Boundaries Vs. Window of Tolerance

A lot of people talk about having healthy boundaries. But what exactly are boundaries and why do we get them confused? Why are boundaries important? How does that relate to our Window of Tolerance? This is a huge topic, so I’m just trying to give you a taste so that you can decide if this is an area you may need to work on.

What are boundaries?

So the best definition I’ve seen is: A boundary is the line between what you are accountable for and what someone else is accountable for. That is to say, a boundary indicates what you control and and then what someone else controls. So: Inside the boundary, you control. Other side of boundary, they control. Inside the boundary, you are responsible for your words and actions and they are for theirs. You are accountable for what you say, they are accountable for how they interpret it and therefore how they respond. Key thing to remember is that you don’t control how they feel or react.

Why are boundaries important?

Very simply, boundaries are essential to protect and take good care of you, the other person, and the health of the relationship. Healthy boundaries allow both people to thrive and grow, go about their business, feel a sense of belonging, and continue to continue to engage. All this leads to trust and therefore psychological safety. While setting boundaries for yourself is paramount, it is even more important to respect boundaries that others have set for themselves, without judgment. Unhealthy, undefined, unclear, or inconsistent boundaries cause a lot of emotional pain that can lead to dependency, depression, disengagement, anxiety, and even stress-induced illness.

Mentally Health People Maintain Balanced Boundaries

Not rigid and not invisible. Balanced boundaries are clearly in place, but also allow room for flexibility. Balanced boundaries create trust and psychological safety, which in turn cultivates calm, which then creates headspace for compassion, curiosity, and courage. Types of boundaries can be (but are not limited to) situations pertaining to our physical space or bodies, time and mental headspace, or money and possessions. Many relationship challenges can be reframed as a boundary issue.

Window of Tolerance

Now I wanted to introduce a comparison with the concept of our Window of Tolerance. And our Window of Tolerance is all about what we can bear (tolerate) without getting triggered. What that means is: What is comfortable for us? What can we handle? Inside the Window, we can still be logical and rational, make good decisions based on our goals, values, priorities, and resources. When we get close to the edge of our Window of Tolerance, we might feel overwhelmed or overstimulated or helpless or full of rage. When we are inside our Window of Tolerance, we have a tendency to have measured responses to situations, they will seem reasonable and appropriate, apropos to the circumstances. Whenever we over- or under- react to a situation, it’s usually because we are standing outside our Window of Tolerance and the emotional side of our brain has taken over the logical side.

Boundaries and Window of Tolerance

I would like to suggest that as trauma survivors or people with unprocessed childhood wounds, we get our boundaries and the Window of Tolerance mixed up. What is ideal is if the Window of Tolerance is safely within the boundaries we set up and hold tight to, but what often happens is that we use our Window of Tolerance as our boundaries. That means: it takes setting us off before we realize that something is wrong.

Let’s work on understanding our Window of Tolerance and then setting up appropriate boundaries. This is not easy, so don’t be too hard on yourself as you work through your triggers and how they relate to your boundaries.

Published by Sherry Yuan Hunter

Sherry Yuan Hunter is a certified trauma recovery coach and certified parenting coach. Taiwan-born American-Canadian Chinese, married, working mother of two, Sherry identifies as a Sandwich Parent, Third Culture Kid, an untigering Mom, and recovering shouldaholic. Based in Toronto, Canada, Sherry has been working in student success programs at University of Toronto for 20 years, supporting students, young professionals, new managers, working moms, and new immigrants to success.

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