Empowerment 101-Exploring Boundaries
Boundaries are different in each culture. Individualistic societies tend to set boundaries individually and collectivist societies set boundaries around the group or family. Personal and social distance is different in cultures as is eye contact and other nonverbal expressions. Some European and Latin cultures are more comfortable with closer proximity to others where British and American cultures are comfortable with more distance.
Gender also is a significant factor in boundaries. Women tend to set different boundaries with their children, close friends, and family than they do with men.
Fast track change – taking your power back, calming anxiety
- Become aware of your feelings- your feelings are your best gauge of inappropriate boundaries.
- Keep a journal of your progress. Write about your feelings, thoughts, and successes.
- Notice (and record) the following: who, what, where and how of boundaries. Is it friends, family, or work relationships? Is it when you are tired or vulnerable, at home, when you are out, men or women?
Accessing Personal Power-Setting Appropriate Boundaries
‘When I let go of what I am I become what I might be” – Lao Tzu
Dragonfly Secret #7: Powerlessness is an illusion
For many people the belief that they are powerless to change their life is an illusion or mistaken belief that is embedded deep in their mind, it is largely unconscious, and it, essentially, governs the way they live.
Feeling out of control of your body, your mind and your emotions causes anxiety and fear. The fear is largely for our own safety, physical, spiritual, sexual, and emotional.
Becoming aware of your personal boundaries and setting appropriate limits is one very important way to calm your anxiety and take your lost power back.
Setting appropriate boundaries is also an act of self-protection and ultimately an act of SELF-CARE. Nurturing and caring for yourself sounds like an easy task to accomplish however we have many competing tasks to take care of and self-care becomes an after-thought.
Questions to consider
Have you felt, at times and in some situations, that life controls you, you do not control life? What happens when you feel angry or uncomfortable with someone? Have you said yes when you really want to say no? Are you finding that you are doing something you do not wish to do? Or have you found yourself avoiding or isolating from others?
Generally when these things happen someone has been disrespectful of our personal boundaries, we have not asserted our boundaries and/or someone has assumed we are agreeable to something when we are not.
Boundaries that need changing:
- Telling more than you feel comfortable with later
- Talking at an intimate level on a first meeting
- Fear of talking at all because you say too much
- Trusting too quickly or in anyone who reaches out
- Becoming preoccupied with someone
- Adapting your behavior and values to please others
- Being sexual when you did not want to
- Being sexual for someone else, not your self
- Not noticing when someone invades your boundaries
- Not noticing when someone displays poor boundaries
- Accepting food, gifts, touch etc. that you do not want
- Touching a person without asking
- Lack of assertiveness and limit setting
- Letting others direct your life, make your choices, and determine your identity
- Believing others can anticipate your needs
- Expecting others to fulfill your needs automatically
- Falling apart so someone will take care of you.
This list is a little daunting because we can all probably see ourselves doing one or more of the above. The key is awareness. Once we become aware of our boundaries and that we can set limits around them then we can take our power back from these and other situations.
What are boundaries and how are they created and maintained?
Boundaries are invisible lines that are set around your intellectual, physical, emotional, spiritual, and sexual space. They can be very subtle or not, rigid, firm but flexible or porous or nonexistent. There are also generational and intergenerational boundaries, family boundaries, and cultural boundaries.
Boundaries are modeled in childhood by parents and significant others and are affected by trauma and abuse. Even with healthy, flexible, but firm boundaries we are not immune from boundary violations. An incident can occur that will essentially shatter certain boundaries. An accident, a trauma, or an experience with someone who does not respect boundaries (usually because they have not learned healthy boundaries) crosses personal boundaries and makes the person vulnerable to further boundary violations.
Inappropriate Boundaries and Mistaken Beliefs
Boundaries are maintained by mistaken beliefs (many at an unconscious level) about yourself, your gender, and your personal rights. Some people have the mistaken belief that they are entitled to cross others’ boundaries and that they can control what others think, value and do. Others have the mistaken belief that they have no rights that others can do what they will to them and cross intellectual, physical, emotional and sexual boundaries. Most people sit somewhere in between partly conscious of their boundaries and rights, and partly aware of their responsibilities.
