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Barbed wire or white picket fence?

July 05, 2011, at 10:07 AM

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First, what is a boundary? In everyday life we use boundaries constantly. We use glasses, plates, bowls, boxes, drawers, shelves, rooms, homes, cars, and we have an invisible boundary we take everywhere we go called "personal space" the size of which is determined by both cultural rules and personal preference.

So let's take an example of using a normal everyday boundary. You are having a meal with a friend, and you each have separate glasses. The glass is a clear and solid boundary, open on one side, and it delineates the liquid that is mine from the liquid that is yours. Using my own glass protects me from your germs, and from you taking my liquid from me. It's a semi-permeable boundary in that there's a hole at the top from which I may pour my liquid past the boundary of my lips.

Other boundaries keep items orderly or organized, keep our food from messing the tablecloth, or allow us to store items for long periods of time in unfavorable conditions such as boxes in our attic or basement, or allow us to ship our items from one destination to another with some assurance that they'll stay together and be delivered to the correct place within a reasonable amount of time without being damaged.

Boundaries are very useful everyday tools. They're just as useful inside our head, around and inside our body, throughout our layers of emotions emotions, and to safeguard our spirit. Creatures with less well-defined boundaries include ameba and jellyfish. Boundaries may be permeable or impermeable, solid or broken, flexible or inflexible. Increasing one's ability to recognize and create or break down boundaries is an important facet of becoming healthier.

Ok, so instead of metaphors of physical objects, let's use a real example. Personal space is usually a flexible, permeable boundary. It is flexible because it changes in different circumstances. When one is on a crowded subway car, it pulls itself in closer and closer to your body in accordance to the space available for everyone's personal boundaries. It might nearly disappear for a time if it gets particularly crowded. You can tell that the size and shape of your personal space boundary has changed because of the amount and degree of discomfort you feel when people are close to you. Some people become so used to this shrinking and growing boundary that riding literally in physical contact with other passengers does not bother them.

Personal space is a permeable boundary because you can allow certain people to enter and exit this boundary easily. You might not exert it for babies and small children, pets, or loved ones. While the choice to allow these beings to enter and exit the boundary may not be conscious, it is deliberate.

A broken personal space boundary would be one where someone is allowed to enter or able to enter when they shouldn't be able to. Either the coverage of the boundary is incomplete, or there are gaps and holes in the boundary. It's also possible for people to force their way past this boundary, and this creates a boundary violation that can result in a broken boundary.

With our personal space boundary as one example, we can examine our other levels of boundaries.

We have filters. We all have a reality filter. Filters are a type of permeable boundary that are very picky about what they allow through. With our reality filter, it no longer matters as much who is feeding us information, our filter makes judgement calls and either allows information in, or rejects it. We can adjust our filters, and we can change them, and we can allow more or less information through depending on our trust level towards a particular information source. Our reality filter is the filter specifically designed to prove or disprove our theories on what reality is or is not. We allow through more information that reinforces our view of reality, and reject more information that disputes our view of reality.

A broken reality filter can be the result of toxins, brainwashing, hypnosis, drugs, certain brain chemical abnormalities, dementia, schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, and more. An unhealthy reality filter can be the result of simply having and reinforcing an unhealthy view of reality. For example, you may believe that you are fat even if you're emaciated in reality. You might fit into a size zero outfit, but you will reject that size in favor of the clothing line that labels the same clothing measurements a size 4 -- you are now a size 4 and hence fatter. If a friend says "Wow you put on weight," you might take that to mean "Oh my, you've gotten so fat" even if what they really meant was "You're looking much healthier now."

The nice thing is that much of the time we have the choice to change our reality filter. Once you get the hang of it, this is usually one of the easiest filters or boundaries to change. The human brain is meant to constantly filter information, and to adjust its own filter on an as-needed basis. This is a survival mechanism. If you're starving, you start to notice food more often. Information about food opportunities enter your reality filter more easily. If you're cold, you'll start to notice things related to heat and comforting temperatures. In the modern age, we are assaulted by more and more information every day, and our brain is easily able to adapt and filter information.

Armor is an idea of a invisible but solid impermeable boundary we can erect around ourselves. Armor keeps things out, and it's not very discriminating like our filters. It might take the place of our personal space, it can be any distance from our body, but usually it remains fixed at a certain distance from us. Victims of abuse sometimes erect armor around themselves, so I'd like to give a word of caution about armor. Just as it's not healthy to have broken boundaries that allow bad things in that are better off kept out, it's also not healthy to have impenetrable and non-discriminating boundaries that keep good things out. Unfortunately most of us who use armor instead of other methods don't realize that our armor is broken -- the faults in our armor are usually big blind spots we cannot see. It's solid and fixed in place, but it has gaps, holes, vulnerabilities that usually leave us open to attackers while keeping the people who can help us at a distance. If you study history, the head-to-toe solid suit of armor was not in service for long and had very limited uses. It made the wearer quite vulnerable, and eventually it was relegated to being mostly for-show. It so limited the mobility and vision of the wearer that it rendered them nearly helpless to attack. It's similar with armor-like boundaries. They should be used with caution.

There's other types of boundaries -- sheilds which are easy to manipulate and move around or use only when needed, and so on. But I think by now I've painted the analogy of types of armor to boundaries and you might get the point and purpose, and understand that there are different types, and different qualities of boundaries that are useful in different situations, and that like most things going too far is as bad as not going far enough. Everything in moderation, including moderation.

When you're in an unfortunate situation whether internal or external, you need to limit how bad the interactions are by having good boundaries that can filter the interactions and the extent to which those interactions can affect you. From flexible filters to more sturdy and permanent structures, our boundaries can help us keep out things that are undesirable. When you notice something undesirable getting in, you know you have a problem with a broken boundary. You might picture yourself repairing your filters, fixing your permeable boundaries, or even putting up a white picket fence around some portions of your internal landscape.

Just as these boundaries and filters keep things from coming in, they can be used to keep things from going out. We have something we call our "language filter" which makes sure our verbal communications are within a certain range of language, and helps us interpret external communications. Your internal landscape fences and filters can help keep your outward behavior within a certain range. We have a mask or filter we call the Criss-mask that we wear when we are fronting. It helps homogenize our outward appearance.

Check your boundaries and filters to ensure that external relationships and incidents don't affect your internal life and attitudes. And vice-versa.

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