my most recent experience with therapy, one of the phrases i picked up from my therapist and found very useful for myself when i was grasping desperately for an understanding of my own boundaries was the phrase "emotionally unsafe". at the time it was transformative for me to even have a concept of emotional safety being something I could and should monitor for myself. starting to pay attention to my embodied emotional states was a really important practice in that work.
a few years later i've found a felt sense of home in my body. i don't have a list of boundaries I carry around and communicate, but rather trust i can name the boundaries as I feel them shifting in context. i've surrounded myself with people i trust to care about my boundaries.
however, in growing more comfortable with my boundaries and trusting that they will be acknowledged, honored, and accommodated by the people i love most, i've started to identify something that feels like a meaningful distinction. sometimes the category i'd described as "emotional safety" was actually "emotional comfort". i was so used to existing in distress or numbness that the closest I could approximate to not distressed was peacefully comfortable or delighted. i want to emphasize that for me this state of rigidly rejecting anything that was remotely uncomfortable was an important step in my healing. if you're still grasping for an answer to the question of "how does it feel to have a boundary", aim for comfort. it's easier to do this work if you're grounded somewhere that can come to feel like home. if you're in an active state of distress, trauma work, etc, the distinction may feel extremely tenuous and it may be triggering to even try to draw those lines. don't push. don't guilt yourself. it's easy to use these distinctions as justifications for blowing straight past your delicate boundaries. so, if you feel like you have a solid grasp of what boundaries mean and do for you, i invite you to chew on my thoughts. if not, i've written about boundaries too! that may be more useful for you right now <3 (and boundaries are so magical and you so deserve them. they are the necessary infrastructure for loving yourself and other people at the same time in a generative way)
safety: a sense that you will not endure distress or danger. it can also describe the mechanism by which this sense is achieved. my boundaries are a safety. my choosing people i trust is a safety. having containers for communication is a safety.
an expectation of control, is not a safety, but a comfort. And it can undermine the safety of others. since restricting the agency of another may be cutting them off from their own safeties.
comfort: a sense of not experiencing any hardship or distress. or when used as a verb, it can mean to attempt to diminish the hardship or distress of a situation for yourself or others.
for me to comfort someone doesn't require that i negate the hardship, but rather that i impose no additional hardship while witnessing them. being witnessed, by itself can be comforting. creating space to ask for help can be comforting.
here's where the distinction starts to feel meaningful for me. right now the discourse around boundaries and self-care seems to land on people's minds as standing aligned with capitalist individualism. where the only thing needed to justify providing no aid or comfort to someone in community that you care about is "boundaries" or "self-care".
i don't feel the need to justify anything. the experience of my body is a fact of my experience. and the need and desire to create meaning in collaboration with the people I'm communicating with is also a value i find liberating in my intimacy.
so, if someone in community needs emergency housing and I feel that felt sense that i've learned to feel as a boundary being pushed against i ask myself, is this a need for safety? or a need for comfort?
temporary discomfort is something i'm well adapted for. I can survive just about anything for 2 weeks. ongoing discomfort starts to trigger developmental dysfunctions, not so much due to how long it goes on, but how unpredictable it is.