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There are all kinds of boundaries; map boundaries, property boundaries, and personal boundaries. Ohio has a boundary with Indiana. I can't come into your house without your knowledge and consent. We all understand those kinds of boundaries; it is the personal boundaries that are harder to comprehend.

Personal boundaries involve different physical and emotional space. In the USA, we generally like about three feet of personal space. In other countries personal space is different. Even we drop the three-foot boundary on entering an elevator. There we ignore the closeness by detaching strategies, staring at the ceiling or the floor numbers, but not at fellow passengers.

Emotional boundaries are the trickiest to get. Let's discuss some examples and see what we can learn about emotional boundaries.

Example 1. At the end of dinner while the ladies are clearing up, the granddaughter (23 years old) said, "I hate my Dad, he never cared about me". The grandmother said, "No, you don't. That's not a nice thing to say".

Example 2. The wife is upset, frustrated and crying. The husband shouts, "You have no right to be upset"!

Example 3. The former girlfriend receives a threatening E-mail saying she will be sued if she doesn't return the former boyfriends "stuff". The only things she has from him are gifts from last Christmas.

Comment on example 1. The grandmother has just violated her granddaughter's emotional boundary by negating her granddaughter's feelings. She further interferes by criticizing the granddaughter's opinion. Anyone may have an opinion that doesn't agree with our opinion.

Comment on example 2. The husband also negates the wife's feelings but does so more aggressively than Grandma did. Rule 2. Everyone has a right to his/her feelings.

Comment on example 3. The former boyfriend is not recognizing the separateness of his former girlfriend. He's treating her like a "thing", which cancels her right to be treated like any other gift receiver. This is a more severe boundary violation than example 2 because it negates her. Were this to continue in an intact relationship, it could go to violence*. Rule 3. People may not be treated like "things".

Boundaries tell us who we are and who we are separate from. An emotional boundary is how we respect and protect ourselves as well as respect and acknowledge others.

Here are some clues that your boundaries are being violated and you are being emotionally abused.

  1. You are expected to go along with other peoples' plans for you. Once you are no longer a child, this should stop. You should be a part of planning group or couple events.
  2. Someone who claims to love you tells you what to think, do or say.
  3. Someone who claims to love you is very critical or may swear at you when you disagree with that person even in small ways.
  4. If there is a history of the above, notice that physical limitation's or isolation may occur. (e.g.... "Don't go to the game with your brothers").

There are things to do to help you deal with boundary violations.

  • Use I statements. "I feel uncomfortable when you speak for me. I am fully capable of speaking for myself".
  • Read — There are lots of books about boundaries and relationships. In June '02, there was a good article in Oprah Magazine about, The Emotionally Abusive Relationship in the magazine interview with the young actress/singer Brandy.
  • Go to therapy — Strengthen yourself, learn how to set limits and why you didn't. Some boundary violators are really clever about it and put all blame off onto us. You can't be more than half of the problem.
  • Improve your self care — Find out what you like: foods, clothing, bathing, places to walk. Then do what you like.

There is every reason to believe that you can have good boundaries. First, recognize when your boundaries are violated by others. Second, refuse to violate the boundaries of others. Three, build a life with people who treat you well.

* If you are intimidated, restrained, prevented from leaving, "bumped" into a wall, etc. you are being physically abused.

Barbara A. Buchanan, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist

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