In the last Newsletter we discussed the protective behaviours students and adults use to protect themselves from stress in their life. In these next couple of essays, we will examine the concept of boundaries; what they are and how to control them.
Everyone has a sense of their self. The extent this ‘self’ intrudes on the external environment in a physical self is relatively easy to experience. We all have an understanding of our personal space. When someone comes within that space our emotions change, our stress response is triggered. If the intrusion threatens our safety (our homeostatic equilibrium) then we will be motivated to protect our ‘self’. If, on the other hand that someone is someone who we love, we still have an emotional shift when they come into our space but this is the result of us seeking that contact; a type of positive stress.
These external boundary violations occur when others do things like:
- Stand too close, or touch you in any sense without permission
- Violate our rights to privacy (i.e. going into your bags, eavesdropping on conversations, etc.)
- Exposing you to risk (i.e. Subjecting others to your illness or smoking in ‘no smoking’ area)
We also have a psychological sense of our ‘self’ and these boundaries are not spatial but we react in a protective manner when others are denigrating our position in the community or we will, or should have a positive sensation when our standing is celebrated.
Internal boundary violations are assaults on your psycho/social self by others. This includes:
- Yelling or screaming at you
- Lying or breaking a commitment made to you
- Calling you derogative names
- Patronising or telling you what you should do
- Addressing you in a sarcastic manner
- Shaming you or your community
So these boundaries are the physical and psychological space between you and the outside world. They define the outer limits of your physical and emotional sense and intrusions that cross this border trigger an emotional response expressed as stress.
In the classroom, teachers have to be aware of their student’s personal physical and psychological space and understand that this ‘space’ will vary from student to student. The illustration below indicates that point of intersection.
Simply put, effective boundaries control what is okay and what is not okay on how others treat you.
In the last Newsletter we examined inappropriate behaviours to control stress levels under the heading of people addiction. The use of such behaviours may protect you in the short term, at the point of your boundary but the following illustration shows how this action ‘to protect’ will build what could be called walls around you.
As you can see, the walls do protect you but also entrap you; you are unable to move into the environment freely to get your needs met.
Types of Boundaries
This is when there is no real division between where you finish and the other starts. These people have no real protection and are:
- Easily exploited
- Victimized by others
- Have difficulty getting their own needs met
This occurs when people close their ‘self’ off from others for protection, always reacting in the same manner when stressed. They will never understand how to deal with others in an appropriate way, to either reject unwanted advances or initiate connections. These are the walls discussed above.
People can use a combination of soft and rigid depending on how the other person presents, that is:
- If they are comfortable with the other person they have soft boundaries they will accommodate the other person.
- On the other hand, if the other person startles them then, they cut them out, put up walls.
These are the ‘goldilocks’ boundaries, not too soft and not too rigid but just right; an appropriate application of boundaries. The person has enough of an understanding of their right to get their needs met.
The illustration above shows how you can be protected from physical and emotional abuse by being responsible for the things you do wrong, we all make mistakes and we accept appropriate consequences and protecting your ‘self’ when you are under threat.
The kids who are causing you trouble will inevitable have poor boundaries and many adults suffer that same incapacity but you can learn to apply effective boundaries following the steps outlined below.
Importantly it is the stress that causes you to behave. Controlling this is important if you want to use boundaries to control your life. I use what is described as a relaxation response. With practice I have developed a style of relaxation by counting from five to one in the following sequence:
- 1. Relax the muscles in my head
- 2. Relax the muscles in my neck and shoulders
- 3. Relax my arms and fingers
- 4. Relax the muscles in my stomach, lower back and buttocks
- 5. Relax the muscles in my legs and feet, down to my toes
I do this slowly and after a period of training, when stressed I just count down from five to one. I have placed an extended description of this technique in the resources section in our web site – www.frewconsultantsgroup.com.au
When you are calm you can use the following steps to learn how to deal with any situation.
- Ask the Questions
- ‘What is really happening’? Often this is not the immediate action that you observe, there could be other factors that got you to this place.
- ‘Who is responsible’?
- If the answer is ‘me’ then I must take responsibility, take action to address the cause of the stress.
- If not ‘me’ then I ask a further two questions:
- ‘What is causing the incident’?
- ‘What do I have to do to change this situation in the long run’?
- Take Action.
Assert you rights without threatening the other person. You can use the follow script:
- ‘When you …’
- ‘I feel…’
The ‘when you’ step is the time to describe to the other person what the situation is, say for example if you are having trouble with their behaviour, you tell them ‘when you’ and describe exactly what they are doing that is causing the problem. The ‘I feel’ allows you to let them know how their behaviour is upsetting you. Don’t be afraid to tell them how you really feel and finally the ‘because’ gives you the opportunity to tell them what are the consequences of their behaviour.
If the confrontation is more serious or the students are not engaging in the process of solving the problem, then a stricter approach can be:
This is when you can spell out that if they behave in a certain way you will deliver a set of consequences. The decision on what to do is theirs but they will have no control over what happens next.
- Let Go
Sometimes even if you have done everything possible to contain of the other person or a class is out of control, using the right techniques and with the best intentions but things are still not working, it is time to seek help.
Letting go is a difficult thing to master, everyone wants to believe they control their life, this gives us our security but rationally we understand the only thing we can control is how we prepare for life and as life presents us with the inevitable challenges we respond in a way that we currently understand will get our needs met.
Healthy boundaries are vital in taking control of your life. Students who have been raised in chaotic families rarely have developed them but they can be learned; that is the same for teachers.