Have you ever been in line at a store, maybe even having moved up to pay & the person behind you steps closer….closer…and even closer until you feel the skin on the back of your neck crawling? You just want to turn around and yell “BACK OFF” but you know that would be rude so most of us suck it up, and try to get through as quickly as possible.
That feeling you had? The sense of discomfort? The desire to push back? That’s your body’s way of telling you that something is happening to you–you have just had your boundaries violated. You can call it boundaries, personal space, or your bubble but what it comes down to is that we each have an invisible line that separates us from others. There are different boundary styles and they impact how you relate with others.
The first boundary type is known as “loose”–imagine one of those plastic fences that are used at outdoor concerts that with the slightest push, bend or disappear altogether. A person with loose boundaries often finds themselves saying yes when they want to say no, doing things they are uncomfortable with and allowing others to do things to them that they don’t like or that hurt them. This type of person, when in a relationship, is often indistinguishable from their partner–they lose themselves in their relationships and can’t tell where they end and their partner stops.
On the opposite end of the human behavior continuum is “rigid” boundaries. Those are more like walls–impenetrable, hard, and difficult to move. These people are often lonely, isolated, and have difficulty in maintaining relationships because they don’t allow anyone in and shut down those who try to share with them. Eventually, people just stop trying.
Between rigid and loose are permeable boundaries. These are neither walls or nonexistent but more like a spaghetti strainer whose whole function is to keep some out and some in. The person with permeable boundaries knows how to say no to what makes them uncomfortable, knows how to separate their experience from others and also knows how to compromise, how to let others in, how to see and be seen. This person has their own distinct identity and is able to hold onto that when joining into relational partnership with another.
Boundaries are one of those relationship things we don’t ever really talk about but are so critically important to have healthy, happy partnerships. It’s about seeking balance and learning how to authentically connect without losing ourselves in our relationships. And as with most relationship skills, it’s not always easy to learn but it’s always worth it.