August 2014
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Hello Readers,

Any of you who know me either personally or professionally have, no doubt, had the opportunity to hear me speak passionately about one of my favorite topics, healthy personal boundaries. I am passionate about this topic because I know it is part of the foundation of every good relationship. When a toddler first declares "No" he is telling us that he has just realized there is a separation between himself and others, and he has at least some control over himself. It is a glorious moment for the toddler. What really matters, though, is how the important adults in his life respond. Is he supported in setting his own personal boundaries and, equally important, taught to respect the boundaries of others? Or is he scolded for his declaration and taught that setting boundaries is bad? Either response will effect how he sees himself and interacts with others.

This month's feature article examines some possible indicators of a need for adjustments in our personal boundaries. After reading the article, take the quick quiz to see if your own "fences" could use a little mending.

Best Wishes,
Tending The Fences: Setting Healthy Boundaries

"Good fences make good neighbors." We've all heard this bit of wisdom from Robert Frost. I believe he was saying that knowing and respecting the limits in our relationships allows us to build trust and friendship.

The same is true for all relationships, in particular romantic ones. Boundaries are invisible fences you build to let people know how close or intimate they can be with you at a point in time. However boundaries are fluid. Each of us can choose to adjust them to allow someone to come closer or to gain more emotional distance, according to circumstances. The interesting dynamic is that when two people respect one another's boundaries for a period of time, each is more likely to loosen boundaries and invite the other to come closer.

It's not always easy to determine where to place personal boundaries, especially if we haven't had good role models or weren't supported in setting boundaries as a child. If we err on the side of too rigid boundaries we miss out on opportunities for close loving relationships and friendships. Boundaries that are too loose often leave us feeling invaded and taken advantage of by others.

Below are some behaviors that can be associated with boundaries that are either too rigid or too loose:

Rigid Boundaries

Aloofness: While it might seem like a passive behavior, being consistently aloof in one's relationships is often an effective disguise for a rigid boundary being used to protect oneself from perceived risk. Unfortunately it keeps everyone out and blocks intimacy.

Aggression: This type of behavior clearly declares, "Stay back!" and may be in response to past violations of physical or emotional boundaries. A person displaying this kind of aggression is lacking in trust, and so must keep others at bay.

Unavailable: If a person is routinely not available to share their time or is physically present but emotionally absent, he or she may be attempting to connect while still holding on to rigid boundaries. It's simply not possible to be wholly protected while being wholly available.

Loose Boundaries

Enmeshment. Enmeshment indicates a lack of boundaries. It is a rejection of the reality that there is an end to you and a beginning of me. In other words, when two people are enmeshed, they often behave as one. However, one person in this kind of relationship nearly always develops resentment and often leaves.

Passivity. Each of us has a right to express our desires, or to simply say "no." If someone is never taught this, then that person will not have the emotional means to set his or her individual boundaries. This individual becomes dependent on others to determine where their boundaries are. The result is hurt feelings and resentment toward others. Friends or partners are often perplexed by this response and relationships do not move forward.

Dissociation. "Blanking out" or "going away" during stressful or emotional events is called dissociation. It is a defense that results in being out of touch with your feelings. It also leaves a person unable to assert limits. This type of dissociation is usually the result of abuse during childhood. It must be resolved and healthy boundaries must be established in order for any relationships to be safe.

As I said, it isn't easy to determine where to place boundaries. You must first recognize the need for a boundary and then find the strength to assert yourself appropriately. But if you learn these skills and become comfortable employing them, you will find yourself more at ease with all your relationships and you will enjoy and benefit from them all the more.

If you recognize yourself in any of the above descriptions, perhaps you too are struggling with setting healthy boundaries. I have successfully helped many people work through these issues, so I hope you will consider giving me a call.

Author's content used with permission, © Claire Communications
How Well Constructed Are Your Boundaries?

Now that you know a little bit more about boundaries, try taking the quiz below to help gauge the health of your own.

1. I start statements about my opinions or desires with "I" rather than "you" or "we." This lets me own what I say and is less defensive than "you," and more accurate and honest than "we."

2. My boundaries are specific and clear: "I don't accept phone calls after 10 pm," rather than vague: "Please don't call me too late."

3. I'm consistent when I create boundaries. If I say "no phone calls after 10 pm," I don't make exceptions unless the situation is exceptional.

4. When people attempt to cross my boundaries, I don't assume the worst (they don't care, they weren't paying attention, they're selfish and inconsiderate); I simply clarify my position.

5. When I realize I'm in a situation that might be headed for trouble, I set my boundary clearly: "I won't continue this conversation if you raise your voice at me."

6. I try to avoid situations and people where I know my boundaries will be continually tested.

7. I don't blame myself for how others react to my boundaries. If someone feels resentment because I didn't wait when he was thirty minutes late for our appointment, I don't apologize for acting on my limit.

8. I respect others' boundaries and ask for clarification when I'm not certain of limits. "May I talk to you about business after hours?"

9. When people refuse to respect my boundaries, I walk away rather than get into a situation that could escalate. I explain why I'm leaving.

10. I let people know when I have reconsidered a boundary. "I used to accept your tardiness, but now..."

11. I believe that everyone has to create his or her own boundaries. What's okay for me might not work for someone else.

Well-constructed boundaries can make life easier by reducing conflict and improving relationships. They also improve self-esteem. If you answered true to fewer than six of these questions, it's possible that your boundaries need some shoring up. Please don't hesitate to call.

Author's content used with permission, © Claire Communications
Barbara is a psychotherapist with over 20 years of experience helping individuals and couples to achieve happier, more fulfilling lives. She assists clients to better understand themselves, improve their relationships and develop more effective responses to life's problems. Barbara works with adults confronting all types of challenges but is especially skilled at helping survivors of trauma.

Barbara always welcomes the opportunity to work with new clients.
Barbara Hill, LCSW-C
6236 Montrose Road
Rockville, MD 20852
Phone: (301) 340-3050

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Barbara Hill, LCSW-C · 6236 Montrose Road · Rockville, MD 20852 · USA

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