Boundaries and Healthy Relationships
Boundaries are so essential in life and so poorly understood. Whether dealing with co-dependence or a business or social situation, understanding boundaries is essential.
Charles Whitfield M.D. provides excellent resourceful knowledge about boundaries in his book, Boundaries and Relationships. Boundaries mark where my reality ends and your reality begins.
"Being aware of our boundaries and limits is useful in our relationships and recovery. In fact, this awareness is crucial to having healthy relationships and a successful recovery. A boundary or limit is how far we can go with comfort in a relationship. It delineates where I and my physical and psychological space end and where you and yours begin. Boundary is a concept that provokes a real experience within us. Therefore, in my relationship with people, places, and things, the boundary is real. My boundaries and limits are real. The other's boundaries and limits are real."
"In describing boundaries, Paine and Hunt say, "Interaction with others occurs at boundaries — yours and theirs — where you end and they begin. The easiest way to understand healthy functioning of boundaries is to think of the role of cells. The cell is a semipermeable membrane. When it functions correctly, the cell wall keeps poisons out, lets nutrients in, and excretes waste. It also defines the existence of the cell by separating it from other cells."
"Healthy cells have an intelligence that knows whether to be a stomach cell or a brain cell. "Healthy cells demonstrate good contact at their boundaries and by discriminating between nutrition and poison, and by positioning and duplicating them selves. The healthy person much do the same. To have a semipermeable membrane, to know when to allow in and what to keep out, means you have a choice in your life, and means you will be an active rather than a passive participant in it. To manage contact well is an expression of self, integrity, and freedom".
"Having an awareness of boundaries and limits helps me discover who I am. Until I know who I am, it will be difficult for me to have healthy relationships, whether they may be casual acquaintances, friends, close relationships or intimate relationships".
"Without an awareness of healthy boundaries, it will be difficult for me to sort out who unsafe to be around, which may include people who are toxic for me, and even some people who may mistreat or abuse me.
"The boundary marks or delineates the differences between me and the other. Without boundaries, it would be hard to define myself. Without them, it would be hard to know myself. Without boundaries, I may not feel that I have a self. And without boundaries, I can't have a healthy self. So by being aware of and having healthy boundaries, I can define and know myself, know that I have a self, and have a healthy self."
"A key to my boundaries is knowing my inner life. My inner life includes my beliefs, thoughts, feelings, decisions, choices and experiences. It also includes my wants, needs, sensations within my body, my intuitions, and even unconscious factors in my life. If I am unaware of or out of touch with my inner life, I can't know all of my boundaries and limits. When I am aware of my inner life, I can more readily know my boundaries".
"The actively co-dependent person tends to be fixed in either few or no boundaries, boundarylessness, or the opposite, overly rigid boundaries. And they often flip-flop between these. Because they focus so much of their attention outside of themselves, they tend to be less aware of their inner life, and thus less aware of their boundaries."
"Another key to having healthy boundaries is flexibility and adaptability. When we are able to be flexible and adaptable in any relationship — without being mistreated or abused — we can know ourselves in a deeper and richer way. And we can let go more easily into the experience of that relationship to enjoy both its fun aspects and its growth points."
"In our day-to-day experience we have many opportunities for growth. That growth includes the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual realms of our awareness experience and consciousness. Awareness of our boundaries helps us in that growth."
"Not being sufficiently aware of their inner life, the unrecovered and actively co-dependent person may be so flexible and adaptable that they are flexible and adaptable when they are being mistreated or abused. They are unable or unwilling to set boundaries or limits in a way to deal with and prevent unnecessary pain and suffering."
"We can have a relationship, whether transient or long-term, with nearly any person, place, or thing. To make those relationships go better, we can use boundaries and limits in a healthy way in many areas of our lives. These areas include the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual realms of our life."
Physical Areas of Our Life
"Included in the physical area is a broad range of simple and complex boundary factors. Some simple ones are pollution (such as noise, or smoke), clothes, food and shelter. More complex are those such as money, property, gifts and physical differentness from others. Regarding any of these, can you recall any times when your boundaries were invaded? Even more complex are such things as physical closeness, touching, sexual behavior, eye contact, privacy, time and energy."
Mental and Emotional Areas of our Life
"Mental and emotional boundaries include many important aspects of our lives. Some of these are our beliefs, thoughts, ideas, feelings, decisions and choices. "
"Has anyone ever accused you of or blamed you for something that they did or that was actually their issue? How did you feel when they did that? They may have been invading your boundaries by projecting some of their unfinished business or issues onto you. Did you buy into it? Are you still tolerating it?
You don't have to. Their pain, confusion or attempts at control or manipulation may be theirs, not yours. With awareness of your inner life and with clear boundaries and limits, you can handle or at times even prevent such boundary invasion, and thus avoid unnecessary pain and suffering."
"Other mental and emotional areas where personal boundaries are important include energy, sexuality needs, time alone, intuitions, and even our individual differences. Has anyone ever drained your energy so much that you neglected your own needs? Possibility: You may have experienced a lack of awareness of your inner life, including your needs. You may have been people-pleasing to the detriment of self (active-co-dependence). This is a set-up for boundary violation and more unnecessary pain and suffering."
