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Personal Boundaries: What Are They?

Borders are not walls that we put between ourselves and others or between ourselves and situations and it does not mean being selfish or not very empathetic. The boundary defines our personal space, it is useful for our physical, mental and emotional safety. This is an invisible limit, a "window of tolerance" that determines trust, emotional stability and self-esteem, dictates rules, limits and behaviours, defines and protects our identity, makes us feel safe regardless of life experiences.

An inviolable right of the individual beyond which others, without our permission, cannot enter. It allows you to avoid harmful or unacceptable behaviour on the part of others, it helps to manage problems, to choose the actions or words that protect this space, and it will be a YES if we want or a clear NO if we don't like something.

Borders Not Respected

Normally, instinctively, we know when someone invades or does not respect these boundaries by entering this personal space that we can define as "intimate", the body signals it immediately, it is an infallible guide to listen to: the body stiffens, we feel a tightening of the stomach, we cross our arms or legs, we perceive a sense of emotional discomfort or discomfort, we can feel emotions such as anger or fear and the impulse is to carry our arms forward as if to draw an "imaginary line" between us and the other. These are the reactions that are activated to defend our privacy and ourselves from what we perceive as aggression.

Unhealthy Borders? The Signals at the Practical Level

The creation of borders is rooted in the history of the person. Due to adverse events or experienced trauma (What is trauma? Click here to learn more), a fragmentation of memories occurs and consequently the breaking of borders with serious repercussions on our balance. Without these, our life can become difficult, chaos, self-esteem, our sense of identity and security are affected, and the possibility of setting appropriate limits is affected.

On a practical level, the breaking of boundaries can be expressed with behaviours and modalities such as:

  • Feeling used, judged, victimized or not respected by others, feeling that they are disturbing;

  • Difficulty affirming your will and letting yourself be persuaded to do things you are not convinced of;

  • Difficulty saying "no", accepting criticism or "no" from others;

  • Being too close to each other or too far away;

  • Show excessive tolerance to provocations, compromises, blackmail, seductive looks or situations deemed unacceptable;

  • Invest a lot of time and energy in work or relationships and receive less and less: give more and more to others and less and less to oneself; taking too much responsibility for the actions and emotions of others or asking someone else to take their own;

  • A need for the approval of others, rather than satisfying the desire to express oneself;

  • Often getting involved in the problems of others or entangled in situations that do not concern us;

  • Getting caught up in unhealthy or unwanted relationships with the difficulty in getting out of dangerous or destructive relationships or situations, which take away energy and enthusiasm;

  • Thinking that you do not deserve attention, love and esteem or something better than what you have;

  • Believing that one's emotional well-being derives solely from having satisfied the needs and requests of the partner in order to replace one's own needs with those of the other until one stops desiring;

  • Conform to the ideas of others for fear of the opinions of others. Fear of losing attention or being less loved if you deviate from their way of doing and being;

  • Being easily influenced, always indecisive, easily submissive to family, partner, children;

  • Difficulty keeping personal information to yourself. Acting intrusively or not respecting the boundaries of others;

  • Feeling guilty about fulfilling one's desires e.g. “I don't go to the gym because my wife/husband feels lonely when I'm not there”. Feeling guilty about stating your ideas openly.

In most cases, people hardly realize that their borders are fragmented. Failing to set limits, they feel sadness, lack of pleasure, perceive a high level of need for love and affection from others. Thinking that they are receiving appreciation, love and affection, they sacrifice their identity and remove their boundaries without being fully aware of it. Their space can be compared to a house that is always open, without doors and windows, where everyone can enter without asking permission and at will. Recreating this boundary becomes essential to rediscover a sense of well-being, stability and security, it means putting doors and windows to the house, which we can open and close according to your needs.

Everyone Has His Own: How Are Yours?

The American scholar Nina W. Brown recognizes 4 types of personal boundaries adopted by each individual to define their own space and distance themselves from others:

Weak - A person with these kinds of boundaries is easily manipulated by others. Limits can be trampled even imperceptibly, without a safe boundary the danger is not perceived risking being "invaded" by the other up to symbiosis or merging with the boundaries of others, coming to consider it normal that others decide for us. It is important not to diminish the problem of placing "border poles" that delimit one's space because one risks losing one's identity.

Rigid - A person with rigid boundaries closes in on defense; he is always suspicious and isolates himself to avoid physical and emotional contact with others; does not speak of himself. These boundaries are created on the basis of a previous bad experience usually are people who have suffered previous physical, emotional, psychological or sexual abuse. When the boundaries are too rigid, one shuns the relationship, experiences, life. In all cases, it is not life. In rigidity, our house will be without doors or windows.

Soft - They are a combination of weak and hard boundaries. They allow for less emotional involvement than weak boundaries, while not being rigid. People who adopt soft boundaries are always uncertain about what to accept and what to reject.

Elastic, Flexible - This is the ideal personal boundary, capable of generating well-being. It allows you to make a selection on what to accept and what to reject, to distinguish nurturing contact from erotic or threatening contact, resists manipulation and does not allow itself to be exploited. In addition, he manages to maintain the management of his emotions and therefore resists emotional contagion. In this flexibility, the individual experiences and rises break down, overcome and redefines these boundaries every day to create new ones. A safe border does not feel the need for the approval of others. Healthy borders are built as children.

Healthy and Flexible Borders

They begin to define themselves as children and if nothing has gone to interfere with the delicate construction process as adults, we will be able to set healthy boundaries and protect our private space firmly and with a great sense of stability, security and trust.

Otherwise, it may happen that the person being aware of their discomfort chooses to take care of themselves following a therapeutic path to restore them and arrive at manifesting healthier and more assertive responses such as:

  • Taking responsibility for one's actions and emotions, without taking responsibility for those of others and without blaming others for free;

  • Having high self-esteem;

  • Knowing how to communicate their rights, needs and desires;

  • Do something because you want it, without expecting anything, without feeling obliged and without fearing the consequences of a refusal;

  • Express your thoughts and choices or engage in an argument without fear of hurting someone's feelings;

  • Avoid conditioning others with your way of thinking;

  • Accept and respect the opinions of others even if different from their own.

Redefining personal boundaries becomes a possible strategy, to recognize and delimit our space from that of others, to defend ourselves from abuses of power and manipulations, to pay attention between what belongs to us and what belongs to others.

Through a therapeutic path, working on one's own personal experience, also with the use of specific exercises, visualizations and colours, to experience the invasion on a body level, recognize it and make aware of the reactions and actions that are activated, to start modifying the dysfunctional responses with other more functional ones, recreating one's own space and balance.

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