“Good fences make good neighbors. – Robert Frost”
In Boundaries: Where You End and I Begin, author and retired therapist Anne Katherine explain what healthy boundaries are, how to recognize if your personal boundaries are being violated, and what you can do to protect yourself.
“Healthy boundaries protect without isolating, contain without imprisoning, and preserve identity while permitting external connections. Good boundaries make good neighbors.”
what is a Boundary?
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.
We have other boundaries as well emotional, spiritual, sexual, and relational. You have a limit to what is safe and appropriate. You have a border that separates you from others. Within this border is your youness, that which makes you an individual different and separate from 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.
The two main types of boundaries are physical and emotional. Our physical limits are marked by our skin; our emotional limits, by age, roles, our relationships with those around us, our requirements for safety, and our choices about how we want to be treated.
Types of Boundaries
Emotional Boundaries : 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 no one reacts precisely as we do.
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. “You must work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12, New English Bible) 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 extent of that interaction.
We have relational boundaries. The roles we play define the limits of appropriate interaction with others.
“If you grew up in a dysfunctional family, you probably had little help with boundary development. You may have grown up without any clear sense of your own boundaries. In fact, you may have been taught to let others run over your boundaries.”
What is seen as a healthy boundary in one country or culture may be misunderstood or feared in another culture. Actions interpreted as boundary violations by white people in the United States may be common customs in Native American circles. U.S. citizens, with their easy familiarity, may unwittingly violate boundaries in other more formal countries by practices common within our own borders.
Boundaries, to some extent, are influenced by the values of the culture in which we live. When we interact with other cultures, it’s important to be sensitive to these differences and to remember that each side may unwittingly cross a boundary not from malice but from ignorance.
“Have you ever had an abortion?”
Violations of intrusion occur when a physical or emotional boundary is breached. Incest is a violation of intrusion. Other violations of intrusion include inappropriate personal questions, inappropriate touching, and attempting to control how another thinks, believes, or feels.
“Adults also need to be touched.”
Violations of distance occur when intimacy is less than what is appropriate to the relationship when someone from whom one has a right to expect closeness is excessively removed or cut off. If closeness is an appropriate part of a relationship and it does not occur, the relationship has too much distance. Again, context is the key that defines the violation.
Enmeshment Is Not Intimacy
There’s a big difference between enmeshment and 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, a very different experience from intimacy.
Enmeshment – You are Me
When a couple becomes enmeshed, that is, when the individualities of each partner are sacrificed to the relationship, the individuals and the partnership suffer. If childhood is used for survival, then little energy is left to develop a separate sense of self. It’s likely, then, that a person who had to spend childhood surviving would enter marriage as an incomplete person. She’d be vulnerable to absorbing her mate’s perspectives, ideas, and attitudes and taking them as her own.
“Enmeshment, remember, may feel close, but it isn’t. Enmeshment means someone’s individuality is being squashed. An enmeshed person is not known.”
Your Physical Boundaries
Your life is yours. You are the one accountable for your choices. You bear the consequences of your decisions and your body bears the consequences of your decisions about it. You choose what to eat, how much to exercise, how completely to rest. The care of your body is in your hands and you are the one who lives with the results. If you decide to floss your teeth, you get to enjoy healthy gums. If you decide to live in a way that keeps you driven and tense, you are the one who lives with high blood pressure, greater susceptibility to illness, and strained relationships.
“Nothing is illegal if a hundred businessmen decide to do it.” -Andrew Young
We Are Not Born to Be Victims
Inability to distinguish extreme or inappropriate behavior, excessive tolerance for abuse, impossible expectations of self-perfection, inability to defend oneself, are infallible symptoms of severe childhood abuse. If a child learns that her only permitted response to abuse is to survive it, how, as an adult, can she magically know that defense is permissible?
Unfortunately, many of us have been in situations where we’ve been overpowered physically, where someone has used violence or power to take from us. We are not responsible for that harm. An unfortunate consequence of such violence or abuse of power is that we sometimes believe we are born to be victims. We let others commit even nonviolent offenses against us because we’ve lost the sense (or maybe we never had it to begin with) that we have the right to defend our boundaries.
“The more you stop yourself from being used, the less you broadcast yourself as a victim. Like a wolf who stalks the weak elk in the herd, exploiters will pass you over if you seem strong and feisty. By learning to protect yourself, you lessen the incidences of being threatened.”
The development of emotional boundaries and the development of self go hand in hand. Weak boundaries equal a weak self-image; a healthy self-image equals healthy boundaries. Boundaries without a self would be like a punctured balloon. It collapses when nothing is inside. A self without boundaries is like air without a balloon, shapeless, formless, diffused.
Boundaries without a self would be like a punctured balloon. It collapses when nothing is inside. A self without boundaries is like air without a balloon, shapeless, formless, diffused.
Emotional boundaries define the self. Assaults to boundaries threaten the self. One’s unique self is composed of a complex of ideas, feelings, values, wishes, and perspectives that are duplicated by no other. Emotional boundaries protect this complex.
All the Best in your quest to get Better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.