To be human is to be in relationship. Unfortunately, many of our greatest hurts are a result of our interactions with other people. Wounding can happen in many ways from abandonment, illness, death, abuse, and neglect. Many of us learn that people are not safe and so we push them away to try to protect ourselves and to find healing.
The beauty and the paradox in this is that as relational beings, we need healthy, supportive relationships to live and thrive.
The Biology of Connection
Our physiology is created for connection, a process called biological synchrony is happening at all times when we are with other people. Biological synchrony is the constant attunement of our body to other bodies; the more regulated system helps regulate and calm the less regulated system, this includes heart rate, HRV, blood pressure, and other functions. This co-regulation served the evolutionary purpose of being able to connect and work together as a small tribe that was often under threat.
In the modern age, we can tap into these biological resources by receiving love and support from safe relationships. Research shows that even visualizing a secure attachment figure can help heal these relational wounds and allow us to find healthier relationships.
To engage with the people around us, care for ourselves, and acquire new healthy relationships, we first need to notice how we show up for ourselves and others. The biggest way we do this is through boundaries.
Awareness is the first step
Do you keep yourself safe by shutting people out and walling off? Do you feel at the whim of your partner’s moods, feelings, and behaviors? Do you know where you start and stop and where another begins?
By first assessing what type of boundaries you have, you can learn what changes you can make to move closer to who you want to be and how you want to show up in relationships.
Walled-off, Boundary-less, or Flexible? The Goldilocks of Boundaries
As with all things, we all have varied traits when it comes to our ways of being and behaving, but we do tend to have our go-to ways of coping and associating with other people. We each have our most familiar type of boundary setting, which we develop from conditioning, our family of origin, preferences, life experiences, and personality. People who have a walled-off boundary style try to keep people at arm’s length, using language, impossibly high standards, or distancing behaviors to prevent people from getting too close.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the boundary-less type; these types feel extremely affected by their loved one’s emotions and moods. They often take responsibility for others circumstances and believe it is their job to take care of people’s feelings and reactions.
And for the porridge that is just right – the flexible boundary.
People with a flexible boundary take responsibility for their own feelings and emotions. They let people in based on trust and level of intimacy; they are comfortable making requests and caring for their own needs. Having a permeable boundary means that they actively choose what they allow to affect them, and can allow others to be themselves as well.
Once being aware of what our primary boundary type is and where we want to grow towards, there are two “types” of boundaries – internal and external.
External is what you hear about the most – these are things you say to others or actions you take in your life and relationships that honor your needs. However, internal boundaries are the first step to being able to set external boundaries. Internal boundaries are the filter through which you allow information to affect you. When someone makes a statement to you or request of you, an internal boundary decides whether that resonates with you and if you will accept that perception or request. This boundary is what keeps us from being offended continuously or feeling like we are swept along in the current of other’s moods and actions.
Being able to discern what I want and what is right for me is the first step in developing a strong internal boundary. From there, I can engage with others meaningfully, protect myself, and ask for what I need.