"Has anyone criticized you because you do things differently from them? Or criticized you for some aspect of your sexuality? If so, how did you feel? And what happened? What did you do with the resulting conflict? Did you work it through directly with the other person? And if appropriate, did you set limits with them? Or did you hold in your feelings, possibly to avoid their confronting or rejecting you?"
"Some other mental and emotional areas where personal boundaries are helpful include: love, interests, relationships, participation, roles, rules, and messenger function. Messenger function means that someone inappropriately convinces you to deliver a message to a third party. And if you do so, you might end up with more than you bargained for, e.g. more unnecessary pain and suffering. Of course, such suffering may turn out to be useful if you work through the conflict or issue and learn from it, including setting limits with other person so that it doesn't happen again"
"But these and other areas in relationships are often not so simple and clear-cut. For example, have you ever declined interest in something that is being pushed on you by another (which is a potential boundary invasion)? Then you later became interested in and perhaps even profited by whatever they had been promoting? A principle we can use is to keep our boundaries as flexible as feels appropriate for us — for our wants and needs and other aspects of our inner life — and take responsibility for our risking and for consciously setting a healthy boundary or withdrawing if we wish. This is another example of using boundaries in a healthy way."
"Some spiritual areas where boundaries may apply include our own spirituality and personal experiences whether of an obviously spiritual nature or not."
"We live and function in relationship with our self, others and our Higher Power. If we had only rigid boundaries, we would keep others out of large parts of our life and we might end up feeling isolated, empty and alienated. If we had only loose boundaries, we would let others invade our inner life so much that we would end up confused and overwhelmed with all of their stuff. With healthy boundaries we can be flexible, opening or closing them as is appropriate for our wants, needs and life."
"Compassion is a feeling that is also an evolved and useful state of consciousness and being. In fact, it is one of our highest states of consciousness, probably second only to feeling Unconditional Love. But it can sometimes be difficult to differentiate true compassion from the simple and trapping passion of active co-dependence, where there are usually unhealthy boundaries."
"Have you ever been moved by someone's story? We feel a similar empathy and passion in both compassion and active co-dependence, but in true compassion we feel warm and caring and yet do not feel compelled to jump in and rescue, fix or try to heal them. We are still there for people if they reach out to us in any way; but we are secure enough in ourselves not to try to use fixing them to fill our own emptiness."
"With the unhealthy boundaries of active co-dependence, focusing outside of oneself, we usually live in the range of discomfort from apprehension to misery. In compassion, with healthy boundaries, we may feel a bittersweet peace. Although this peace may have a painful edge, we can abide as we contemplate or sit with the other. It is almost as though we are sitting there in attendance with the other, while practicing the Serenity Prayer:
God grant me the Serenity To accept the
things I cannot change. Courage to change
the things I can, And the Wisdom to know
"If we are attached to the outcome and try to fix or rescue the other person, we are not practicing compassion. We are in a more primitive state of consciousness that we can call passion. A way to help avoid such a complication and its resulting pain in to have and maintain healthy boundaries."
"In compassion, we can thus empathize, and not abandon others, yet not take on their pain to our detriment. Being compassionate is an important answer to the sometimes expressed concern that with healthy boundaries we may be somehow cold or neglecting to others. It allows us to be close or intimate with others and to care about them, without hurting ourself. Doing so also allows us to be there more fully for them, since we now have a healthy self."
Some Characteristics of Healthy Boundaries
- Presence. To have boundary health--and to sense the usefulness or non-usefulness of a boundary — a boundary has to be present in my awareness to some degree. If it is not present in my awareness, then I may not be able to set it or, if I choose, to let it go.
- Appropriateness, based on my inner life. This begins to delineate some useful reasons why I may need the boundary. I set the boundary or let it go based on what I am experiencing right now in my inner life. My inner life includes my beliefs, thoughts, feelings, decisions, choices, wants, needs, intuitions and more. So knowing what is coming up for me in my life is crucial in my setting healthy boundaries and having healthy relationships.
- Protective. The boundary is useful to help protect the well-being and integrity of my Child Within.
- Clarity. I am clear about he boundary with myself and with the other or others with whom I am setting the boundary or limits.
- Firmness. To get what I want or need, how firm do I want my boundary or limit to be? I am in charge of how firm I want them to be.
- Maintenance. Do I need to maintain or to hold firm on a specific boundary or limit for a period of time, to get what I want or need? Or do I need to relax the boundary or limit to get what I want or need?
- Flexibility. To get what I want or need, how flexible do I want my boundary or limit to be? To have healthy boundaries, I need also to be flexible — when appropriate — for my healthy, individual human needs and wants. To have healthy relationships, I need to let go of my boundaries and limits when appropriate.
- Receptive. Would it be useful or enjoyable
for me to loosen the boundary a bit or let another person, place, thing,
behavior or experience in?