My son told me a story not too long ago
about an incident he had seen on television that made
an indelible impression on him. Apparently, a plane
had crashed and a crowd of reporters were in the terminal
talking to the family members of the passengers and
trying to get more details. Amid the mass confusion
and chaos a disheveled, ominous looking man approached
the airline executives in attendance and in a booming
voice began shouting profanities at the top of his
lungs. People in the crowd immediately began to shout
back and chastised him. One man, standing to the side,
saw the incident and walked over to the distraught
man and put his hand on his shoulder and gently asked, “What
is the problem friend?” The troubled man was
stunned by this response and immediately fell sobbing
into this man’s arms explaining his child had
been on the crashed airliner. My son related this story
and we talked of the many times we all had been too
quick to respond in anger, without understanding.
Most of us have a difficult time staying open hearted and present to intense
feelings coming from those we love and the biggest reason for this has to do
with boundaries. We all have a tendency to take what our family member or beloved
is saying personally. We can’t remain objective because we are afraid what
they are saying in some way reflects negatively upon us or will have some negative
impact on us. So, instead of being able to stay present, listen and reach a place
of understanding, we move immediately into trying to tell the other why their
feelings are incorrect. We make him or her feel guilty for their feelings, or
attempt to shame them through intimidation or interrogation. Very little gets
accomplished in this pattern of communication and most of the time we leave the
process feeling unheard and invalidated.
Boundaries play an important role in successful communication. When I understand
that everything you are saying is about you and not about me, I can listen more
intently. When we listen to each other without boundaries we often filter everything
we are hearing through our own little red wagon of life experiences and pain.
What we hear triggers feelings of fear, concerns about abandonment, blame, inadequacy
and not being enough which makes listening from an objective place more difficult..
Having good boundaries makes it possible for me to hear what you are saying and
take it in as your truth, whether I agree or not. For instance, Mary says to
Ted, ”I feel so lonely I could just die.”
Ted responds, feeling he is responsible for Mary’s loneliness, by saying, “I
don’t know how you could be lonely, I’ve been home every night for
weeks!” Mary in turn withdraws feeling unheard and misunderstood.
On the other hand, if Ted had strong boundaries, he might say, “ Tell me
what it’s like when you feel so lonely you could just die.”
Mary might then continue by saying, “When I was a child we moved so often
I could never make permanent friends. Now my best friend is moving and it’s
starting all over again. It makes me feel like I’ll never have a friend
I can count on.”
This is a simple example but it illustrates what happens in communication processes
much of the time simply because we don’t have good boundaries. The process
of establishing good internal boundaries can begin with the simple exercise that
follows. Once you feel comfortable with these boundaries, begin communicating
with them in place and watch how much easier it is to listen.
Sit comfortably on an bed or on the carpet
and delineate your boundaries by drawing a circle around
your partner can visibly see in the carpet. Ask the
1. Is your boundary drawn so lightly it
is hard to determine where it is -
What does that mean for you? Can others tell where
your boundaries are?
Do boundaries feel uncomfortable - unfamiliar -
Talk about how not having well defined boundaries
effects you and those around you.
Is your boundary right next to your body leaving
you no space to
Do others have to get right n your
face to be heard?
Did you learn as a child to draw into your self
Is your boundary huge because you think the only
way to stay safe is by keeping people away?
2. Check in with your body and mind to
see if you are sitting a comfortable distance apart
not too close - not too far?
Talk about what is comfortable for each of you and
adjust your positions based upon what you need,
not what the other wants.
3. One at a time have
one partner erase their boundary.
Talk about how it feels when you have a boundary
and someone you are with does not.
Give the person with a boundary a chance to talk about their feelings
and give the person without a boundary time to talk.
Then let your
their boundaries and do the same.
4. One at a time have one partner move
back a foot at a time and feel the responses that arise
of you when you feel distance or removed.
Talk about how you stay connected when you are not
close together and what your comfort level of distance
is before you begin to feel abandoned or engulfed.
Talk about how your boundaries were respected or
not respected as a child and how that has effected
as an adult.
6. Talk about how you feel boundaries
are respected or not respected in your relationship.
suggestions on how you can each create more respect
your own boundaries and those of your partner.
7. Talk about the difference
between healthy boundaries and walls.