Why are boundaries so important?
Boundaries make you feel safe and secure. They help you to make good choices about your time and personhood, and protect you from unwanted advances and intrusion into your personal space.
They also help others understand where we stand on important life issues. Boundaries help you to define where you end and others begin.
There is an excellent metaphor that helps to illustrate how boundaries work. Imagine a door with a doorknob on the outside that is unlocked. This is like boundaries where anyone can walk in your door sit themselves down in your living room and go into your fridge. In the extreme, boundaries for some are like a house with no doors or broken doors that won’t shut. These types of boundaries serve to allow intimacy at any cost, intimacy that is not chosen and one’s life is not their own.
There is another type of door; one that has bars on the windows and the door is locked with no doorknob on the outside. This is a house where no one is let in, where the people keep everyone out but a very select few and then they are frisked and interrogated before they are let in. this type of boundary rarely allows any type of intimacy and can be a position taken when someone has been traumatized.
Healthy boundaries are like a door that is locked but there is a window or keyhole where the person can decide whether this is a safe person and then if they conclude that is so they can unlock the door and let them in. This type of boundary essentially allows trust and safe people to enter into your life.
Boundaries and Trauma
When people are traumatized or abused they learn at an unconscious level that there are certain people that can open that door (no matter how strong it is) and walk in at any time and continue to do what they want or, at the worst, abuse or traumatize them. This is usually because they are not aware that they have boundaries and have not learned yet how to keep themselves safe. This is largely an unconscious response and as people heal from difficult events in their life they are able to set more appropriate boundaries.
There are intergenerational boundaries where there is a distinction between parents and grandparents, and children. The lines are distinct, parents are parents, children are children, and grandparents are grandparents.
Healthy family boundaries are those that are flexible but firm and they allow new experiences and safe people into the family but keep inappropriate and unsafe experiences and people out of the family.
For families there is a continuum of experience but generally families of abuse and/or drug addiction have porous or rigid boundaries. Strongly religious, cult like or dogmatic families have rigid boundaries and do not allow any experiences into the family and there are strict rules about whom you can talk to or see. Incidentally families where there is abuse tend to be closed to the outside to keep secrets in the family.
Alcoholic families tend to have chaotic patterns where pretty well anything goes and members are not protected from inappropriate behavior whether it is physical, emotional, intellectual or sexual. Children tend to take care of parents and boundaries are blurred in this type of family and it can be intergenerational in nature.
- Boundaries are about respect. Invite respect from others by telling them how you feel about what they are doing.
- Use the formula:
When you_________________(behavior, be specific)
I feel_____________ (uncomfortable, disrespected etc.)
I want you to ____________________________ or
The consequences are (if you continue this behavior) _____________________(that I will_______________)
- “One Day at a time” the phrase used in AA is helpful in changing the way you set boundaries. Choose something easier to deal with for example asserting yourself when someone cuts in front of you at the store rather than confronting your employer. Small successes lead to more confidence and bigger successes.
- Treat yourself kindly at all times and if you make a mistake or regret not setting a boundary use it as a learning experience not an opportunity to give your self a hard time.
Divide your boundaries into the following categories and list any concerns:
Mental and emotional boundaries:
Looking at your relationships draw circles similar to above of the people in your life. Are there people you would like to move into a closer circle or a further one? Show this in your diagram.
Questions for you to answer
What type of family did you come from? What were their boundaries (Intellectual, physical, emotional, sexual) like? Were they porous, rigid or flexible?
How have you altered or changed your boundaries as an adult? What changes have you made?
How do we tell if our boundaries are crossed? Generally there is an uncomfortable or “yucky” feeling that comes from inappropriate and disrespectful crossing of boundaries. Sometimes anger is the result. Think back to when you have felt this uncomfortable feeling or any anger has arisen. Where your boundaries disrespected? Describe what this was like for you.