• Karen O'Moore


“Good Boundaries make good Lovers” Barbara Carrellas, Ecstasy in Necessary.

This month’s article is concerned with Personal boundaries and their role in intimacy. But first of what is a boundary and what is a personal boundary? A boundary may be described as where one thing ends and another begin. In a personal boundary it is where we end and others begin: boundaries are the limits we set in relationships to protect ourselves from being manipulated by emotionally needy others.

We have boundaries in all aspects of our life: from our workplace, our friendships to our intimate relationships. Boundaries are not only emotional but spiritual and physical as well. But the nature of the boundary is different depending on your situation. Would you have the same boundary with a work colleague as you would have with family and would you have the same boundaries with your family that you have with your lover? This month we are concentrating on intimate boundaries, with our lovers and sexual partners, though the concepts apply for all types of relationship.

Understanding our own boundaries is an important part of developing intimacy, what we need and what we desire, what turns us off and what we don’t like, what we would like to explore and what for us is a no go. In essence it is the understanding of who we are in and of ourselves that enables us to set healthy boundaries. But what is a healthy boundary? The first thing to look at is what a healthy boundary is not: Unhealthy boundaries are those that are set for us by others, that are hurtful or harmful, that are controlling or manipulative, that are invasive or dominating and which are rigid and immovable (though distinguished from a fixed boundary: Think peanut allergy as an example of a fixed boundary). On the other hand healthy boundaries are those which are present, appropriate, clear, firm, protective, flexible, receptive, determined by US.

According to Nina Brown there are four main types of psychological boundary: Soft boundaries and a person with soft boundaries merges with other people’s boundaries and is an easy victim of psychological manipulation. Boundaries may also be spongy and those with spongy boundaries are unsure what to let in and keep out. Rigid boundaries on the other hand result in a person being closed or walled off so that no-one gets close physically or emotionally. A subset of rigid boundaries are those that are SELECTIVE, they are based on time, place and are based on experiences in similar situations. Finally we have flexible boundaries which, though similar to selective rigid boundaries, allow for more control, the individual decides what to let in and what to keep out and is resistant to emotional and psychological manipulation and is difficult to exploit.

The example of the peanut allergy is either a selective rigid boundary or a flexible boundary that has become “fixed”: in other words the individual knows that eating food containing peanuts will have serious affects and is able to say “no”. On the other hand, if we take for example sexual preference (which covers who we are attracted too and what activities we enjoy doing), that changes over the course of our life and rather than being viewed as black or white should be viewed as “rainbow”. Those with soft boundaries would find them manipulated by others into situations that they are not comfortable with, those with rigid boundaries would exclude the possibility for true ecstasy and Intimacy, those however with flexible boundaries could fulfil their intimate and ecstatic potential by adapting and changing boundaries according to their wants and desires, maintaining their healthiness, positive self-esteem and the health of the relationship by experiencing a sense of comfortable interdependence with their lover(s).

At one time or another we have all experienced what happens when our boundaries are crossed and what feelings or emotions are generated when we feel that we experienced an activity or situation where we were unable to clearly define and express our need for safety or security, our concerns and fears and what we wanted from our partner: the sense that we could not say “no” to the situation for whatever reason. In previous newsletters we have talked about the importance of Trust and Communication in Intimacy. The respect for you and your partner have for your boundaries, the respect you and your partner have for their own boundaries are another part of this. Certainly as an intimacy coach we work with couples and singles to look at what current boundaries exist in the relationship, the nature of those boundaries, where they could be improved, how to say “no” effectively and how to explore emotional, sexual, and intimate possibilities in a safe, supportive environment.

But before looking at another person and their role in intimacy and trust within your relationship, an important step in developing boundaries is to get acquainted with and take responsibility for yourself: This is an essential component before healthy boundaries can be set and maintained. As adults we are responsible for all our decisions we make, we have the choice to respond and limit the way other’s behaviour affects us. While some people refuse to set boundaries because they see them as selfish, are afraid, are unaware, are manipulative or simply need to be validated. Others use them to be selfish, to hide, to avoid living in the challenge zone through fear, to fully experience existence and the potential for intimacy. Both are wrong. Boundaries are about self-control. When you develop and maintain healthy boundaries in yourself, you respect boundaries in others, you generate trust and intimacy via communication of these boundaries and a reciprocation from your partner.

But where are you now with your boundaries and intimacy? Try this simple quiz to look at your ability to set and maintain healthy boundaries:

Answer A or B to the following questions. Do you:

A) Tolerate things that you would not tolerate in anyone else

B) Have a flexible personal standard applicable to everyone

A) Feel Flattered and allow it to manipulate you

B) Appreciate feedback and can distinguish it from attempts to manipulate you?

A) Find yourself obsessing about another?

B) See your reaction to another as information?

A) Ignore personal limits to get sex?

B) Integrate sex while maintaining integrity?

A) Believe the other is the cause of your excitement

B) See the other as stimulating your excitement?

A) Feel victimized but not angry?

B) Let yourself feel anger?

A) Are Compliant or Compromise?

B) Use Agreement and Negotiation?

A) Cannot say No?

B) Can say No effectively?

A) Disregard intuition?

B) Honour your Intuition?

A) Feel afraid and confused?

B) Mostly feel safe, secure and clear?

A) Believe you have no right to secrets?

B) Protect and honour your privacy?

Look at the questions where you answered “A”, there may be boundaries within that aspect of yourself which need to be establishes, re-aligned, strengthened or altered

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