Archive for the ‘Strategies for growth’


February 7th, 2008

Boundaries

In the same way that fences separate and define personal property and our skin determines the limits of our body, we have psychological boundaries to protect our personal physical and emotional space.

A good illustration of our physical boundary is when someone gets so close that we feel uncomfortable and automatically back away to put more distance between us. In the same way, when someone invades our psychological or emotional ‘comfort zone’ by say mistreating us, or demanding we do something that is not right for us, then we also feel uncomfortable and threatened.

Boundaries tell us where we finish and others start. They are a dividing line between us and the rest of the world. They tell us what is ours and what is not, what is safe for us and what isn’t. They protect us from harm and stop us from harming others.

A lack of adequate psychological boundaries can cause all sorts of problems—tolerating abuse or being abusive—being controlled or controlling others—taking responsibility for others’ problems or abdicating responsibility for our own—being dominated or dominating others—losing yourself by ‘merging’ with another so that you don’t know yourself or your own needs, or having such rigid boundaries that no one can get close to you—trying too hard to please others or pleasing no one but yourself.

So how do we build and maintain healthy boundaries?

  • Work out what you will tolerate and what you won’t. Set clear limits on how you will allow others to treat you. It helps to write a list and spell things out clearly so that when confronted by something unacceptable, you don’t need to think about it or work out how to handle it. For example if ‘I will not be yelled at’ is on your list and someone yells at you then you instantly know that this is an invasion of your boundaries and you can put your planned response (such as walking away, or stating your ‘I will not be yelled at’ boundary) into action without delay.

  • Work out what you are prepared to do for others. When dealing with people it’s probably a good policy not to do for them what they can do for themselves. Being helpful, supportive and kind is one thing but if you really don’t want to do something or you feel some favour is asking too much of you, then refuse.

  • Equally, don’t make unreasonable demands on others. Healthy boundaries produce self-reliance.

  • A good indication that your boundaries are being compromised is when something bothers you, or you feel uncomfortable and stressed or when you complain about something. For example if you feel exasperated at bailing someone out of trouble, loaning them money, covering for them or cleaning up their messes, then it’s a sign your boundaries are under attack. Vow to stop what makes you feel ill at ease.

  • Some people attack your boundaries by stealth. They might just put their toe over the line, for example by being sarcastic. It doesn’t seem such a big deal, so you let it pass and move your boundary to accommodate it. Then they do it again. And again. So you move your boundary a bit more. Then they yell at you. Then they call you names. Each time you move your boundary and gradually the mistreatment escalates until you are tolerating things you swore you would never put up with.

  • So be protective of your boundaries. Don’t adjust them to tolerate ‘trivial’ disrespect. Stick to your limits and protect them with consequences to stop those who would cross them from doing it again.

  • Don’t back down and don’t feel guilty for standing up for yourself. Don’t let people manipulate you or convince you to change your boundaries. Many of us are afraid of being ‘selfish’ or looking like a troublemaker, being too demanding or uncooperative. Or we fear being rejected. We think that if we let people do what they want they will like and accept us. Not true. They will only lose respect and when it comes to mistreatment ‘If you give an inch they will take a mile” is usually the case.

  • If there are people in your life who have a tendency to invade boundaries make it plain to them that you will not tolerate it. Explain your boundaries and the consequences of crossing them. And be as good as your word.

  • The most important person who needs to respect your boundaries is you. If you don’t take them seriously and enforce and protect them, then others won’t either.

  • While you want your own boundaries respected don’t forget to respect those of others.

  • Assert your right to choose who can touch you and in what way. Women and girls often have to endure unwanted touching and it should not be tolerated because you don’t want to ‘rock the boat’, ‘cause a scene’ or be thought of as ‘uptight’ or lacking a sense of humour.

  • Don’t ever forget that you are a separate being. No matter how much you love someone, you are not them and they are not you. Cultivate and embrace your own unique self, separate from anyone else.

  • If you find it difficult to develop or maintain healthy boundaries to protect you from people who are difficult or damaging, then consider some form of assertiveness training.

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