Sanctuary for the Abused
Sunday, December 18, 2005
Basic Description of Boundaries
by Pia Mellody
There are four types of boundaries that develop in human beings: physical, sexual, emotional and spiritual. Physical and sexual boundaries are external, while emotional and spiritual ones are internal mechanisms. Each of these may be characterized by a position statement.
Physical boundaries: I have the right to determine when, where, how, and who is going to touch me. I have the right to determine how close someone is going to stand next to me.
Sexual boundaries: I have the right to determine with whom, where, when and how I am going to be sexual with someone.
Emotional boundaries: What I think or feel or do or don't do is more about me than it is about you. Conversely, what you think and feel or do or don't do is more about you than it is about me.
Spiritual boundaries: I have the right to think and believe as I do. I need only face the consequences of my thinking.
Boundaries may be visualized as an inverted bell jar that exists around a person. It is flexible and permeable. For instance, if I choose to hug someone, I choose to allow them into my physical boundary, as they choose to let me into theirs. If I choose to be sexual with someone, I choose to let them into my physical and sexual boundaries. If I choose to share my deepest feelings, I allow a person to enter my emotional boundary.
Allowing a person access to ourselves, inside our boundaries, is a gesture of trust and intimacy. We make ourselves vulnerable. We can either experience affirmation or be wounded to the core. Boundaries offer protection from the emotional or physical assaults of others.
Healthy boundaries though not perfect, allow a person to experience a comfortable interdependence with other people, resulting in generally functional relationships and positive self-regard.
Damaged boundaries operate inconsistently and often dysfunctionally. They are the result of mixed messages and abuse, and are usually related to abusive relationships in the individual's family of origin and/or relationships of choice.
Walls protect the person who has constructed them but do not let anything in or out. This person lives in a state of loneliness, possibly protected from the assaults of others, but also prevented from establishing trusting and intimate relationships. People with walled boundaries have generally been deeply hurt by others and have erected barriers to prevent being hurt again by others' actions, thoughts and feelings.
No boundaries is the opposite extreme from walled ones. A person with no boundaries is unable to prevent unwanted intrusions and may be unaware that it is possible to do so.
At the very least, sexual assault and abuse are violations of a person's boundaries. People with healthy boundaries can have them damaged during assaults. Sexual assaults have repercussions on all levels of a person's boundary system. It is for this reason that healing from sexual assault and abuse is a slow and painful process.
SIGNS OF HEALTHY BOUNDARIES
Revealing a little of yourself at a time, then checking to see how the other
person responds to your sharing
Moving step by step into intimacy
Putting a new acquaintanceship on hold until you check for compatibility
Deciding whether a potential relationship will be good for you
Staying focused on your own growth and recovery
Weighing the consequence before acting on sexual impulse
Being sexual when you want to be sexual--concentrating largely on your own
pleasure rather than monitoring reactions of partner
Maintaining personal values despite what others want
Noticing when someone else displays inappropriate boundaries
Noticing when someone invades your boundaries
Saying "NO" to food, gifts, touch, sex you don't want
Asking a person before touching them
Respect for others--not taking advantage of someone's generosity
Self-respect--not giving too much in hope that someone will like you
Not allowing someone to take advantage of your generosity
Trusting your own decisions
Defining your truth, as you see it
Knowing who you are and what you want
Recognizing that friends and partners are not mind-readers
Clearly communicating your wants and needs (and recognizing that you may be
turned down, but you can ask)
Becoming your own loving parent
Talking to yourself with gentleness, humor, love and respect
Adapted from a lecture by Pia Mellody, Wickenburg, Arizona 1990. Rape Crisis
Center, 1991.used with permission by from the Coordinated Community Response for
Sexual Assault web site of Dane County Wi.
© Copyright 2003- 2004 David Bruce Jr. unless explicitly
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Contact: David Bruce Jr.