“Good fences make good neighbors.” ~Robert Frost
When it comes to other people or relationships, a boundary is a limit or space established between one person and another. It could be thought of as an imaginary fence that you create around your persona. Boundaries vary among people and cultures, but when we have healthy boundaries, then we feel good about ourselves and our relationships.
During my travels, I’ve come to realize that different cultures have different physical and emotional boundaries. For example, in France a woman would never even consider discussing the nature of her lovemaking, even with a close friend. However, in the United States, it’s quite common for this to be a topic of discussion among women. In a similar vein, women in the United States speak openly about their menstrual cycles.
I’ve come to believe that those topics we comfortably speak about are often culturally nurtured. Sometimes when I’m watching television, I’m actually embarrassed by the some of the products and services that are advertised—everything from treating impotence and incontinence to dealing with feminine hygiene and colon hygiene.
Some people don’t even think or talk about boundaries, but being of European descent it’s been an important part of my way of thinking. Many years ago, when I was visiting China, I realized that The Chinese are less mindful of boundaries than even the Americans. I remember feeling uncomfortable when someone would brush shoulders with me in the street without apologies, or stand too close when talking to me. The boundaries in that culture are much looser, probably for cultural reasons, but also because of space restraints.
Physical and personal emotional space is highly personalized and individualized. Some individuals even within their own cultures, may find that they have boundaries that are different from others in the same culture. In certain situations, it might be appropriate to tell others what your boundaries are and what makes you comfortable.
I haven’t met that many people with severe personal-boundary issues, although I once hired a personal assistant whom I had to terminate because we worked in close quarters, and I quickly learned that she had severe issues with personal boundaries. For example, when she was seated at her desk working, and I stood beside her to point out something on her computer screen, she’d look up at me and say, “Do you have to stand so close? I don’t do well with closeness.” I would apologize and step back, asking her if my new position was more comfortable for her.
She was married and I wondered about the boundaries behind her bedroom doors. It was none of my business, but I was just curious. She was a great worker, but I had to let her go because working together got increasingly challenging. I thought that with time, she’d feel more comfortable with me, but I felt as if it her boundary issues became even more challenging the better I got to know here, and got in the way of an efficient working relationship. Further, I learned that those like her, who have strict boundaries, also tend also to be a little out of touch with other people’s feelings and maybe even their own. Thus, I concluded that we were not a good match.
Knowing oneself and being mindful of your own personal boundaries is an important t part of human interactions. Sometimes, it’s as simple as paying attention to and being mindful of what your body is feeling in certain instances. It might take deep listening and solitude to completely understand what your needs are. As Thanas (1997) says, sometimes it’s difficult to actually touch the anxiety, but by acknowledging it and honoring it, the tension associated with it softens. In her own experience, she learned to listen more carefully and respectfully when ambivalence arises, to trust it.
In her article, “4 Ways to Set and Keep Your Personal Boundaries,” Mariana Bockarava suggests: knowing your limits, be assertive, practice being assertive about your boundaries, and making sure you practice them.
What might seem like a violation of a boundary issue to one person, may not be so for someone else in a similar situation. As such, it’s important that you make your boundary issues known to others, especially if you feel that someone is invading or trespassing your personal or professional space. Of course, according to dharma teachings, we are not separate, so we don’t need boundaries.
Over the years, I’ve learned that creative people have fewer boundary issues than those who are less creative. We might also tend to act more spontaneously than those with greater boundary issues, who might be more organized, regulated and modulated. I guess no personality characteristic is perfect, but I certainly enjoy the loose boundaries inherent in creative individuals, such as myself.
Bockarava, M. (2016). “4 Ways to Set and Keep Your Personal Boundaries. Psychology Today. August 1,2016.
Thanas, K. (1997). Hearing the Voice of the body.” In Being Bodies by L. Friedman & S. Moon, Eds. Boston, MA: Shambala.