Personal boundaries: Wait, who’s there?

Our lives consist of relationships which influence our self-esteem and inner comfort directly or
indirectly. We are constantly involved in two-way long-term relationships with our children, parents,
partners or friends, and in short-term daily contact with unfamiliar people. Regardless of the degree
of affinity, we all share personal boundaries, reliable or weak, hard or soft as fluff.
We pay careful attention to the security and surveillance of our homes and cars along with the lock
sets on our doors and lockers. As well, we do address the sensitivity of the personal space of
others and do not intrude in their territorial boundaries without “knocking” and permission.
Regarding psychological boundaries, there are many challenges connected with intrusiveness and
timing.

In psychology “boundaries” implies awareness of one’s own “Self” separately and independent
from the others. Self-understanding forms the basis of our personality. Clear boundaries “tell” us
where we are and where we are not; what do we feel and what we don’t feel; what gives us
pleasure and what does not give us pleasure ; what we want and what we don’t want. Maintaining
this context, this is how our boundaries define us.
Why is it difficult to protect our psychological boundaries? What price do we pay for the absence of
boundaries? And this price does exist.

People with unclear boundaries spend a tremendous amount of energy trying to maintain
relationships. Being fearful of losing their relatives, colleagues, friends and even unfamiliar people,
they often agree to behaviours that are contrary to their personal interests — for example,
spending time on others regardless of their own plans, etc. Unclear boundaries are always an
issue of responsibility and provide space for manipulation or sacrifice.
Protecting our boundaries begins in childhood when the rights for personal boundaries are
constantly challenged. For example, children are often told what feelings they ought to have and
which ones they should not be experiencing, especially in the area of anger, resentment and
loneliness. Keep in mind, adults do not know how to contain children’s negative feelings and
everyone loves smiling kids more than the moody and irritated. Often children are forbidden to
express their own thoughts and opinions if they differ from the norm or the environment. Many
parents wish to raise their children based on a certain plan, not taking into account their children’s
inclinations and desires. Of course it happens because of the great “love” and instinct to protect
kids from danger, but the result is the opposite — they grow with damaged personal boundaries
and are deprived from their individuality.

Further development follows a path of two possible scenarios — a person does not realize their
own needs and desires, doesn’t believe in themselves and easily gets manipulated. Or the person
does not sense the boundaries of others, suppresses and subordinates people. In both cases,
there is a departure from the realization of their own life project and the relationships developed
are always dependent.

Working with boundaries is not a quick process and requires additional help. Nevertheless, there is
something you can do on your own. There is a good exercise called “Map of my life”. Imagine that
you and the people around you are countries, of different sizes and different norms. With some of
them you may have common boundaries and customs or limited interaction, while with others you
may have simplified or complicated visa agreements. Draw this map and think about how these
relationships looked like three, five and ten years ago. This exercise helps in identifying basic
patterns and understanding where to strive — to learn to defend your own boundaries or to respect
the boundaries of others, after which you may plan further actions.

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