Protection or Connection?

Written by: Gracie Mayer, Facebook Manager and Contributing Writer of Unpolished Journey

“Gracie, what is your favorite part about playing the role of Annie?”

“The applause.”

In fourth grade I had the privilege of playing the ball-busting, red-headed orphan Annie in my school’s musical production of Annie.  I remember this exact question and my answer from a radio interview with a local radio station.  They asked what my favorite part about playing Annie was, and I immediately responded without hesitation: “the applause”.  Fast forward five years, 230 pimples and one driver’s license later and my answer was “the affirmations”.

“Gracie why do you always smile, try to make other people laugh and hide any negative emotions?”

“The affirmations.”

I never really saw myself as a girl with extremely low self esteem, and I was always able to find something nice to say about myself.  It wasn’t until the onset of my eating disorder that I realized I was living like a leach – relying on the affirmations from those I loved to create my self-esteem.  I didn’t realize that I didn’t have self-esteem because my “self” wasn’t involved.  I had “external esteem”, which I had grown to believe would only exist with a calculated performance of perfect emotional regulation and joy.  Don’t get me wrong, joy is my main mode of operation naturally, but when I began to notice that this quality attracted people to me, I suddenly began to believe it was the only quality that attracted people to me. Enter Gracie’s struggle with boundaries.  Oh, I hope they like me.  Oh no, don’t be sad EVER…stay joyful, stay joyful, stay joyful.  They’re sad, make them laugh.  They’re upset, cheer them up.  Of course, I was not everyone’s “pillar of strength”.  In fact, there were many times I turned to my sister for comfort, peace and to be myself.  My family helped provide a safe haven where I could experience more than joy and only joy.

This is what brings me to my little bit of insight into boundaries.  I loved Emily and Morgan’s views on boundary setting as a healthy emotional practice in learning to say no and accept your own limits with self care.  However, I want to take a different look at the power of boundaries.  You see, boundaries work two ways: boundaries work to keep people out and they also work to invite people in.  When I was putting on my brave, “only-pure-joy-and-positivity” face, I was actually keeping people out.  Without being consciously aware, I had created a boundary that would shield other people from having to deal with my full range of emotions and likewise would shield me from having to be truly brave and vulnerable with the emotions within myself I had deemed as undesirable.  I had created a boundary around myself as a protective shield for fear that if I let people into my inner world, they would not love me, not care for me, and ultimately I would end up alone.  You may know exactly what I am talking about, and this may manifest in a different way for you.  Some people create this wall by being only angry, only sad, only funny, only quiet, only selfless, only perfect, only smart.  Many people build walls and boundaries to keep the truth of their whole and complete selves a secret for fear that the entirety of who they are will not be accepted or is not enough.

However, boundaries can also be made to let people in.  My sister and I are actually in the midst of a lifelong practice of this.  As I mentioned before, my sister was often the person I felt I could most be myself around.  I felt that with my sister I could let down my walls and open a boundary that invited her in.  However, I often felt that my sister set a brick wall boundary, except her boundary and wall of protection was “only perfect” and “only strong”.  My sister was always perfect in my eyes.  She was successful, strong, supportive, intelligent, full of wisdom and advice, and always right.  It wasn’t until we both began to grow older, and she began to share some of her college experience and more personal life with me that I began to see my sister’s humanity…and guess what…I FELL IN LOVE WITH IT.  I still remember my sister sharing one fun story about going out on the town with her college friends, and I distinctly remember thinking…I want to be friends with my sister.  This may sound like a slap in the face because at this point I had known the woman for 17 years.  So why was it that just now I wanted to be her friend?  Of course we were always friends, we are sisters and we are each other’s ride or die.  However, I always felt like my sister was more like another guardian or protector.  Because she was older I often felt like she was out of my league for friendship, she was too put together, too wise, too perfect.  I often felt like there was something blocking her from creating a boundary that would let me in because instead she needed to be strong for me, support me, listen to my problems and give me all the advice.  When my sister began to break down that wall by simply telling me a story about more of her personal life, she began the process of setting a new boundary that invited me in.  As we continue to get older, I have loved getting to know my sister, watching her grow, change and blossom.  I have loved seeing more of her humanity and more of her beautiful soul.

Boundaries are not only about saying no, getting your needs met and understanding your limits.  Boundaries are also our tool for connection.  Sometimes it is appropriate to use boundary setting for protection and other times we need to use boundary setting for connection.  Boundaries can be set to guard our hearts and boundaries can be set to invite people to see more of our heart.  We are all different: some wear our hearts on our sleeves looking to open up to any and everyone, in which case we may need to learn to guard our hearts a little more.  Others guard our hearts too much preventing any deep, meaningful and fulfilling connection to happen.  Who are you?  What do boundaries look like for you?  And how can you adjust your boundaries to align more with your authentic self?

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