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A presentation by Pia Mellody


We all know the basics about good boundaries. Intimacy without boundaries equals chaos.

  • Put your hands behind your back. That represents no boundaries. You are not protected.
  • Stretch out your arms and hold your hands like walls. That represents rigid boundaries..You are so protected that nothing external can impact you. That protects you to the point of disconnect.
  • Put your elbows at your sides, your hands in front of you and stretch open all your fingers. That represents a good, flexible boundaries where the internal and external can mix it up.

True Respect Living means containing ourselves and not violating another 's boundaries. It also means opening ourselves up to another person, knowing we can still stay protected. These are acts of self-love as well as loving another. When we listen to our truth and to an other's truth, we developer a stronger sense of Self.

We want to be known. We fear being known.

All of this comes to the knowledge of where we are at our worst (I tend to get rigid) and at our best (open and receptive while staying solid with our sense of Self.

When we pinpoint where we violate another's boundary we can change that behavior which then changes the thoughts that go with them.

External Physical Boundary: In our body-to-body contact are we respecting space? Are we respecting touch? Are we making sure that our touch does not come with sexual or angry intent?

I have the right to control how close you get to stand next to me and to ask for distance. I have the right to say “no, I will not tolerate touch that hurts, this behavior unacceptable.” And you have the same right as me.

I also have the right to relate to you and get feedback from you so we can touch in ways that pleases us both, spontaneously, and as a mode of loving, self-expression.

In the list of violations of physical boundaries I was surprised to hear included:

  1. Exposing other to illness
  2. Production of obnoxious odors on purpose
  3. Inappropriate comments about body and appearance

External Sexual Boundary: This is the who, when, where, and how of touch that intends to produce arousal in another. We learn to touch with self-love and self-esteem. We try to not take personally another's refusal

  • Internal Boundary:  We practice a strong sense of Self that helps us contain our emotions  and regulate them. We practice moderation in what we say and do. This prevents us from being offensive when talking. For example, no sighing or eye-rolling.
  • Making our internal boundaries stronger comes from how to speak and how to listen, using containment of our Selves is essential to. It also key to not becoming defensive .
  • When we get defensive we end the possibility of  a productive dialogue. When you find yourself getting defensive, stop, breathe and request that the speaker use “I statements.” Pay attention to your anger and breathe through it.
  • We can set a physical distance in order to feel safe to talk. We remind ourselves not to blame other person for what we feel.
  • We make sure we heard accurately by repeating back the key points and also, taking in the sensory data.

We try our best to stay away from shaming, demeaning, and lying. It is our job in the dialogue to shape what we believe is true from our perception and stay with that, unless our perception shifts from hearing respectful feedback.

That's why in speaking and responding it is a violation of boundaries to say, “what you made me feel is” which equals of weakening of your Self and blaming the Other. By saying instead, “what I made myself think/feel about that is” demonstrates an accurate acknowledgment of the filters we all carry that color our unique perceptions

The Listener's Boundary:

  1. Keep yourself at a safe distance both physically and emotionally from what you know is not true.
  2. Contain that, and wait your turn. In most cases we have time and it takes time to resolve a difference of opinion. Relax.
  3. You can share that you are confused and need more data. Listening with a good boundary means you listen with curiosity and not for ammunition. Remember the most curious people are the most intelligent people.
  4. Learn to pick up on another's emotions. Take in a little= good empathy
  5. A strong Self will help you focus on being humble and listening as a servant, to serve the speaker.

Problem Solving: Respond with:

  1. Summary of what you heard to maintain accuracy
  2. What you agree with
  3. What is questionable—ask for more specifics
  4. Where you disagree
  5. Agree to disagree. Leave it there for a while. Resolution needs time.

A Toxic Condition is one which is boundaryless or has rigid walls that turns the other into an object or adversary. With either of these we resort to violating the other with raging behavior or icy disconnect.

When we maintain good boundaries, no matter how we feel, we are practicing connection to our humanity and our Highest Self. From that we can use guidance, internal solace and a sense of warm regard to moderate and empower ourselves.


Wendy Allen, Ph.D, MFT is an expert in couples and marriage therapy. She has been practicing in Santa Barbara for almost 30 years. She is the only Marriage therapist in the tri-counties using the Real Relational Living model, from which all of these ideas are based upon.