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Healthy boundaries for healthier relationships

Learning to recognize and respect our limits/boundaries can sometimes be difficult. Often, in order to avoid conflict, we pick up some bad habits and react in a way that is not in line with our values and our essence. Other reasons may come into play, such as wanting to please, fear of rejection, or not wanting to offend the other person.

However, not respecting our borders/limits has a price. Tensions are born because of it. We feel agitated. Our reactions are exaggerated and our inner voice keeps hanging on the same negative thoughts. We are afraid to say no, and a passive aggressive relationship develops, which can be devastating and lead to separation or abuse. We feel deep resentment or blame the other for our unhappiness. The difficulties of not being able to express them are numerous and harmful to our mental health.

We can work on ourselves in stages to find ways to communicate them. Sometimes, they are not well received by the other person, because a new dynamic is established, destabilizing our partner, spouse, friend or colleague.

In her book, Set boundaries, find peace, Nedra Glover Tawwab, therapist, author and relationship expert, states that having healthy boundaries allows us to communicate our needs to others, create healthy and cohesive relationships and define each other’s roles. Acceptable and unacceptable behaviors are expressed to one another and establish parameters for what is it that we want from a relationship. When boundaries are clear, the relationship between two people is transparent.

Indeed, boundaries help us to take care of ourselves, to feel safe, to protect ourselves from excesses. It is a way to achieve a balance that adjusts to conflicts, egos or many other reasons.

Anné Linden, in her book, Boundaries in Human Relationships, puts it well: “Boundaries are the distinctions we make between the world and ourselves, between ourselves and the people who matter to us, and between different types of situations. This distinction creates separation while being permeable, allowing for the exchange of emotions and information... By their permeability, human boundaries allow for connection and simultaneously create separation.”

An analogy of this subtle interplay between self and others is tango. By watching the dancing couples, we can see the come-and-go they engage in, moving to the rhythm of the other in a reciprocal exchange of harmonious and supple movements in opposite directions. This bodily communication shows a fine perception of the personal limits/boundaries of each of them. This balance can be created because each partner abandons themselves to this game, in full awareness of them and the other.

For Jack Rosenberg, founder of the mind-body approach, the concept of self-boundary is a feeling or experience of a Self that is both separate from the world and in a harmonious relationship with that world. It serves to delineate the literally instituted Self.

These boundaries may not be visible, but they are quite tangible, and their respect or lack thereof makes us react, unconsciously, until we learn to recognize the signs. To recognize them, we have to listen to ourselves, to our own feelings and needs as a first step, in order to be in connection or in relationship after that, without losing this connection to ourselves. Boundaries can sometimes be soft or porous, leading to forgetting of oneself and leaving all the space to the other in the relationship, or they can be very rigid, pushing the other away and keeping them at a distance.

Feeling good in our relationships and in the expression of our boundaries, like these two tango dancers, is a practice to be exercised every day, as is self-awareness. The results may not be immediate, as in everything, but perseverance will lead to a more harmonious relational choreography.

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