Boundaries ~ What are they and where to draw the line?
A boundary is a limit or edge that defines you as separate from others:
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:
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 yourself. If someone tries to tell you he knows the only way you can believe, he's out of line. We can be assisted, but not forced. Our spiritual development comes from our inner selves.
We 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 others.
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.
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 actions of others, it is called a 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 relational)
Do you 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?
Context ~ the type of relationship ~ defines appropriate closeness and distance in a relationship. Certain relationships presume closeness:
marriage ~ potential for great physical and emotional intimacy.
parent-child relationship ~ offers a range of safe physical closeness and a range of emotional involvement.
best friends ~ can share some physical closeness and a high degree of emotional intimacy. What is the range of appropriate closeness and distance in the context of an intimate partnership? The acceptable degree of intimacy and distance can vary in different marriages and within a single marriage from day to day. Communication keeps the partnership fluid and vital, and clarifies each person's need for intimacy and separateness. Ideally, marriage contains enough togetherness to preserve the boundary of us and not us AND enough separation to preserve each person's individuality. In an intimate partnership:
each person is whole and intact.
they choose to live together.
they could still live if something happened to the other. Relationships do well when the individuals have a lot in common:
roughly equal intelligence.
parallel way of looking at things. Too much difference can build too much distance. On the other hand ~ each person unique ~ this uniqueness contributes to relationship and world. So, it is critical for each person to have his, or her own thoughts and feelings and for each to take responsibility for his and her actions.
Enmeshment vs. Intimacy
Enmeshment may feel like intimacy, but it is not. Intimacy comes from knowing each other very well, accepting short comings and differences and loving each other anyway. Enmeshment is attempting to feel and think as if you were the same person. Since quite a bit of one's uniqueness is missed this way, neither person can really be known. This is a very different experience from intimacy. When a couple becomes enmeshed ~ that is ~ when the individualities of each partner are sacrificed to the relationship, the individuals and partnership suffer.
What About Too Much Distance
What is too much distance in a committed relationship? One cause of too much distance comes from not talking about important matters. If intimacy means being known by the other, lack of intimacy comes from not being known. If partners aren't talking about problems, feelings, needs, and wants, they will feel less known and distance will grow between them. Distance also results when a partner is cold, or emotionally withdrawn:
when he makes himself unavailable to his partner.
when he's focused primarily on work, alcohol, drugs, acquiring things, or getting ahead.
when he lets stress mount so high that he can't come out of himself to see the other. Why would a husband be cold to his wife? If, as a boy, he was taught to disregard feelings, then he was taught to be out of touch with himself.
emotional boundaries develop as we know ourselves and our feelings.
if a child is taught to ignore inner-self, his inner-self won't develop. Women often do hand stands trying to get men to talk about their feelings. They might as well be speaking Swahili for all the good it does. They can get very emotional, which reminds men exactly why they swore off feelings in the first place:
they make you lose control. To feel or not to feel becomes an enormous power struggle. A struggle that polarizes many a man and woman:
marriage or committed partnership permits the greatest physical and emotional intimacy.
intimacy comes about as partners grow in their knowledge and acceptance of each other.
the balance between appropriate closeness and distance is difficult to find.
with too much distance, the couple leads separate lives, separate worlds with different friends, and sexual fulfillment decreases.
with Enmeshment (too close), at least one person's separateness is lost
-the other person may lose respect
-both lose track of the other's uniqueness
-sexual fulfillment decreases. Therefore, marriage is a process that challenges two people to develop individuality in the context of intimacy. Process is:
Myth ~ "the commitment is made". Therefore intimacy is automatically in place and leads you forward. Truth ~ "takes a lot of work and must be deliberately undertaken".
Whatever mishmash of boundaries, your parents had profoundly influenced your development.
Part I ~ Pick a parent, your mother or father or other adult, and answer the following questions.
1. In what ways was your parent distant, or withdrawn from you? Include:
a. Incidents in which you ran to your parent with enthusiasm and he, or she turned you away without following up on your excitement.
b. Events missed, such as no one there when you were the lion in the school play.
c. Broken promises.
d. Evidence that your preferences were unknown.
e. Evidence that your though processes were not understood.
f. Evidence that your interests were missed.
g. Being passed over when something concerned the whole family.
2. In what ways was your parent enmeshed with you? Include:
a. Ideas held by the parent that were forced on you.
b. Preferences that a parent expected you to share.
c. Evidence that your parent assumed you felt the way he, or she did.
d. Parental ways which you were expected to adopt.
3. In what ways did your parent use you to meet his, or her needs? Include need for:
d. Stress relief.
e. Solution of adult problems.
Part II: Repeat this exercise with any other person who assumed a parental role towards you.
Part III: From what you know of your grandparents on both sides, what's your best guess about their boundaries? Write about each grandparent. Identify suspected patterns of Enmeshment, withdrawal, coldness, intrusion, and the expectation that children existed to meet their needs.
