Thursday, December 10, 2009

Interpersonal Boundaries: Castle Wall or Open Perimeters?


"My food," said Jesus, "is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work." John 4:34

When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, "Don't cry." Luke 7:13

So far we have defined interpersonal boundaries as the psychological place that makes up you, called the Self. It is the location where you start and another person ends. I like to visualize it as an actual wall, just like you might find around a castle. However, this wall or boundary can have varying levels of thickness and flexibility. It can be rigidly formed like a brick and mortar wall, or it can be open and undefined, more like my property line. It all depends on you.

The next challenge is becoming aware of your type of personal boundary: rigid, fixed and clearly defined vs. open, permeable, and flexible or fluid. This is something you may or may not know about yourself. So let me ask you some questions to help clarify your type of interpersonal boundaries.

Answer these questions on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 = none of the time and 5 = all of the time.

__My plans are open and easily changeable.

__I like to try new things, like new activities and new foods.

__I don't like a set schedule since I often play it by ear.

__I am a person who goes along with the crowd.

__I am not a leader.

__I don't have strong opinions.

__Angry people make me uncomfortable and I avoid conflict, if I can.

__I make friends very easily and quickly.

Add up your scores. Totals under 24 are individuals who have firmer, more defined, and maybe even rigid boundaries. Totals above 24 are individuals who have open, fluid, and more undefined boundaries.

Which one is the right kind to have? Both are fine and both present problems. Boundaries that are too open and flexible can result in someone who doesn't have clear goals or direction. These individuals might even be spontaneous to the point of impulsive. Their sense of Self might be very susceptible to outside influence. They are liked by others since they are easy to get along with and tend to be followers. They dislike conflict and might even go out of their way to avoid disagreements.

Those with firmer boundaries tend to have a well-defined view of themselves. This includes interests, likes and dislikes, and viewpoints. They are less open to changing those areas since their Self is less open to outside influence. Conflict doesn't bother them; they might even welcome it. They tend to be leaders or loners. These individuals might be more scheduled or structured in their daily life routines. They like some type of rules (it might not be conventional rules though) and tend to play by them.

As you can see, each end of the continuum of interpersonal boundaries has its pros and cons. It is okay to have either type of interpersonal boundary as long as you are aware of the inherent weaknesses of your type and shore up those areas. For example, if you really dislike conflict, that can be a serious problem, since avoiding all problems, as a rule, generally doesn't work. But, if you know this about yourself, and learn to deal with some conflict, then you are less vulnerable and in a more empowered position.

I chose two Bible verses today as examples of Jesus' interpersonal boundaries. As I wrote before, Jesus' purpose was already clearly defined and well-formed. In this way, he had firm, set interpersonal boundaries. Yet, we also see Jesus impacted by others. It didn't mean he shifted from his original goals or purposes, but he could be touched and affected by the needs and pain of those around him. As a result he was emotionally available. This is the kind of balance we need to find within ourselves: to be defined, yet interpersonally open.

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