Sunday, August 17, 2008


The purpose in this topic is to start helping you clarify what your boundaries are. This topic should be seen as a complement to the topics on sexual expression, sexual competency and assertiveness. The concept of boundaries refers to the limits we choose to have in our life. It is the process of defining what is and isn’t acceptable. Boundaries are defined by you and can vary between individuals.

Typically we talk about boundaries are healthy, rigid or blurred. Healthy boundaries are well defined, clearly communicated (see topic on assertiveness) and respectful to self and others. In clarifying healthy boundaries, we each can set the boundary as an expression of our identity. Healthy boundaries can change, but generally are stable across time and situations. Changes in boundaries will occur in response to the unique situations and/or circumstances. The environment, people, our development, and the circumstances can lead to healthy expansion or restriction of a boundary. For example, if I’m tired and lonely, a boundary may be that I won’t have sex. For the sake of the example, once I’m in a relationship, given the same circumstances I may choose to have sex with my partner because of the adult play aspect. While boundaries can change, and flexible, rapid changes in your boundaries and limits is a warning sign.

Two type of unhealthy Boundaries are blurred and rigid boundaries. They represent the opposite extremes on a continuum (with healthy boundaries in the middle). Blurred boundaries are too flexible and too changeable. With blurred boundaries, we tend to let the outside environment or other individuals dictate our beliefs, values and limits. In this situation, we may feel used, violated, exposed, and hurt. Our identity is lost. The other extreme are rigid boundaries. In the introduction to the workbook, I talked about the emphasis on rigorousness. When taken too far, rigorousness can lead to rigid boundaries. Rigid boundaries often appear to be extreme stances as well. In substance abuse treatment, we talk about an all or nothing way of thinking or a take no prisoners mentality. These are two examples of rigid boundaries. The consequences of the rigid boundaries is often isolation, loneliness and judgementalism.

Boundaries can be applied to a number of settings. This brief review is provided to help you think about what your boundaries are.

Physical boundaries

Physical boundaries refer to the space around us. When I worked with children, I talked about the “bubble space” around us which intuitively helps us understand how close I can get to another person. And the concept of a bubble space affirms healthy understanding of the fact that boundaries are flexible. Depending on the circumstances, the size of the bubble space can change. For example, as the number of people in a room increases, we are more comfortable if some sits in the chair next to us as compared to when there are only two people in a room. Depending on the person, the bubble space changes. With friends and family members, our bubble space is smaller versus the amount of space with a stranger.

Emotional and intellectual boundaries

These two types of boundaries essentially reflect your right to your feelings and thoughts. As individuals, we have the right to feel and believe based on values, spirituality, education or any cultural affiliation. More so than physical boundaries, it is our emotional and intellectual boundaries that define our personality and identity. It is these boundaries that form a major basis of sexual health. They key is to examine how your boundaries will shape your sexual behaviors.

Boundary Violations

A boundary violation occurs when someone crosses the boundaries. The reasons for boundary violations are varied. It may be deliberately or accidentally. It may be done to hurt you or help you. Never ending criticism is a major violation. Reading people’s mail or email is another example. Someone telling us what we should feel or think is yet another. The importance of assertive communication helps set and maintain boundaries.

One of the things to highlight are symptoms of unhealthy boundaries as boundaries relate to sexual health. These are but examples, but highlight the impact of unhealthy boundaries.


· When you don’t want sexual contact, but go along with it anyway so the person will like you.

· Saying you want to go on a date but going over to a person’s house.

· Telling someone you like to so a behavior but don’t.

· Saying you want to get together with someone but don’t’

· Using drugs in a sexual setting when you don’t want to.

· Not expressing your sexual desires or preferences with a partner and simply going along with what they want.

· Falling in love with anyone who reaches out to you

· Acting on first sexual impulse when you say you’ll wait for knowing the person first.

· Using sex to express anger or loneliness; being sexual for your partner, not yourself

· Going against personal values or rights to please others

· Not noticing when someone else shows poor boundaries

· Touching a person without asking

· Letting others tell you what you should or should do

· Letting others tell you what is and isn’t healthy sexual behavior.

· Expecting others to automatically know what you want

· Having unsafe sex when you say you wont

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