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Boundaries - Hedges of a healthy relationship

Updated: Dec 11, 2019

Article Four—Boundaries Look Good on You: Attributes of a Person with Healthy Boundaries -And- Article Five--How and Where We Learn About Boundaries

Build health boundaries in your relationships

For this edition, there will be a two-for-one, but for a specific reason. Since we will delve into how a healthy person operates within boundaries in relationship, there is the possibility of these questions arising: “Well, how does someone learn about making boundaries? Why can’t I create them to have better relationships?” We will look at both of these inquiries because the addressing of the first question answers the latter question.

So what does a person who has healthy boundaries look and act like? A person with healthy boundaries:

· Has a secure belief and view of themselves—Feelings of or a perception of threat of other people’s differences doesn’t undo them. They respect and honor individuality.

· Will not allow themselves to be trespassed upon—People who operate in healthy boundaries understand that they are lines of demarcation and not “walls of defense”; they know the difference between the two.

· Has a clarity about their own core beliefs, priorities, and values—Boundary people can’t be swayed or manipulated from their convictions, but can listen to other perspectives and give room to other’s viewpoints without demanding they think or believe like them.

· Know who is safe to disclose personal information

· Can typically withstand mean statements from others while continuing to stand firm in their self-confidence—Boundary people are not automatons. They do have feelings and may have some hurts and anxieties, but they can/will use those toxic exchanges to process for future growth.

· Know how to protect themselves without becoming a prisoner—Boundary people are the gatekeepers to their boundaries. They can move freely and fearlessly to interact with people and decide who can be trusted inside their set boundaries.

· Can be assertive at the right time—Boundary people understand how not to live in the label of victimor aggressor/perpetrator. To them, conflict is not a fearful thing but is seen as a vehicle to assert change in the status quo and to gain understanding of both parties’ needs and views.

· Can truly be themselves in relationship without becoming a “relationship chameleon”—Boundary people can be definitiveabout who they are and who they aren’t. They don’t wait for someone to provide their identity.

(Boundary Power, pp. 23-28)

To develop and know how to operate in strong boundaries isn’t created in a vacuum or having oneself climb a mountain to learn it from some mystical wise man or woman to know the how-to’s! We all receive our teaching of Boundaries 101 from the obvious teachers: our parents and our family of origin. The family of origin is where we get first-hand exposure in how to navigate relationships, and, ideally, it begins when a child is born to waiting parents. Researchers in the field of child psychology confirms that the first three years of a child’s life are important for the development of effective boundaries (Boundary Power, p. 29). The late Hungary physician and psychiatrist, Margaret Mahler, whose main focus centered on normal development of a child, touched on how the nurturing of a child in the four developmental stages (Symbiotic, Individuation/Hatching, Practicing, Interdependence) can create a more secure individual.

Each of the developmental stages build upon one another which begins to clearly outline the start of boundaries. Also, the stages prepare how that child will begin interacting with their family and ultimately the waiting world.

· Symbiotic: In the biological sense, symbiosis is about two living entities that exist and rely on one another. This also describes a mother-infant relationship. Emotional and physical support must be a sure and steady action by the mother (and simultaneously with the father and family) for connection to be reinforced. For the child, As O’Neill and Newbold states, “His mother’s boundary is his boundary. His experience is saying, ‘I am you’.” (Boundary Power, p. 29)

· Individuation/Hatching: Autonomy and trying to explore the world away from mother/father begins the learning of “I am me”. The “Mine,mine”phase is introduced and the child notes parameters.

· Practicing: Here, a child will begin to exercise their power of “no” to separate from the parents and to discover a new world. But this is where the influence and authority of the parents comes in so to help the child differentiate between “the noof a tantrum and the no of a boundary” through healthy discipline and explanation of the discipline (Boundary Power, p. 30).

· Interdependence: As Cloud and Townsend states, “Children should have mastered the following tasks:

o The ability to be emotionally attached to others, yet without giving up a sense of self and one’s freedom to be apart.

o The ability to say appropriate no’s to others without fear of loss of love.

o The ability to take appropriate no’s from others without withdrawing emotionally.”

(Cloud and Townsend, Boundaries: When to Say YES, When to Say NO, p. 29)

A child growing up in these specific stages in a secure family system will, in turn, function in that same secure manner. Sadly, not all families function this way—which contributes to relationship difficulties. So, with those two previous questions and addressing them through the information given, allow this time to examine how boundaries play out in your life by the boundary assessment provided below article. We will continue to boundary conversation touching on how dysfunctional family systems shape (or misshape) our understanding of boundaries.

**(Boundary assessment developed by Corner Canyon Counseling in Salt Lake City, Utah)

Written by:

Tammy Miller, LSW, MATS

Therapist at HBH

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