Visible & Invisible Boundaries
Two main types of boundaries ~ physical and emotional:
1. physical limits are marked by our skin.
2. 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 very acceptable.
inappropriate anger from an inappropriate person is not.
I determine the range of personal comments I'll accept from others.
stop sexual comments or remarks from men, e.g., sexist or racist jokes.
Violations come in 2 main categories:
1. violations of intrusion.
2. violations of distance.
Intrusion violations occur when a physical or emotional boundary is breached:
1. inappropriate personal questions.
2. inappropriate touching.
3. attempting to control how another things, believes, or feels.
Distance violations occur when intimacy is less than what is appropriate to the relationship ~ when someone from whom one has a right to expect closeness in excessively removed or cut off. Therefore, if closeness if an appropriate part of a relationship and it does not occur, the relationship has too much distance. Too much distance is harmful.
Children need safe physical contact in order to define themselves:
non-sexual cuddling; hugging.
holding, and touching are important for a child's emotional and physical development.
adults also need to be touched. In "A Natural History of The Senses", Diane Ackermann reports on experiments that show that the more babies are held, the higher their level of alertness and cognitive development and that people of all ages can sicken in the absence of touching and being touched. We learn emotional boundaries by the response we get. When our feelings are met with disapproval, harshness, or stiff upper lip messages:
we learn to push them down.
to separate ourselves from our feelings.
and to ignore the valuable information they have for us. When feelings are met warmly, when we are encouraged to talk about them and helped to identify them, and when a parent correctly interprets our facial expression, our body language and the feelings connected with it, our understanding of our inner self grows. Learning about and connecting with feelings is essential for complete boundary development. Our feelings are rich in meaning about the nature of our connection with others. When we are in contact with our feelings, we can be guided by our inner selves. We can feel who we are and what is right for us.
Therefore, we can know our emotional boundaries. Therefore, to be healthy, we must have clear physical and emotional boundaries. We must be able to defend ourselves physically by setting limits on how close we let people get, on who touches us, and on how we are touched. To do this, we need a definite sense of our emotional boundaries. When we enhance our sense of who we are and what we need, like, want and feel, we strengthen our emotional boundaries.
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?
a. If riding a bus, notice what people do when a stranger sits next to them.
b. If walking downtown, notice the berth people give when passing others. How different is that distance from the people with whom they are walking?
c. How close does the boss get to the workers?
d. How close do the workers get to the boss?
e. If someone speaks angrily, do the listeners move closer or farther from the speaker?
f. If someone speaks kindly, do the listeners change position?
g. How close do your children come to you? How close do they get to your spouse?
h. 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 a little. What does the other guy do?
i. 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; a stranger.
Emotional Boundaries ~ Tomorrow, observe how people keep and set emotional boundaries:
a. Listen for remarks among people that are appropriate given their relationship and what they are doing.
b. Listen for remarks that are questionable, or clearly inappropriate. How does the receiver handle the situation?
c. Watch your children. How do they protect their privacy from their siblings?
d. What does your spouse do to warn you off from private emotional territory?
e. How does your spouse communicate important needs and feelings? What happens when he or she feels or wants something different from what you feel or want?
Boundaries are imaginary lines that help you protect yourself both physically and emotionally. They keep other’s actions and behaviors from hurting, distracting, annoying, or imposing on you. Boundaries are limits you set on how others can treat you or behave around you. People treat you as you allow them to; however, you can actually teach others how to treat you based on how strong or weak your boundaries are.
Having strong boundaries are important for protecting your body, mind, and spirit. Setting boundaries can make an enormous impact on the quality of your life. It is a major step in taking control of your life and vital for taking responsibility for your self and your life. It is the one skill that you most need to develop in order to create the kind of life you really want. However, its often the area where most people seem to have the most difficulties.
Setting strong boundaries will help you stand up for yourself, stop agreeing to do things you really don’t want to do, and start feeling less guilty about putting your own needs first. Its a part of the process of defining yourself and what is acceptable to you. When you don’t have boundaries set other people will step over the line without even realizing where it is.
Boundary setting is not about getting other people to change (even though at first, it may seem that way). Its really about deciding what you will and wont tolerate any longer in your life, and then communicating this firmly and consistently whenever you need to. Boundaries are essential to becoming a healthy adult and balancing your work and personal life effectively. They demonstrate your commitment to self-respect.
The first step in establishing boundaries is self-awareness; you’ll need to identify where you need more space, self-respect, energy, and/or personal power. Begin this process by recognizing when you feel angry, frustrated, violated, or resentful. In these cases, you've often had a boundary crossed. By becoming aware of situations that require you to have stronger limits, you can begin creating and communicating your new boundaries to others.
Creating boundaries for your business and home will help you honor yourself more. It’s perfectly okay to request or demand respect from others and to honor yourself. Someone’s tone of voice, negativity, criticism, derogatory language, or other form of disrespect, may prompt you to create a boundary in order to protect yourself and your goals from disruptive influences.
