You’re sitting on your back deck. It’s a calm morning, you’re sipping your coffee and having a quiet moment by yourself. You live in a community that is close knit and you like your neighbors, and feel really comfortable in your space. Even though you’ve only lived in your house for a few months, you really feel settled and like a part of the community.
The next thing you know, your neighbor and her dog are walking around your backyard. Her dog wanders into your newly blooming vegetable garden and is eating what would have become zucchini if given the opportunity to grow. You call out “what are you doing here?! Get your dog out of my garden!” Your neighbor responds with frustration, you have words, and the relationship is ruined. Over the period of the next several weeks and months, your neighbor continues to exist in your backyard, with their pets, their friends, and demonstrates a disregard for your space.
The house you live in is wonderful, but the community did something wrong. They didn’t draw property lines and you didn’t know it. As your neighbor continues to disregard your space, you feel violated, hurt, frustrated and angry, but feel like you can’t do anything to stop it. Without property lines, where does your land start and theirs end? How are you able to create containment for yourself and your family? How do you create containment for your relationship with your neighbor?
This scenario sounds like a nightmare, right? Of course it does. We expect to have a house that has clear delineation of what is our space and what is theirs, and that delineation provides us with the ability to have containment to use our space however we want to without fear of someone barging into it.
Why is that? Because property lines are boundaries. Yep. That word that you see all over therapist TikTok and Instagram. ~Boundaries~
Without boundaries, people are able to come and go into your space as they please. There’s no clarity on what is and isn’t okay and your ability to ask them to leave is limited. When we have boundaries, whether it be a property line, or in personal relationships, we create opportunities for containment. We know where our space starts and ends, and can allow people in when and how it feels right for us.
In a world where we do have property lines and a neighbor behaves the way mentioned above, you have options. You can ask them to stop. You can call the HOA. You can call the police. You could build a fence, small or large, and create a physical barrier that cannot be crossed. It’s a reference point that creates containment for you, your family, and your neighbors as well! When we know where the lines are, we create opportunities for people in our lives to see where exactly they are allowed to be.
Setting boundaries doesn’t have to be perceived as punishment or as bad. They simply give everyone an idea of where they can exist, and a clear reference point for how to create safety if a boundary is crossed.
It’s okay to want to have your neighbors in your yard sometimes, as long as they’re invited or if you’ve created a set of clear expectations around when they can or can’t come in. We can even provide a gate in the fence for them if we feel comfortable in the fact that they’ll respect the requests we make around accessing our space. It’s nice to have them pop by sometimes, but if they start to violate the rules set around using the gate, we can make a choice on how to navigate the relationship, which may mean putting a lock on the gate.
When we have those boundaries, whether they be property lines, gates, or otherwise, we create potential for deeper and safer relationships with those around us. Boundaries give our people the opportunity to show a level of respect and care for us by continuing to show up in ways that feel safe and supportive.
We all have a right to emotional, physical, and mental safety. Boundaries create the opportunity for us to achieve that, and the opportunity to provide clear consequences when our safety is jeopardized. It may seem scary to set boundaries at first, especially if you haven’t had them before. We will likely have to remind our neighbors of where the lines are. If they rise to the occasion and can respect those lines, they may get a gate. If they can’t, even after we’ve given multiple reminders and have done our work to maintain the boundary, perhaps we only give them access through our front door, after they’ve knocked, and when we feel willing to invite them in.