Building balanced boundaries

    Building balanced boundaries

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Building balanced boundaries

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Do you find yourself struggling to connect with others? Do you have a difficult time cultivating meaningful relationships in your life? Do you find yourself frequently hurt by others and don’t know why? If you answered yes to any of these questions you might need to re-balance your boundaries.

Personal boundaries fall into five types:

  • Physical boundaries: refers to the space in and around your body. Do you shake a hand or hug when you greet someone? When does this change and with whom? Do you sit next to someone on the couch, sit on their lap, leave the room when they walk in? When and with whom is your response different?
  • Emotional boundaries: refers to the separation between your emotional state and another individual’s emotional state. Strong reactivity to someone’s emotional state suggests open/weak emotional boundaries and weak reactivity to someone’s emotional state indicates closed/strong emotional boundaries. Do you strictly feel guilty for your behaviour, or do you find you feel guilty for others behaviour? Do you often feel what others feel, or are you relatively unaffected?
  • Sexual boundaries: refers to your sexual practices and the distinction between what you’re comfortable with compared with what you’re uncomfortable with. Are you comfortable with cuddling or do you prefer your space? Do you engage in texting or sexting? Do you sleep with someone on the first date, second date, third date, or wait until marriage? Do you practice monogamy or polygamy?
  • Intellectual boundaries: refers to your thoughts, opinions, values, and beliefs. Do you hold on to your beliefs loosely or strongly? Are you quite impressionable or stubborn?
  • Spiritual boundaries: refers to your beliefs in a higher power or deity and the rigidness/openness you have towards these and other beliefs. Whatever your spiritual belief, what is the inclusiveness or exclusiveness with which you hold to that belief vs. others?

Boundaries have one primary purpose, they protect us. By abstaining from sex on the first date or being selective about the kinds of personal information you share on that date, you protect yourself from being hurt by someone you barely know. While boundaries keep us safe, they can also keep us unnecessarily closed off, resulting in lost opportunities for intimacy and personal growth. By being overly selective about sharing personal information with a partner of many years you are emotionally disconnecting from your partner. What I am outlining here is that unbalanced boundaries are a compromise: high personal safety comes at the expense of intimacy. On the flip side, high intimacy comes at the cost of safety. Boundaries exist on a continuum ranging from healthy to unhealthy. When you practice healthy, balanced boundaries you can experience the best of both worlds and feel safe while feeling close and connected with others.

Unhealthy/Unbalanced                                                                      Healthy/Balanced

Divulging everything and anything to anyone You consider the other person’s level of interest in you before being vulnerable and opening up to the them
Falling in love with someone new to you, or anyone and everyone You allow love to develop over time. You know the qualities you need in a relationship and those that are not in your best interest. You take the time to get to know these qualities in a person
Going against your personal values, beliefs, and principles in order to avoid conflict or please others You have values which are negotiable and values which are non-negotiable. You are not willing to do “anything” for your partner
Letting others make your decisions for you You listen to the thoughts and opinions of others, but you make the decisions you believe are best for you
Letting others define who you are You get to know who “you” are and are cautious of partners who want you to change your identity
Acting on your first sexual urge/impulse You use your feelings and self-worth to decide when to act on sexual urges. “Will I feel good about myself in doing this?”
Allowing others to take whatever they want from you You are aware of when you are being taken advantage of and respond assertively
Giving everything and anything for the survival of the relationship You do not give beyond what you can afford just because it makes you feel secure in the relationship

While healthy boundaries can be difficult to enforce, the more you practice assertively setting clear and healthy boundaries in your relationships, the more you protect yourself from hurt and experience deeper more meaningful connections with others. Balancing boundaries is difficult because it requires ongoing reflection and assessment. You need to know what your strengths and struggles are with boundary setting in order to appropriately build balanced boundaries. If you have a tendency to leave yourself exposed to threat and in harms way, you will likely benefit from increasing your confidence and building assertiveness skills in order to strengthen your boundaries. On the contrary, if you find yourself unable to open up and trust others, especially those closest to you, you would benefit from loosing boundaries and taking more incremental risks. No matter where you fall on the continuum, building balanced boundaries is a journey that takes focus and effort; however, the payoff is experiencing the best of both worlds, safety and intimacy.

Jon Christink

Therapist / Counsellor

Office: Oakville

Focus: Marriage, Adolescents & Adults, Anxiety/Depression, Teen-Parent Relationships, Self-esteem, Problematic Behaviour, Assertiveness, Social Skills, Addictions, ADHD, Trauma, Anger Management, Life Issues

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