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Magnitude and Bond: Setting Boundaries

Spending an afternoon watching a cat both set and devastate firm boundaries set for it has probably been as informative for me as reading books on relationship psychology. Cats are weird little custodians of their physical and emotional space. They choose how much they want to engage, when and when they have had enough. They can comfort you but they can also let you know, rather firmly, when you are overstepping.

We, of course, aren't cats!

Poet Gwendolyn Brooks' poem "Paul Robeson" inspired the title of this article.

She writes -

"we are each other’s
magnitude and bond."

Human beings are decidedly relational. We survive and thrive in environments where we have access to relationships that provide us with the stimuli and support for healing and growth. However, we can also sometimes get so swept up in dependencies certain external attachments create that a critical relationship is often compromised in favour of maintaining others.

This relationship is the one we share with ourselves.

On some level, instead of focusing on boundaries excessively, we have to learn to assess our relational needs and those of others. We have to go through the process of trial by error to recognize and realize that we can't always fulfil others expectations and neither can they. This makes the nurture and sustenance associated with our relationships an intriguing as well as rewarding process.

This means that our guidelines for boundaries have to be a little more complex. than the ones cats use.

How do we build our boundaries in an intuitive way then?

Boundaries can be a polarizing conversation. On the one hand, we do need boundaries to better manage our lives. On the other, when do boundaries become so rigid that they don't allow relationships to develop organically?

We have listed 3 types of emotional boundaries that should be considered when dealing with our interpersonal relationships.

1. Subject Boundary - Subjects or topics you don't feel fully comfortable engaging in, especially when co-erced or forced. Setting expectations about your thresholds for what is ok and what is difficult for you within these topics. If you have an estranged relationship with a parent, it is ok let people know you don't want to discuss it again and again.

2. Reciprocity Boundary - How much can you reciprocate and when depending on the circumstances. If you are stuck with an important deadline at work, you may not be able to constantly respond to all texts your friend has been sending you. Time and situational reasons might affect reciprocity.

3. Responsibility Boundary - It is ok to let people know when you feel you are constantly being made to feel responsible for their actions. It needs to be a two-way street for most part. Defining how much responsibility you shoulder in a given situation helps build healthier relationships.

Boundary-setting isn't a glib expression to conveniently disengage when we have to do our part in maintaining a relationship. It should be bolstered as constructive praxis that helps us connects the dots between freedom and responsibility within our relationships without repeatedly swaying to one or the other side and unbalancing the scales of connection.

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