Social Awareness

The Purpose of Boundaries

Usually when we think of boundaries, we think of restrictions and limits. The first image that may come to mind is that of a fence which keeps people out. We may also think of a map outlining an area or country, defining what and who belong to it. But there is another way of looking at boundaries:


Boundaries are a safety system for our protection.

Think of the hanging bridge in the picture. The mesh on the sides serve as boundaries. Of course, the boundaries ‘limit’ the bridge, but in doing so, they indicate where the edge is and create a safety area in which we can move around with confidence. Imagine the bridge without the safety mesh on either side. Would we feel safe crossing it? Without the mesh acting as boundary, we would cross the bridge (if in fact we dared) with extreme caution and fear. Imagine crossing blindfolded… Which would you choose, this bridge with the boundaries or one without?


Boundaries create certainty and certainty creates freedom.

Scientists carried out an experiment with children in a playground. The children were taken to a park without a fence and were told they could play freely anywhere, as long as they did not leave the playground. The scientists hoped to prove that the children would play with more freedom without the fence. Contrary to their expectations, the children did not wander freely. Instead, they huddled around the centre of the playground, choosing to play close to the playground equipment. The experiment was later repeated in a fenced park. This time, the children played scattered through the area ( see a version of the experiment here ) . As it turns out, the fence provided a clear boundary, which gave the children a sense of safety, allowing them to play with freedom.


We use the expression ‘no boundaries’ to express freedom, but there is less freedom where there are no boundaries.

I like to remind myself that there is no such thing as ‘no boundaries’, we are always limited by something. True freedom is not about being ‘without boundaries’, because boundaries are everywhere. If we chose to climb the Everest, parachute or sail the ocean, natural boundaries such as weather, need for food, or gravity limit us. If you choose to drink excessively or take drugs, you are limited by the effects on your body, relationships, and income. Some people want to move from their parents home to have more ‘freedom’. Sure, they will not be subject to their parent’s rules or curfews, but they are not going to be ‘absolutely free’. They will have other boundaries limiting them, such as having to provide for rent, food, and bill payments. When you make a choice, any choice, what you are really choosing are the boundaries that come with it.


True freedom is about choosing your boundaries wisely.

Understanding, respecting, and setting boundaries gives us clarity. When you are clear about where you stand, you actually have more freedom.


Image: Shutterstock/lastjedi
Text : Mitzi Pomenta