Brick Walls Aren’t Machetes: Enforcing Strong Boundaries

by | Nov 17, 2022 | 0 comments

Have you ever asked a question, or made a request, or sent an email reminding someone to do something (like pay their bill, ahem) and said someone just LAUNCHES at you? Something that made you feel you were met with a machete, rather than a brick wall?

A question or request made in good faith that gets a defensive, snippy, or passive-aggressive response feels like an episode of Candid Camera or Punked or getting owned. Like an attack.

It’s not fair when people are defensive and cruel and snap at us when I ask a question or have a request. It’s not fair for you, either.

Over here, we’ve had plenty of opportunity to work on boundaries – last week, I wrote about the Velvet Ropes boundaries, you can read that here.

This week, Brick Wall boundaries.

And Wowza! The universe sure served up several things in the team’s life to reiterate just how important those Brick Walls are. And how Machete boundaries hurt so much.

Some Boundaries are Brick Walls

Reminder from last week: A boundary is a guideline, rule or limit that a person creates to identify for themselves what are reasonable, safe, and permissible ways for other people to behave around them, and how they will respond when someone steps outside of those limits.

Not all boundaries are Velvet Ropes – some boundaries are Brick Walls. Immovable, steadfast, protective, and clear.

These boundaries can look like what kind of behavior we allow in front of us. How we are spoken to. How we respond to being launched at.

They are choices that protect our mental and physical health. They protect what we find most valuable.

Brick Wall boundaries are built with the bricks of our core values.

When we are clear about what is non-negotiable behavior in our lives, we can gently build a brick wall that can withstand all kinds of weather. We don’t need to feel fear or become dysregulated because we feel empowered (maybe even safe?) inside our walls.

Walls are not bad things. They are sheltering. Our core values inform which walls we build.

Some examples of Brick Wall boundaries for me are:

  • Being spoken to with attitude. (By kids or grown-ups) If someone uses name-calling, yelling, sarcasm, or snide jabs (especially in the middle of a difficult conversation), I stop the conversation and tell them that I will not be able to continue a conversation with them until they can explain themselves with clear and direct language that does not include aggressive or passive-aggressive behavior and intention to cause hurt.
  • Guilt trips. Don’t even try it anymore. You’ll bump into my wall and I will say, “if you need something that you are not getting from me, I need you to ask me boldly and directly so that I can answer in kind.”
  • Touching my children without asking their permission. Especially the hair. Someone who does this, even in love and tenderness will be asked to back away, ask my child their desires, then reengage when my child gives approval.
  • People insisting on me having more food or beverage when I am done. This is usually met with “Thank you so much, I am content and would appreciate you trusting me that I am finished.”
  • People trying to triangulate me in a conflict. This is when someone comes to me to “get me on their side” when they know I am in a relationship with the other person they are upset with. This is NOT the same as coming to me for advice, venting, or how to navigate a conversation. It has a decidedly different feel to it – it comes with a sense of “you should agree with me about X and I am unwilling to deal with it head-on.” I will always insist that one speaks with a person they have an issue with, directly. If they are unwilling to do that, I insist that they take responsibility for the consequences of that choice. Deal with it, or let it go. Don’t ask me to have a hard conversation FOR you. (I 100% will have one WITH you, or mediate one, but I will not do it for you.)

In my life, brick wall boundaries are relatively new! I’ve only learned to enforce them in the last ten years or so (I am 45 going on 29). I believe this is because it was only about ten years ago that I really started to name and own my core values.

Some core values that you see in the above boundaries are: taking personal responsibility, integrity, all people should have agency, and “clear and direct is kind”.

Brick Walls are not Machetes.

It seems kind of obvious… let me explain.

A brick wall is pre-constructed; it is built and does not move. It is minding its own damn business and then when something/someone bumps into it, the impact is felt.

You can see a brick wall because it’s relatively obvious.

You can sense its permanence. You can see where it’s been bumped into before.

If you don’t see a brick wall and you bump into it, the wall is not damaged.

It is steadfast and calm. Neutral, even.

A Brick Wall boundary is one that doesn’t need a heavy hand or defensive posture. It’s one that you can hold with confidence and tenderness.

A Brick Wall boundary is one that doesn’t need a heavy hand or defensive posture. It’s one that you can hold with confidence and tenderness.

Michelle Markwart Deveaux

Just as we wince in compassion when we see someone run into a brick wall (ouch!), we have compassion when someone has run into our Brick Wall boundary.

We don’t move the Brick Wall. We also don’t start tearing it apart and using the bricks to stone the person who bumped into it.

To my mind, this is true strength.

Some folks think they have Brick Wall boundaries yet hold that strong boundary more like they are wielding a machete.

A machete is a tool used to press forward, swing hard, and attack things in its way. People rarely “bump into” a machete.

If a person comes into contact with a machete, they either got in the way of the person swinging, or the person swinging attacked them.

You can’t really see a machete coming. Yet, I imagine that when it hits you, you know it – it’s damaging. Painful. Limbs are lost.

A machete seems like it should be used to be protective. Truthfully, it is used to be on the offensive. It is used to clear paths, not maintain roads.

Machete boundaries are defensive or are enforced before there has been cause to enforce them.

Sometimes, they are a result of unprocessed wounds. Sometimes, they are a result of fear.

And sometimes we need them. This jungle ain’t gonna maintain itself!

Still, noticing when we are mistaking a Machete for a Brick Wall can save us much angst and keep us from hurtful and harmful behaviors.

Baby Steps to Boundaries

If you’ve never truly intentionally explored your boundaries, I encourage you to do so.

You can start with our FB Live on it, here.

Then, determine your core values. If you aren’t sure how to explore your core values, write me and let me know. We have a couple of resources in The SpeakEasy Cooperative – and a robust exercise that I created that we walk people through in our How to Run Your Biz Without Hating Your Boss program.

You can also google “core values exercise”.

Once you’ve made some decisions about your boundaries and your core values, write some scripts that you can practice in order to enforce them. For some people, it feels awkward to gently yet firmly enforce a boundary, and that’s why they revert to machete-ing. Scripts help with this!

Oh! And a reminder: if you’ve not historically set and enforced boundaries, there is a learning curve for those around you – those who embrace them and change their behavior are your true community.

The only people who get mad at ya for having and enforcing boundaries are those who benefitted by you not having them.

The only people who get mad at ya for having and enforcing boundaries are those who benefitted by you not having them.

Michelle Markwart deveaux

You can do this! AND if you already have, I’d love to hear a story about how it’s changed your life to use your Velvet Ropes and Brick Walls boundaries!

I am grateful for YOU!

Michelle Markwart Deveaux blog signature
Michelle Markwart Deveaux

Michelle Markwart Deveaux (126)

As CEO of FaithCultureKiss Studios, LLC, I lead underestimated humans through the personal and professional development needed to create successful solo and team-based businesses.

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