The word boundary can bring many ideas to mind and this is partly because boundaries can reflect something physical and also something that is not physical or visible to the eye.
This could be a wall around a house or marker at the end of a territory for example. And a psychological boundary is completely different; one cannot see these types of boundaries as they would a physical boundary.
However, no matter what type of boundary we are talking about, it is clear that they all have a purpose. And without them, all kinds of problems would be created.
When it comes to describing psychological boundaries, I would say they are what allow one to have a sense of self. And by this I mean that through these boundaries one knows that they are an individual. They know where they begin and where they end and also where another person begins and ends.
From here one is aware of their thoughts, feeling, perceptions, behaviours and sensations. And as a consequence of understanding this, they can come to know what is not theirs and what belongs to another person.
This person feels safe and comfortable in expressing who they are. And because of this, the people in their life generally support and validate their expression.
When This Doesn't Happen
However, this doesn't always happen and one can then feel controlled and even trapped by others. This means that their internal wellbeing is always being influenced and affected by what another is doing or saying; they are not autonomous.
It might be that one is so engrossed in another person that they don't feel separate from them and that they feel emotionally enslaved to another person or to people in general.
And when this happens, it is only natural for one to have great difficulty in discerning what is theirs and what is another's, at a mental and emotional level.
Sense Of Self
This person doesn't seem to have a sense of self or if they do, it is not strong enough to create boundaries. Their sense of self is being defined by other people and is changing as other people change.
Unconsciously this person is saying 'I am who you want me to be and I will change whenever you want me to change'. Externally this person can come across as certain, just as easily as they come across as uncertain.
What won't be taking place is the expression of their true sense of self and what their true wants and needs are or how they are really thinking and feeling inside.
It appears that they have dissociated form their own internal processes and now their focus is completely external in nature. Here the person is hyper vigilant to what is going on outside and to the reactions and behaviours of other people.
And this is all at the cost of having very little self reflection and in being able to tune into what's going on internally. Dissociation is a defence mechanism that the ego mind uses to protect itself. It does this during times of heightened stress and trauma.
So, if one has disassociated from their own selves, it means that they have done so out of their ego minds need for protection and therefore to be safe.
Safe from what one may ask? Is it that these people are constantly being exposed to situations that are unsafe and out of this, they have to continually deny their true self?
In each individual situation in one's life, where one has come to focus their attention externally; it may seem that this occurrence is always happening externally and that one powerless to do anything.
In order for something to be perceived as safe to the ego mind, it has to be familiar. One could then say that out of continually experiencing having no boundaries; one has become familiar to this experience. And this is partly true; however where did this all begin?
And because of how the ego minds associates safe as being what is familiar, it will continue to create these same situations, even though they are dysfunctional and disempowering.
These boundaries are usually what were formed in ones childhood. And whether one grows up to have healthy boundaries, will largely be defined by whether their caregivers had healthy boundaries. They will then have these early points of reference. And this is because the ego mind will associate these as being familiar and what is safe.
During these early experiences one came to learn whether it was safe for them to express their feelings, thoughts and behaviours. And if these were validated and mirrored the child would begin to see that it was safe to do so.
Here not only is the child in touch with what these are, but the people that are around the child are also willing to accept them. What this is creating, is a sense of self and a healthy one at that.
The child is forming a relationship with what is going on internally and an awareness of its existence.
When ones caregivers have badly formed boundaries, they then have very little chance of allowing their child to develop healthy boundaries. And a big part of this is down to their basic needs being unfulfilled. This means that the child will be used to take care of the caregivers needs.
The Childs own sense of self will remain undeveloped and this is because the child has to tune into the needs of its caregivers. The Childs needs are of course denied during this process.
Here one will learn from a young age, how important it is to tune into others and all at a cost of neglecting one's own needs. As a child, one has to do this to survive, it has no other option.
One is then likely to grow up with a sense of self that is either nonexistent or is severely undeveloped. And this person has learnt from a very early age, that is has to fulfil the needs of others in order to survive.
It then becomes only natural to either consciously or unconsciously looks to other people for constant feedback on how they should be feeling, thinking and behaving. This is also assisted through ones own estrangement from their own inner self.
One can also feel guilt and shame when it comes to fulfilling one's own needs or in listening to their own self.
The above happens through the regression to ones wounded inner child. This child carries all of the trauma and unmet needs of the past. And the ego mind will continue to recreate situations that mirror the past; simply because they are familiar and therefore safe.
It is not possible for the majority of the wounded inner Childs needs and wants to be fulfilled. And this is because they are childhood needs. This could be the need for unconditional love or absolute acceptance and approval from another and as an adult this is neither possible, nor necessary to have.
Healthy boundaries and a sense of self are a consequence of awareness. And the reason that they were not formed in the beginning is due to a lack of awareness. The feelings that were created through not having these original needs met will have to be expressed. And as they are validated and acknowledged through the assistance of another conscious individual, they will begin to disappear.
As this process continues, one will naturally begin to get back in touch with their needs and wants without feeling guilty or shamed of them. Having an awareness of another person's needs is important, but not if it means neglecting one's own needs. And ones true self will also begin to appear as a consequence of this process.
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Oliver J R Cooper
Oliver JR Cooper
Author of 26 books, Transformational Writer, Teacher & Consultant.
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That which is contained within these articles is based on my own empirical understanding and is true for me at the time they were written. However, as I continue to grow, what I perceive as the truth will inevitably change and as a result of this - parts of these articles may not reflect my current outlook.