Learning how to create boundaries for yourself is essential to heal codependence, develop true intimacy and connection in our relationships, and live content, peaceful, happy lives.
The Two Types of Boundary Systems
- external boundary system (physical): Our external boundary consists of how close we allow somebody to get to us and whether we allow sexual intimacy.
- Internal boundary system (emotions): The internal boundary consists of our thoughts, feelings, and actions, and how to express them moderately and allow somebody else to express their thoughts, feelings, and actions without losing containment of our emotional and intellectual condition even when the other person is not healthy and moderate.
How to create and protect external physical boundaries
Physical boundaries revolve around hugs, personal touches, and personal belongings.
If you want to set a physical boundary around your belongings, you might say to someone: "My personal belongings are off-limits. If you'd like to investigate those things, please ask my permission."
If you want to set a physical boundary in an instance where someone comes running up to you and wants to hug you, you can protect yourself by putting your arm out as they come towards you, which sends the message, "I don't want a hug." while maintaining a firm arm's length distance.
Sometimes we feel bad or guilty and want to withdraw our boundaries, but remember that those feelings of guilt are a sign of codependence. You're giving yourself away, going against yourself, and letting those feelings influence you to drop your boundaries.
When it comes to physical intimacy, we get to decide who, what, when, where, and how we are physically intimate. The best way to do this before we enter a situation where we are unsure about our boundaries is to make a plan ahead of time in our minds and ask ourselves, "What are my boundaries around this person or situation?" and then when you are with that person you can say, "This is how I view this, and this is when it's okay for me, what are your thoughts?"
It may be too early in the relationship to express that, but you want a plan in place until that time comes so that if somebody's going to be more aggressive about it, you know exactly what to say and exactly what to do.
How to create and protect internal emotional boundaries
The best way to protect ourselves emotionally is to create a forcefield around our hearts and who we are. A common way to do this is to imagine a castle with a drawbridge where we are in control of who gets across and doesn't get across the bridge, and we are safe in the castle where we have a way not to catch other people's thoughts, feelings, and actions that come towards us. Others have used the idea of a glass jar dropping over top of themselves with a door that only they can open from the inside. This allows them to control what thoughts and feeligns to allow in and which ones they want to let bounce off.
We always get to decide if we let any of someone else's emotions in.
If we ever hear someone say, "Well, you made me feel," that's a sign of co-dependence. Nobody can ever make us feel anything because we decide if we will take on their reality and their belief about us or the situation. If someone else's stuff gets in, that's our responsibility. We have lost our boundaries and it is our job to fix that. We can negate it if we choose, so the castle or glass jar are important visualizations to protect us.
When we learn how to navigate emotional intimacy boundaries with someone, the best example is imagining pedals in a car. So if you're on a first date, and you speed up to 5, 8, 10 miles an hour telling about your past, watch what they do.
Do they back off?
Do they shut down?
Maybe it's a bit too much.
Or maybe they join you.
Then the dynamic moves into, "Oh, we have mutual emotional boundaries. We're working on this together. We're staying moderate. We're working as a team here."
When you're sharing your emotional intimacy, think of gas pedals and protecting yourself. If you feel safe and protected, keep accelerating, but if you don't feel safe and protected, then back off and protect yourself.
Looking for more solutions? Pick the one that suits your needs best!
If you'd like to deep dive deeper, you can check out the video below.
I also recommend reading Pia Mellody's book Facing Codependence. You can read my Book Summary and purchase it here.
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