Building Boundaries in Relationships – Part II

Boundary States
An individual’s boundaries can vary depending upon the type of relationship, situation, or recent stressors one has experienced. Most people fall into one of the categories listed below and may be more or less extreme; depending on how many characteristics they meet for each criteria.  If you read through this and discover that many of the items under one category apply to you, that’s likely your overall boundary state with others. This information can be helpful in understanding how you interact in relationships, help you pin-point problem areas you’d like to work on, or understand a “boundary type” of person you attract. Of note, many cultures have norms for boundaries that are healthy and comfortable within one’s culture, but once applied to another culture, can be difficult to understand and navigate.  If you find yourself in a different boundary state that’s not “intact” but is healthy for your culture, know that there are many healthy norms, not just one.
1. Intact/Health Boundaries:  You are both protected and vulnerable; your sense of self is contained.
a. Physically: You will make your boundaries clear to others, are sensitive to other’s needs, and ask permission before touching others.
b. Emotionally: You can share your feelings appropriately, are direct when communicating, and can develop interdependent relationships.  You can identify choices, make mistakes without damaging your self-esteem, and have an internal sense of self. You can both tolerate differences in others and accept different opinions without altering their own. Overall, you’re described asbeing empathetic towards others.
2. Partial Boundaries:  You are protected and vulnerable with some people, some of the time. Your sense of self is contained at times and your boundaries work in some situations, with some people.
a. Physical:  You may experience extremes in need for physical space, experience fluctuating boundaries, such as having rigid or healthy boundaries in some situations and fragile boundaries in others.
b. Emotional: You may be prone to mood swings, are indirect when communicating (share problems with your best friend about your partner, but not with you partner directly).
3. Nonexistent boundaries: You can feel wide open to the world with no protection and find it hard to contain your sense of self.  You may fluctuate from being a victim or an offender in different situations.
a. Physical:  You may not like being alone and touch others without asking and/or allow others to touch you even if it’s uncomfortable.  You may not always be aware of your own need for privacy and/or impose on the privacy of others (ie. reading your partner’s emails/texts). You may experience strong reactions to other’s feelings or behaviors, personalize situations (ie. “It’s my fault”), are easily influenced by others, and people may describe you as being unpredictable.
b. Emotional: You can feel everything, especially the feelings of others. This makes it difficult to contain emotions and you may feel that you’re responsible for the feelings of others.  In relationships you may tell too much about yourself (too early), feel dependent on others for emotional well-being, and get too close too fast.  You may feel like a victim in relationships and experience prolonged resentments. Many people in this category are “yes sayers,” and their identity is linked to being in an intimate relationship.
4. Rigid boundaries:  You are completely protected and contained, there’s no room for intimacy.  You may feel that nothing can go in or come out (especially emotions).  Many people in this category can feel isolated and use a wall when they sense another’s need to be close.
a. Physical:  You may appear stone-faced, have a stiff posture, stoic, and appear/feel uncomfortable when being touched.  You may want to avoid showing affection to others and never really over react or under react.  Others would describe you as being predictable in nature.
b. Emotional:  You can come across as insensitive to the feelings of others, aloof, and disinterested.   You don’t like showing your feelings and even worse would be talking about them.  You attempt to meet your needs and wants by yourself and have difficulty asking or accepting help from others.  You are uncomfortable when giving or receiving.
Once you have identified specific behaviors within your boundary type that are unhealthy, ask yourself where did they develop from? What beliefs do you have about yourself or others that influence your behavior? Can you challenge these thoughts/beliefs and replace them with more “balanced” thoughts?  What would make your boundaries more intact (if culturally appropriate)? Then choose a specific behavior from the “intact” criteria and begin practicing it today. You may find quick results if you focus on one behavior at a time, while catching yourself when falling into an old, unhealthy pattern of communication.  I wish all of you a wonderful New Year in the making and hope these tips send you off in the right direction, so you can develop the relationship you deserve in 2013!
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