and trying to understand the response, we simply lose an opportunity to become more intimate with ourselves and those we love. When we notice ourselves dismissing someone else’s response or closure, there is always an opportunity to instead look deeper into it and ask ourselves, what can this response tell me? What can I learn about this person, myself, or the circumstances?
Boundaries made from a closed state are still boundaries
There are many different ways to set boundaries. It is absolutely possible to set boundaries with a completely open heart, relaxed body, and free energetic space. However, this does not mean that if any part of you tightens or closes or protects in order to set a boundary, or in order to say no to something, that it somehow invalidates the boundary. Both can be true at the same time.
The best way to support a person who might be setting a boundary in a more closed or defensive state, is to open-heartedly honor that boundary.
Posture and Collapse
One framework I like to work with is Posture, Collapse, and Center. Many people only have access to either Posture or Collapse when it comes to setting boundaries. Both are a form of closure, but they manifest themselves in opposite ways.
Posturing is when we feel guarded and we “puff” ourselves up to appear bigger, more intimidating, and stronger. Posturing people can often appear confident, or ‘good’ at setting boundaries, but are often actually very afraid.
On the other hand, Collapse is what happens when someone says yes to things they don’t want to say yes to, perhaps out of fear of disappointing someone, or not wanting to be seen as selfish. The closure that occurs in this case is actually the lack of a boundary being set when there should be one, and it is a bit counterintuitive because although the person is saying “yes”, they are still closing themselves off by not allowing themselves to place a healthy boundary where they need it.
Ultimately, although these two states appear very different, they are used to achieve the same purpose: closing, hardening, or turning away when trying to set a boundary.
Center is the place where we neither harden, nor shrink when faced with setting a boundary, or naivigating a difference with another person. Center is, of course, where we would all like to be all of the time – and this requires deep practice, and being willing to work with our own (and other’s) Posture and Collapse without blame, shame, or judgement.
Honoring boundaries made through closure
Oftentimes if we experience pushback on a boundary we set, it makes us double down on the boundary, and close off even more; the sense that we can’t trust the other person to care about & honor our boundaries causes many people to simply get louder about the boundary – even if it wasn’t a huge deal to begin with. In those times when we say “please do this” or “I can’t do that right now” and someone says “why?”, “it’s not that big of a deal”, or pushes back in some other way, we feel far less charitable and we are more likely to snap at that person. The more someone challenges our boundaries, the stronger it makes us want to hold that boundary.
On the other hand, when we feel that a boundary has been honored without pushback, it often makes us feel as though we don’t really need to hold that boundary as firmly anymore. There is a bit more room for relaxation, having a conversation about why the boundary is important, or even negotiating around the boundary.
It’s amazing what simply honoring a “no” or a boundary can do, and how showing someone that you understand their limits and respect them can create much more trust – even if that boundary came off a little bit prickly or pushy in the first place. That person feels more respected, and safer around you.
Understand where these boundaries come from
If you’ve honored someone’s boundary without question, and then noticed they relax a little bit about it because they feel safer with you, there may be an appropriate moment to ask them where it came from, or why it’s important to them. The goal here is to understand the origin of that closure so that you can help them have experiences with you where they don’t feel the need to get so loud, or defensive, or anxious, or whatever feeling caused the hardness in that moment. Think about it: what a gift to be able to offer that experience to someone you love? For them to be able to trust you and feel comfortable with you, such that they know they don’t need to close off their hearts to protect themselves so intensely?
We have the opportunity, energetically and emotionally, to hold part of this closure and this boundary for someone, so that they can start to let the rigidity down. We can help take some of the weight and stress away from that person so that they can learn how to hold their boundaries in a safe way, and actually believe that it is safe to relax the space around their heart – even when setting boundaries!
To be able to hold both the individual context and the cultural context around closure is important; different people will close off in different ways and for different reasons, but it ultimately comes down to a fear that someone is going to respond in a way that’s scary for them. Someone is going to get angry at them, hurt or abandon them, or not offer the words they crave that make them feel heard and understood. It’s a universal experience, and we can be conscious of this human tendency when engaging in conversation about a boundary. So, if the person seems to be closing off more, and everything you’re saying is being pushed back against by the person who originally set the boundary, then it’s often most useful to just say, “let’s leave it here”, and just honor the boundary. You can have the conversation at another time when they feel safer and more relaxed.
Boundary work in practice
In my program, Beyond Boundaries, every single module has several forms of practice that support and grow the capacity to hold, acknowledge, and set our boundaries with clarity and connection. I offer tools to know and share boundaries in a way where you’re open, with a relaxed body, and there’s no longer a need to be bracing for some sort of imminent loss or attack.
I actually developed Beyond Boundaries to help people learn how to “thaw” their nervous system when it freezes (either fights or flees) in these moments. This is not a one-step process; in fact, the program works best when practiced over time (which is why I offer lifetime access!). It’s four modules in total, that you can move through at your own pace, and come back to as many times as you want!
If you’re interested, you can find more information on Beyond Boundaries here: https://www.kendracunov.com/beyond-boundaries/