The meeting of differences is called contact. The event that is created by this meeting of differences is called contact boundary. The meeting of sand and the sea is contact, the shoreline is contact boundary.
We do not passively meet our environment. We pick and choose and at the same time are picked and chosen.
We exist by differentiating self from other and by connecting self and other. This boundary is what allows a distinction to be made between self and non self, but it is also the area where contact takes place. Relationships with other people are made at this boundary.
In most of the relationships with others we are each subject to number of conflicts of interest, conflicts between our needs and demands of others so the boundary between self and the environment must be kept permeable to allow exchanges that ultimately lead to growth, yet firm enough too keep the autonomy.
If the boundary is flexible, we are capable of distinguishing “I” from “you”, but also of forming of “we” and we allow changes but we remain firm too keep the autonomy. If the boundary is flexible we are capable of coordinating the appropriate needs with those that surround us and we can see each other as a complete person, and not only as a function of our needs and wishes.
Nina Brown describes 4 types of boundaries in her book Coping with Infuriating, Mean Critical People
- Soft – blended with others and it is hard to see where one person ends and other begins (typical for people for whom it is hard to say “no”, who have much empathy for others, who get caught in other people’s emotions)
- Hard – are strong, rigid, clear (typical for people who keep everyone and everything away, do not connect or trust others and are having a hard time to open up)
- Spongy – a combination of soft and hard boundaries but do not control them conscientiously (can think that they can connect with other but then thy are not able to do so, can feel uneasy or be worried about getting caught in or overwhelmed by other’s emotions etc.)
- and Flexible – typical for people who can decide consciously what to let in and what to leave out. Flexible boundaries have elements of control, intentionality and choice.
People with flexible boundaries rarely find themselves doing things they do not want to do, are able to say no and can keep shame and guilt on the side when others try to manipulate them.
Exploration of own boundaries in everyday situations and relationship in is the first step towards regaining awareness of the need for boundaries redefinition.
What do I need?
How this situation/person is making me feel?
Do I like how this is making me feel?
Is this crossing my boundary?