Plants Have a Lot To Teach Us About Boundaries

5 Lessons translated from plant knowledge

Woman crouching in front of cactus

Photo courtesy of Pixels for Canva

Plants Know a Lot About Boundaries

My inner science teacher got me thinking about how plants use boundaries as a protection against pests, droughts, freezes, and disease.  I began comparing how plants can teach us about setting our own boundaries.  As humans, we are also subjected to “pests” and disease. 

That “pest” might be a coworker, friend, relative, spouse or child in your life that continually tries to cross your boundaries.  You need protection, but still leave room for compromise and vulnerability. 

Plants use:

  • thorns
  • bark
  • scent
  • color
  • pattern
  • camouflage
  • stinging/nettle
  • poison
  • protective partnerships with insects and other animals 

My family had a ranch property for many years that was in the southern part of Texas.  The weather was dry, with not much rain.  Every plant on the property had some form of needle, sticker burr, or thorn.  The animals that lived in the area had formed a cohesive living arrangement with the surrounding plants.  They, too, often had horns, spines, and rough, scaly skin.  Each living thing had to protect its sacred nutrients in case of drought.

So, What Can We Learn From Plants?

  1. They have a symbiotic relationship, or form a partnership with other animals and plants.  There are plants that let ants do the dirty work of removing pesky insects, or birds that protect them in exchange for nutrients, or shelter.  As humans, we can allow someone else to be our protector until we feel strong enough to stand up for ourselves.  This can be a trusted relative, friend, or spouse.  In my case, that has often been my husband.  He supported me and stood up to people that were trying to harm me emotionally.  Once I began having more confidence, I didn’t need him to intervene anymore.
  2. They warn other plants of impending danger using volatile organic compounds (scent).  Think of mint, or the strong scent of pine.  For us, creating or joining a supportive community is a way for us to gain awareness of toxic relationships (pests) that want to do us harm, or may not mean to do us harm, but have a dysfunctional way of living and relating to others.  Communities like, support groups, 12-step programs, or group coaching, share knowledge of harmful relationships and what we can do to change ourselves.
  3. They make themselves taste bad by emitting a substance that makes them unappetizing.  We can make ourselves unappetizing to toxic people by using the ‘gray rock’ strategy, where you stop reacting to negative behavior.  Narcissistic people get power from eliciting a reaction out of you, whether negative or positive.  If you are fearful, apologetic, angry, or upset, they feel more powerful, but you feel drained.  By not reacting, you become boring or ‘unappetizing’.  You can also stand up for yourself, by speaking your truth.  Tell them how you feel, and let them know you will not be treated that way.  Many toxic people will move on to the next ‘victim’ once you begin standing up for yourself.
  4. They have impenetrable leaves that insects cannot bite through.  You can become ‘impenetrable’ by building your own self-love through a daily self-care practice.  When you start feeling more confidence through self-love, ‘pests’ will no longer be able to get to you. 
  5. They camouflage themselves.  Plants have a way of blending in with their surroundings, so they don’t attract insects.  Humans can blend in by going ‘no contact’ with hurtful people.  This means blocking them from social media, your phone, and email.  Of course, we want to give second chances, (I know that’s what you’re thinking), but after the second or third chance, with no attempt at improvement, it’s time for more drastic measures.   

How Did We Lose Our Protection in the First Place?

As a child, many of us grew up in a dysfunctional family, that taught us not to have boundaries.  The adults had all the control and didn’t give us much input on what happened to us.  We also went to schools, were on sports teams, and attended churches that taught children to be quiet and ask for permission.  

Some people are lucky enough to have a family system that allows them input on some things, and builds their confidence by supporting and guiding them to make decisions on their own when possible.  Most people with poor boundaries did not have that.

Now that we are adults, we have the power.  We can make our own decisions, and choose who gets to be front and center in our lives.  We can find the people we feel safe with, to build a symbiotic relationship, one with give and take for both.  We surround ourselves with healthy, supportive, and loving people. Just like plants, we thrive in the right environment, and healthy boundaries.  

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