Time For You Features

What Does it Mean to Have Boundaries

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By Susan Dunn
Special to

“The purpose of having boundaries is to protect and take care of ourselves,” writes Robert Burney, in “Co-dependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls.” The term “boundaries” has been around for some time, and if ever a term needed an adjective before it, it would be “boundaries.” For instance, we want “healthy” boundaries, not “permanent” boundaries. We want “semi-permeable” boundaries, not “rigid” boundaries.

In other words, we want to be able to protect and take care of ourselves, but to also be able to enjoy healthy relationships. We want choice. What is appropriate for an intimate relationship is different than a work relationship, and what we allow from our child is different than what we would allow with a peer or partner.

Let’s take a look at these two terms—boundaries and codependence—in terms of the new field of emotional intelligence.

A boundary as something that indicates or fixes a limit or extent. We could look at it, in interpersonal relationships as the line between you and me. Knowing where you leave off and the other person begins, but not just physically but emotionally and mentally as well. Co-dependence is what happens when those lines get blurred.

We need to be able to protect and take care of ourselves but we also need to allow people into our lives intimately. The boundary can serve as a protection. If not used properly, it becomes a prison.

Co-dependence is an unhealthy blurring of the lines, a place without floodgates to control your emotions. For instance, if something happens to your loved one, you react as if it had happened to you. You take responsibility for someone else in ways that aren’t appropriate.

Healthy Interdependence

Dependence is healthy for human beings. We weren’t designed to live alone. In fact isolation—the lack of connection—has been shown to be more injurious to our health than smoking, obesity and other high-risk factors. Being in healthy connection with others is vital to our health.

Healthy interdependence means being able to let others in and out as you wish, letting emotions flow without either flooding or becoming dammed up. It is the ability to witness the emotions of someone you care about without his or her emotions affecting you inappropriately. The goal is to work toward having strong boundaries with a floodgate to regulate the flow of emotions. It is the sense that you can have your emotions and experience them and your relationships, all the while managing them at the same time. This is emotional intelligence.

Susan Dunn, MA clinical psychology, a.k.a. The EQ Coach, SusanDunn.cc. Visit the site for free e-zines.