Boundaries are a marker, rule or guideline whose purpose is to say you can go this far and no further. Boundaries can be applied to our physical environment, physical self, mental self and emotional self. These can manifest as laws, physical boundaries, good working practices, guidelines or rules for particular settings, values, principles and determining what we will and won’t put up with from other people.
Boundaries help us to create spaces whether physically, mentally or emotionally where we feel safe. That feeling of safety arises from people acting in particular agreed ways, and when we, or they don’t, one or both of us can feel hurt. For instance on a physical level take the Highway Code, it sets out how all road users from pedestrians to truck drivers should behave. When we all follow the same guidelines it helps to prevent accidents, because it allows us to confidently predict the other’s behaviour even though we can’t communicate verbally. When we choose to not follow it and our behaviour becomes unpredictable it often ends with people getting hurt.
This happens on an emotional level too. If as a child or adult we experience a trauma caused by a person or situation, that experience of the event is usually painful because it has broken an internal or external boundary. That pain either physical or mental will cause us to adjust our behaviour, and sometimes in unexpected ways.
It might seem obvious that if you experience a car accident you may avoid or feel anxious about driving or being a passenger in a vehicle and it may take time to feel safe again. However in instances of childhood trauma and abuse, particularly when the person hurting you is your care-giver or parent, you will find ways to push down that fear and unease as your survival depends on your parent and maintaining a relationship with them. This can lead to behaviours such as denial, acting as if everyting is ok, minimising yourself and the trauma, self-blame etc.
Boundaries are vitally important for our health and wellbeing, so what does this have to do with lockdown easing?
We have been following guidelines and laws that have helped to keep people safe, and now that they are easing, some of us do not feel confident about the restricitons lifting. The 1 metre plus rule is vague, and inconsitency when introducing or applying boundaries can lead to anxiety and not feeling safe. In short some people are ok with a 1 metre distance others prefer 2 meters or more.
When we inhabit public spaces such as supermarkets, cityscapes or beauty spots we have to rely not just on ourselves following the boundaries, but also on the others that are co-habiting the space with us. Much like with the Highway Code the more predictable we are to each other the safer we are, and the safer we feel.
It was only a week ago I watched in the supermarket as someone reached over another customer to get a pack of cheese, the person whose spatial and mental boundaries had be broken, exclaimed angrily causing an arguement. This response was clearly driven by the fear of what could happen if the boundary of social-distancing is broken.
It is probable that this incident will cause a change in behaviour for one or both parties. The person whose boundaries were broken is likely to act in ways that are more defensive and have a greater feeling of anxiety about being in a similar situation. It is hoped the other party may be more mindful in future.
All healthy relationships need good boundaries whether they are with work colleagues, family, friends or people we inhabit space with at the supermarket. In this post lockdown world I would recommend following the largest distance possible unless you are invited to do otherwise by the setting, or people involved. It all comes down to respect, and kindness. Imposing yourself on others boundaries whether you agree or disagree with them, is a lack of courtesy and care that causes harm.
If you would like to think more about boundaries or need help feeling safe and calm in these anxious times, do get in touch.
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