Understanding the need for healthy boundaries helps to establish our separateness from others. And in this awareness that “I am separate from you”, I have a boundary. Having a boundary allows a choice. This produces healthy relationships. Boundaries help you be conscious of what you need, what works for you and what clearly doesn’t. We all have basic human needs for love, connection, touch, to feel supported, and so on, as well as knowing ourselves as separate individuals. If we are not connected to what we do need, we are unable to ask for it or know when we are not getting our needs met. This denial or blindness creates expectations that are not voiced, so they are not able to be addressed in a relationship.
Quite often we want to control and change others to be what we need. But ultimately the only one we can change is ourselves. This means taking full responsibility for ourselves and what we need. But first, we have to learn what we need and this involves defining our sense of Self and how our needs are different than another’s needs; whether that is from a parent’s need, a partner’s need, a friend’s need, or a child’s need.
To find your boundary, you must explore what your needs are, before you can take responsibility for them. For some people who are primarily givers it is very difficult to recognize their own unconscious need to be given to that they project onto others. For others who are primarily takers, it is difficult to recognize that other people have needs, and that they cannot always get or control the outcome of what they want.
People learn different ways of relating according to what age their primary wounds were established in their first few years of life. Some people have a very strongly developed sense of boundaries, and may have a difficulty letting go and surrendering to intimacy and closeness in relationships. Other people have very little awareness of their boundaries and live a ‘co-dependent’, merging, type of relationship.
A healthy relationship has a bit of both; some giving and some taking. To be able to do this, healthy boundaries need to be understood and practiced.
David Schnarch, family and sex therapist and others like Gay & Kathlyn Hendricks, body –oriented psychotherapists, advocate models of ‘inter-dependent’ relationship rather than ‘co-dependent’ relationship where boundaries are not clearly understood between two people.
David Schnarch in his book, Passionate Marriage, talks about the concept of ‘differentiation’ in creating a new model of healthy relationship. Schnarch defines differentiation as opposite to what he calls emotional fusion. It’s about a different kind of connection that,
“involves balancing two basic life forces; the drive for individuality and the drive for togetherness”.
– Schnarch (Passionate Marriage, 1997)
Schnarch also states that we “usually will emerge from our family of origin at about the highest level of differentiation [that] our parents achieved [and that] we always pick an [intimate] partner who’s at the same level of differentiation as we are.” He finds that the relationship will end early if there is not a match in levels. According to his model, as much as one partner might think they are miles ahead of the other, they actually aren’t that much farther.
The quest of differentiation is not easy. No one ever really wants to differentiate. As you learn how to define and understand your own energetic boundary, a sense of your own self and separateness can become clearer and more grounded. Relationships can then begin to flow in a way that is not defended in the fear of being lost in the ‘merging’ potential of an intimate relationship, or sometimes even the unconscious feeling of terror or abandonment of being all alone in the world. As one begins to establish boundaries and find the clarity of an ‘authentic’ inner self, the outer world will begin to change in profound and positive ways.
Having differentiated boundaries is a paradox as it allows us to get closer and yet more distinct, rather than distant. By setting ourselves apart, it opens the space for true togetherness.
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