Give yourself permission to begin honoring yourself and others in new ways. Boundaries are an important way for you to respect the needs of others, as well as your own. Ironically, when you become aware of your own boundaries (and begin to respect them) you’ll naturally begin to regard the boundaries of others, as well. Respecting other peoples boundaries helps make you a more attractive person to be around.
It’s important to note that in establishing boundaries: Your personal needs are valid. It is not necessary for you to defend, debate or over-explain your request. Enlist the support of a friend for before and after the boundary-setting conversation, if necessary. Begin setting boundaries with the easiest ones and build yourself up to the more challenging ones for you. Let your communication and behavior get stronger before you tackle the harder boundaries. Tell people immediately when they are doing something that violates one of your boundaries. Simply tell them what they are doing that makes you feel angry, frustrated, violated, resentful, or uncomfortable. Communicate gracefully and honestly. Make a direct request that they stop the behaviors that offend or bother you. Be very specific about what you want. Follow-up to let them know how they are doing at honoring your request. Thank them for making the change.
And, if they refuse to cooperate:
Warm them of a possible consequence if they continue disregarding your request. Demand that they stop.
Just walk away without getting angry or fighting. Or, if necessary follow through with the consequence you previously warned them about.
Boundary-setting is like any new skillfully need to learn the basics, create a plan for applying your new skill, and then follow through with action and a support system. Over time and with practice, setting boundaries will become easier.
Remember that setting boundaries is a way to fully honor and respect yourself. You can control your own response by delivering your request gracefully to another person, but you cannot control their response or behavior to your request. People who continuously refuse to respect and honor your boundaries are clearly not willing to change. The change you need to see may come from yourself. Be sure that you have provided direct requests and communicated your boundaries consistently. If you have, and they still refuse to honor your boundary, it’s up to you to decide how you wish to proceed. In these (hopefully rare) cases, you may need to negotiate further or end the relationship.
Practice: Complete the following statements:
People may no longer...
I have a right to ask for...
To protect my time and energy, it’s okay to...
Then, finish each sentence with at least 12 examples (or more) of boundaries you can set to honor yourself. Don’t censor your thoughts. Keep jotting down ideas over the course of the next week or so. Then, select the easiest ones and start communicating and reinforcing your boundaries.
Essential Boundary Setting Steps:
1. Self Awareness: Identify where your boundaries are weak or non-existent. Establish some new boundaries that honor you. What may people no longer do around you, do to you, or say to you? (Be realistic)
2. Inform: Educate others about unacceptable behaviors and expressions. Help people understand how they can respect your new boundaries. Communicate without blaming. Verbalize your boundaries.
3. Request: Calmly tell each person very specifically what you want them to stop doing or saying. Get their commitment to honoring you.
4. Follow-Up: Let them know how they are doing on meeting your request. Continue educating and reinforcing. Reward those who are respecting your boundaries.
5. Demand: Warn them about possible consequences if they continue ignoring your request. Enforce your boundaries.
6. Consequences: Follow through with the consequence if results aren't forthcoming. Determine which battles are worth fighting and which are worth letting go; walk away without any further comment if necessary. Set consequences that impact the other person more than you.
7. Respect others boundaries : Stop violating other peoples boundaries. Be aware and respectful of other peoples boundaries.
1. Boundaries: When To Say Yes, When To Say No To Take Control Of Your Life by Henry Cloud and John Townsend (Zondervan Publishing House, 2002)
2. Parents In Charge: Setting Healthy, Loving Boundaries For You And Your Child by Dane Chidekel (Simon & Schuster, 2002)
3. Partnership Tools: Transforming The Way We Live Together by Alan Konell (Hippo Press, 2001).
4. Succeeding As A Super Busy Parent: 75 Practical Tips For Balancing Life, Love, Kids, And Career by Natalie R. Gahrmann (Infinity Publishing, 2002)
5. Where To Draw The Line: How To Set Up Healthy Boundaries Everyday by Anne Katherine (Simon & Schuster, 2000)
6. Working Parent Happy Child by Caryl Waller Krueger (Nashville/ Abingdon Press, 1990)
Copyright 2003 by Natalie Gahrmann
About the Author:
Natalie Gahrmann, is a workshop/seminar leader, writer, success coach and expert in work/life mastery who delights in helping others achieve their goals and live the life they truly want. She is a graduate of Coach University and a member of the International Coach Federation, NJ Professional Coaches Association and the Alliance of Work/Life Professionals. She combines life experiences and extensive training to motivate others to achieve better results, unlock creativity and gain personal fulfillment in their work and personal life. To learn more about how coaching can help you, call to arrange a complimentary 30-minute coaching session. For more tips, advice and resources see Succeeding as A Super Busy Parent: 75 Practical Tips for Balancing Life, Love, Kids, and Career (Infinity Publishing, 2002) and visit www.superbusyparent.com. To subscribe to our free weekly e-newsletter for working parents, send a blank email to email@example.com.
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