Boundaries are like feelings; they are emotional, they are psychological, and they are physical. Most of us who have lost touch with our boundaries are hard pressed to define them, much less know how to identify, defend and maintain them. When we grow up in a family with dysfunctional characteristics, at the least, we lose sight of our feelings and boundaries; two of the most important characteristics in our arsenal of survival mechanisms. If our feelings and boundaries are encouraged and their expression reinforced by our caretakers, we have the best chance to reach our inherited potential. We will have high self-esteem and will not even entertain the idea that we are incapable of a loving relationship or a coveted career choice. If we fail at something, we easily move on.
If our feelings and boundaries are not encouraged, we are prevented from individuation; becoming an individual in our own right. We lose touch with our natural affinity for recognizing and appropriately acting on feelings, our boundaries blur and we find ourselves feeling unloved, isolated, “in trouble,” and experiencing the worst life has to offer. At some point, we find ourselves “at the end of the rope,” not knowing what to do. We have exhausted our ideas for improvement and our friends and family cannot seem to help us. At this point, we are dysfunctionally acting out our stress relieving behaviors and probably getting into more trouble. It is at this point that we might come to meet a therapist.
Boundary Management Therapy (BMT)
Imagine an invisible 18 inch circle around you. This is your basic boundary. Whatever enters this circle must enter with your permission, either by invitation or acceptance. This circle includes “all of you,” your emotional, psychological, and physical boundaries. I call this boundary, my “Circle of Concern,” or “CC” for short.
When these boundaries are violated:
We note a feeling
We give in by automatically doing what we have learned is the "right thing" to do.
We have allowed our boundary to be probed.
We develop feelings of anger and resentment towards the person whom we have allowed to violate the boundary.
We develop feelings of anger and resentment towards ourselves for allowing the boundary violation.
Practice BMT for yourself.
1. Begin by noticing a feeling in response to someone else. It may be a vague feeling of unease, up to feelings of rage.
2. Act on the feeling appropriately by thinking to yourself, “How can I act on these feelings and have my goals met successfully?” This requires defending your boundaries in a way that the other person, at the minimum, is agreeable to.
3. State your response (it may be as simple as “no thanks” or “I’d love to do that with you, but I can’t right now. I’d love to do it later.”).
4. Rate your response on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the best.
Over time, you will get better at eliciting appropriate responses, others will know you better, you will know yourself better, and your personal feelings and feelings about your relationships will improve as you successfully recognize Boundary Probes and defend your boundaries effectively.