There is a difference between setting a boundary and walling off. Setting a boundary is a process. It may include things like intention, negotiation, the flow of information, permission and change. On a date, I may have one set of boundaries on the first date and another set on a subsequent date. The nature of the social event, that it is, in fact, a date, is set through intention and through the convention of dating. We, as a society, have decided what dating is and this varies among different ages, classes, religions, ethnicities and other factors but we can probably agree that there is some kind of agreement about what dating is. We are often nervous because we are trying to figure out if our idea of a date matches the other person’s idea of a date.
The dates themselves are a form of negotiation that is revealed through eye contact, body language, words, and tonality. Each date is like some agreed-upon opportunity for change, for further permission to interact more deeply—permission that can be granted or not, depending on each participants’ desire.
A BILATERAL PROCESS
Again, through intention, negotiation, the flow of information, permission and change—through a process based on interaction—we set boundaries. The process itself is bilateral—it goes both ways. Either one of us might participate in very little of the process before setting a boundary. Or, if we both agree, often through agreeing to see one another again, we might participate in the process for a longer period. We might event revisit the process at another time.
Of course, any social interaction qualifies. I’ve used the example of a date but anything from an exchange at a convenience store to a sales meeting to a diplomatic negotiation over a border tax qualifies.
Walling off is the refusal or inability to participate in a process. It is based on not allowing participation—on either person’s part. If I am walled off, I refuse to participate in a process with you. I make a decision on my own—a unilateral decision—and “stick to my guns.” I deny the process. If you are walled off, you do the same. There is no process, no participation, no allowing, no flow of information, no exit or entrance.
REJECTION AND PUNISHMENT
Boundaries are necessary if we are going to allow and develop our empathic nature. Boundaries retain a flow of information of all kinds. Walling off prevents the flow of information, including empathic information. Walling off feels like refusal, deadness, rejection—even punishment—to an empath.