Good boundaries make good neighbours

Do you have good boundaries? Do you clearly know the limit or edge that defines you as separate from others? You skin marks the limit of your physical self, however, there are other boundaries that extend well beyond your skin. You become aware of those when someone stands too close, don’t you? That’s when someone comes inside that invisible circle known as your ‘comfort zone’.

Boundaries can be somewhat flexible. It may be fine for your lover to stand much closer to you than most of your friends, or your workplace colleagues. A friend can stand closer than a stranger. When someone is angry or hostile towards you, you might want to keep quite a distance from him or her!

At work these issues are very important. I was recently talking with a friend who had taken a theatre class with his wife. During the course, the subject of ‘the talk’ was discussed. ‘The talk’ is the conversation two people in a play have when they are going to play scenes requiring intimacy or fighting. They discuss what is OK with them and what is not so that they do not overstep one another’s boundaries inadvertently. My friend who is a director of a community college decided it would be a good idea to ‘the talk’ with his entire staff. In doing so, many helpful things came to light. One person on his team said that having anyone closer to him that four feet was extremely uncomfortable. Another said it was no problem for them to be very close. Each had different needs for feeling safe. Some have different cultural norms for ‘comfort zones’. What are yours? Do you express them at work? Do you take responsibility for teaching people how to treat you?

There are other kinds of boundaries–emotional, spiritual, sexual and relational. You know the limits of what feels safe and appropriate for you. Do you maintain good boundaries that keep you feeling safe? Emotional boundaries, for example, honor the set of feelings and reactions that are distinctly yours. You respond to the world uniquely based on your perceptions, your history, your values, goals and concerns. You can find people who react to the world in similar ways to you, but no one will react precisely as you do in all ways. That is your uniqueness.

Your spiritual boundaries are set when you know the right spiritual path for yourself. If someone tries to tell you that their truth is a little more true than yours, you can draw the line. There is so much in the news about violence and sexual aggression. Sexual boundaries must be clear. You, and only you, choose with whom you interact sexually–and the extent of that interaction. All relationships that are healthy have boundaries that are respected. The roles you play in each relationship need to come with clear limits of what you consider to be appropriate and healthy interaction.

Boundaries bring your life into order. Holding your boundaries exercises your right to define yourself and your relationships to others. You teach people how to treat you and you are 100% responsible for doing so. Are you taking good care of yourself? Can you clearly tell another person where your boundaries are and what the consequences of crossing them are in ways that move the relationships forward? Sometimes that movement forward will strengthen your bond, sometimes it will end it. Clarity is up to you.

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