Boundaries - What are they?
A boundary is a limit or edge that defines you as separate from others:
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
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
We have relational boundaries - parent, partner, and friend:
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. Questions:
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
Are people in your life
comfortable with boundaries?
- 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
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
they choose to live
they could still live if
something happened to the other.
Relationships do well when the individuals have a lot in common:
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 shortcomings 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
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.
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
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:
- "the commitment is made". Therefore intimacy is automatically in place and
leads you forward.
Truth - "takes a lot of work and must be deliberately
Visible & 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
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:
violations of intrusion.
violations of distance.
Intrusion violations occur when a physical or emotional boundary is breached:
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.
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.