On Unhealthy Boundaries

Breaking unhealthy boundaries for ourselves.

I don’t think I’m the only Bible-Belt bred woman to have seen one primary future modeled: Wife. Mother. Caretaker. Pure. Modest. Beautiful. Submissive. 

There’s nothing wrong with any of those characteristics. I know and have been inspired by many women who exhibit them dynamically, joyfully. But I never experienced a natural inclination toward many of them. And that was a flaw I felt deeply reflected within myself. Even as I grew into the realization that I could be something different, I struggled to disentangle who I was from the boundaries I’d been socialized within. 

That if I was not a virgin, my marriage would suffer. That if I was not a caretaker of my husband, he would cheat on me. That I would deserve it. That if I did not submit to the “head of my household,” I would be responsible for an unnatural marital foundation that could not be sustained.

Oh, here’s a good one: That I should always have a roommate before I was married, so that I wouldn’t get too comfortable living independently. That sending my child to daycare would make me less of a mother.

I have a vivid memory of a fill-in-the-blank test answer in high school, “________ is a sin.” The answer, in case you were wondering, was “Yoga.” 

I remember taking my very first yoga class (on a Sunday morning, no less), waiting to be struck down with every “Ohm,” I silently mouthed.

We set a lot of boundaries for ourselves as we grow up. We also have a lot of boundaries set for us. Those boundaries can be healthy reminders and lessons that help us develop safely and confidently.

But some of those boundaries can stunt, shame, and confuse us. They may have crammed us into molds we don’t still belong in — and maybe never did. 

Some of those molds are easier to break out of than others, like that brief period of time I considered beauty school instead of college when my high school’s college counselor told me I shouldn’t aim too high.

Thank God I went to college and discovered that I was simply more interested in political science and English literature than filling in “yoga” as a sin on tests.

It’s difficult for me to disentangle my relationship with God from the relationship I had with these unhealthy boundaries. That’s one of the risks of a fundamentalist education. But there is freedom and relief in dismantling unhealthy boundaries and setting new ones. 

That I can have a marriage that’s a partnership instead of a patriarchy. That independence has strengthened my relationships instead of weakening them. That having childcare doesn’t lessen my motherhood. That yoga is a gift that empowers and exalts my body. That I am smart and capable enough to aim higher. That I can set these healthy boundaries and beliefs for myself and still want to nurture a faith. That most days, I still don’t know what that looks like.

I hope you’re able to set aside the boundaries that don’t serve you. It’s hard work, I know. I hope you don’t give up. It’s worth it.

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