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Walls vs. Boundaries: Letting the Good In And Keeping the Toxic Out

In previous articles, we have talked about how to keep out what shouldn’t come in and how to keep in what shouldn’t get out. One important question remains, how do we make sure we let in what needs to be let in and share what needs to be let out?

We all have known an overly talkative person. They speak endlessly. One can barely get a word in edgewise in their presence. We might be quick to assume this person has boundary issues, which they do; but did you know their words are actually a wall? A wall, which prevents them from being intimate with others? A wall which, in spite of their endless dialogue, never truly allows anyone to know them?

Walls can show up in our life in all sorts of ways. Some of them might seem like boundaries, but really they are ways we protect others from ever knowing the real us. They may be coping mechanisms we learned in childhood to deal with bullying, abuse or simply feeling like we weren’t meeting the expectations of those around us.

A boundary is a barrier that is flexible and allows safe people into our hearts and lives. Boundaries allow us to deeply know and be deeply known.

On the other hand, walls are impenetrable. When we put up a wall, it not only prevents us from knowing others, it prevents us from being known. Behaviors associated with walls range widely. They might include over-talking, giving someone the silent treatment, angry explosions, fear which causes us to isolate or any behavior we might use to keep people away from our heart.

One example is a client of mine, a young woman who is an overachiever in her career. She pours herself into work so she does not have to engage in deep relationships in her personal life. Her career becomes a noble way for her to avoid intimacy, which she fears, even with those she loves most.

Walls can also play a healthy role in our lives. There are some people who are boundary crashers to the point where the only effective means of dealing with them is to establish a wall. When we establish a boundary, we determine how much of us we are going to let the other person know. When we establish a wall, we are deciding they do not get to know us at all.

A wisely established wall looks different than one we might be using subconsciously as a defense mechanism to protect our hearts. A constructive wall might be blocking an ex’s phone number, deciding not to continue in a relationship with an abusive family member or simply ignoring a provocative remark by the stranger on the subway. Some relationships should not be engaged in at all.

Do you have walls in any of your relationships where you wished you had a boundary instead?

What can you do to begin to open your heart to these people who truly care about you?


Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.

Lao Tzu

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