Healthy boundaries in our relationships are permeable – this means we accept people and actions that are positive, helpful and needed, but protect ourselves from people and actions that are harmful or that interfere with our lives. In trying to protect ourselves, we may keep very rigid boundaries, trusting no one and allowing no one to get close to us emotionally. On the other hand, in our search for love and acceptance, we may leave ourselves too vulnerable; becoming too trusting and letting people hurt us too easily. Healthy boundaries protect us. They give us the choice of who we trust, how much we trust those people and what actions we accept from them, letting us have positive relationships while protecting us from abuse. We also learn to set boundaries on what we do and say to others, respecting their rights as well as our own.
A boundary is a limit or edge that defines you as separate from other; your skin is a boundary, everything within your skin is the physical you. But we have another boundary that extends beyond our skin. We become aware of this when someone stands too close. It is as if we are surrounded by an invisible circle – a comfort zone. We have other boundaries as well; emotional, spiritual, sexual, relational.
You have a limit to what is safe and appropriate. You have a border that separates you from others. Within this border is YOU – that which makes you an individual different and separate from others. What is an emotional boundary?
We have a set of feelings and reactions that are distinctly ours.
We respond to the world uniquely based on our individual perceptions, our special histories, our values, goals and concerns,
We can find people who react similarly, but none reacts precisely as we do. When it comes to how others treat us emotionally, we have limits on what is safe and appropriate. We have spiritual boundaries. You are the only one who knows the right spiritual path for you. If someone tries to tell you he/she knows the only way you can believe, he/she is WAY out of line. We can be assisted, but not forces. Our spiritual development comes from our inner selves. We also have sexual boundaries:
Limits on what is safe and appropriate sexual behavior from others.
We have a choice about who we interact with sexually and the effect of that interaction.
We have relational boundaries – parent, partner, and friend:
The roles we play define the limits of appropriate interaction with other.
Boundaries bring order to our lives. As we learn to strengthen our boundaries, we gain a clearer sense of ourselves and our relationship to others. Boundaries empower us to determine how we’ll be treated by others. With good boundaries, we can have the wonderful assurance that comes from knowing we can and will protect ourselves from the ignorance, meanness or thoughtlessness of others.
Soooooo, how do we develop boundaries? Boundaries begin to form in infancy. In a healthy family, a child is helped to individuate, to develop a self-concept separate and unique from the other family members. We learn about our boundaries by the way we are treated as children. Then, we teach others where our boundaries are by the way we let them treat us. Most people will respect our boundaries IF we indicate where they are. With some people, we may need to actively define them. Boundaries require maintenance. Your skin is an obvious example of your physical boundary. Your emotional and relational boundaries may be less obvious, but they are just as important. If the barrier of your skin is breached by a scratch, you become vulnerable to infection. If your emotional or relational boundaries are breached, you also become vulnerable to harm. When these invisible boundaries are trespassed by the thoughtless or intrusive action of others, it is call boundary violation.
Healthy boundaries are flexible enough that we can choose what to let in and what to keep out. We can determine to exclude meanness and hostility and let in affection, kindness, and positive regard.
- What are your boundaries? (physical, emotional, spiritual, sexual, or relations)
- Do you even know?
- Do you have a sense of your edges – your uniqueness?
- Are you comfortable within your limits?
- Are people in your life comfortable with boundaries?
Visible and Invisible Boundaries:
Two main types of boundaries – physical and emotional
- Physical limits are marked by our skin
- Emotional limits by – age, roles, our relationships with those around us, our requirements for safety, our choices about how we want to be treated.
I set my physical boundary by choosing:
- Who can touch me
- How and when I am touched
- I decided how close I’ll let people come to me
- Because I have a reverse gear as well as forward, I can back away from someone who invades my personal zone.
I set my emotional boundary by choosing how I’ll let people treat me:
- Set limits on what people can say to me
- Healthy, safe expressions of anger or even rage by people I’m close to are acceptable
- Inappropriate anger from an inappropriate person is not acceptable
- I determine the range of personal comments I’ll accept from others
- I determine the range of sexual comments or remarks from others… inacceptable to me are sexist or racist jokes
Exercise: This exercise can raise your awareness of other people’s boundaries. Use it as a time for information gathering and don’t try to influence the interactions you see.
Physical boundaries – today watch and listen carefully to the people around you. By what actions or words do they indicate and protect their physical boundaries – the distance others must keep for them to remain comfortable?
- If riding a bus, notice what people do when a stranger sits next to them
- If walking downtown, notice the berth people give when passing others. How different is that distance from the people with whom they are walking?
- How close does the boss get to the workers?
- How close do the workers get to the boss?
- If someone speaks angrily, do the listeners move closer or further from the speaker?
- If someone speaks kindly, do the listeners change position?
- How close do your children come to you? How close do they get to your spouse?
- As you stand talking to a person at work, move just a bit closer. What does the other person do? After a bit or with a different person, step back little. What does the other person do?
- If you are fortunate enough to live in a place where people of other races or cultures live, observe how close they stand when they talk to a friend or a stranger.
Emotional Boundaries – tomorrow, observe how people keep and set emotional boundaries;
- Listen for remarks among people that are appropriate given their relationship and what they are doing
- Listen for remarks that are questionable or clearly inappropriate. How does the receiver handle the situation?
- Watch your children (or someone else’s children). How do they protect their privacy from their siblings?
- What does your spouse do to warn you off from private emotional territory?
- How does your spouse (partner, friend) communicate important needs and feeling? What happens when he/she feels wants something different from what you feel or want?
All in all learn from others…. I guess enough on this today…. after all this writing I need some caffeine.