Boundaries and the Dance of Intimacy
Patti is like many women. She has trouble being in a
relationship without feeling that she is responsible for it's outcome.
She has been blaming herself for what her husband and children do, or
don't do. As a result, she's been feeling overwhelmed, tired and burned
out lately. When she expressed her emotions to me in counseling, she
was relieved to hear that others have similar reactions.
Women in our society are often pre-programmed to be care
givers, and to focus on relationships. While this tendency to connect
with others and stay connected has many positive benefits, there can
also be a down side. Stress levels rise if we to constantly attend to
others at the expense of nurturing ourselves. So how can we stay in
touch with our internal needs without feeling compelled to take on
others' burdens? One important step toward reducing daily anxiety is to
understand the concept of healthy boundaries, and set limits
The Definition of Boundaries
"Personal boundaries" are what separate our
feelings, issues, needs and beliefs from someone else's. To maintain a
healthy sense of self, we need to define our own comfort levels for
self-disclosure or openness, along with physical and sexual boundaries
When boundaries become "enmeshed," it means we
generally feel responsible for what another does or feels. (We do not
define ourselves separately form them.)
The opposite situation, called an "anti-dependent
stance," means that we feel distant from others in our life. We
fail to recognize that at times we might need to rely on them.
Either of these reactions, being enmeshed with others or
being anti-dependent, makes relating more difficult. How can you tell
if you tend to fall into one of these categories in your relationships
with others? Ask yourself the following questions.
Are you unsure if what you're feeling stems from you or others?
Do you often allow others to cross over your boundaries
even when it makes you uncomfortable?
Do you fail to recognize your uncomfortable feelings,
or do you feel like you can't do anything to protect yourself even when
you do recognize those feelings?
Do you tend to blame others for the way you feel?
Are your beliefs and values unclear to you?
Are you unable to show your internal world to others?
Do you have difficulty accepting feelings at face value?
In other words, you need to have a reason for them.
Do you often say that you do not need anyone?
Do you distance yourself emotionally from someone you
claim to love?
Do you want intimacy, but push it away...or not want it
once you have it?
How to Rate the Confusion Around Boundaries
Family roles and rules about acceptable behaviors are
laid down in our childhood. We bring those into our current
relationships, and the result can be confusing. Our boundaries may not
seem to fit with our partner's. How do we work it out?
Boundary setting (or limit setting) includes all of the following:
- Receiving feedback from others, then accepting,
modifying, or discarding it.
- Knowing when we are uncomfortable, and doing
something about it.
- Recognizing others' needs for boundaries, and not
- &Separating out our feelings, attitudes and
beliefs from others'.
- Not blaming others for how we feel.
- Realizing when a problem is our own, someone else's
or a problem shared between us.
Intimacy is a Complex Dance
In intimate relationships we are continually taking steps back and
forth. We move toward someone, or away from them, based on what is
going on inside of us, circumstances outside of us, and what is going
on between us. As we go through this series of adjustments, the
relationship develops a tempo. When we focus on what we are doing and
what is around us, the dance can be beautiful and flowing, one that
moves gracefully with us through our lives.