The Safe Defence of Boundaries

Identifying sources of shame, whether it is others shaming us or us shaming others, is vital in becoming aware of barriers to relationship potency. In the simplest terms, our relationships, and we as individuals, are rendered impotent to love whenever shame is evoked. But love runs freely, and is potent, in the presence of respected boundaries.

The safe defence of boundaries requires that we circumvent shame.

It requires that we refuse to shame others and that we don’t absorb anyone else’s shame. This is a key idea in establishing real intimacy and growth in relationships. It is a key, also, in being whole persons.


Many times as a child we suffered shame. These were times when we felt perfectly inadequate in the world; in other words, we felt simply not good enough. Our parents evoked these emotions; as well as our siblings and extended family, our friends, teachers at school, and just about every other person we came into contact with. Shame came immediately in times when we were crushed.

We learned there were times when we couldn’t look people in the eye. Our sense for failure, our burgeoning weakness, marked our identities. These issues are now wrapped up in, and drive, our critical flaws. We all have them.

Many people think that guilt plays more of a part in Western culture than shame. But realistically shame is as much a part of the human psyche as guilt would ever be.

The human psyche, and all its frail idiosyncrasies, transcends culture. We are more the same than we are different. This is because we are all made to love in the image of a loving God.

Where we fail for love, negative emotional effects like guilt and shame play a heavy-handed role.

There are practical issues regarding shame in relationships that bear consideration.


Whenever we put someone down or others do it, somehow making people feel less of a full person than they ought to feel, the person thought less of experiences a primordial type of shame. Rare is the individual impervious to such a putdown. Putdowns affect us all in many different ways.

Sometimes people don’t realise they are putting us down. They may be unconsciously shaming us; it is almost always due to their own unreconciled shame. Their failure to love us is due to blockers within them. But sometimes people do intentionally put us down. But, they do this consciously because of unconscious reasons of shame within them. Our hope should always be that we engage in neither of these unconscious or conscious putting down practices.

To love people and to resist hurtful barbs requires us to not engage in shaming and to not let shaming barbs stick into us.

This is how we maintain boundaries. We respect others to the point of ensuring we don’t shame them. And we also insist that others respect us, not vocally, but by ensuring anything they inflict doesn’t evoke shame from within us – that we can hold our heads high. We need to firmly advocate safe boundaries, for our and others’ benefit.


The safe defence of relationship boundaries requires us to respect love by not venturing into shame. We don’t allow others to trample us and we don’t trample them. We respect the unspoken boundaries of hurt we all carry.

When we get boundaries right our relationships are potent in love. And everyone feels safe.

© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Steve Wickham is a Registered Safety Practitioner (BSc, FSIA, RSP[Australia]) and a qualified, unordained Christian minister (GradDipBib&Min). Steve writes at: and

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