Recovery Workshop: Lesson Forty

Respecting the Boundaries of Others

There is another reason why the mastery of boundaries is important. When you learn to respect the boundaries of others, you gain the ability to add depth to values such as intimacy, respect, equality and compassion. For instance, no matter how good of a partner you feel you have been, unless you can honestly say that you know the boundaries of your partner and hold those boundaries in reverence, you are not a good partner. You are at best a companion.

Someone who has not learned to respect the boundaries of others tends to look upon people with an objectified eye. They perceive individuals not for who they are — genuine, unique souls — but rather, tend to identify them by the roles they play. Wife. Mother. Patient. Stranger.

An extreme example of this would be a rape victim.

To a person without boundaries, this person is an object. An object capable of fear and pain, but there is little connection to their uniqueness. To the fact that they have a real past and a real future. They are seen only as the role they will play in the rape. All interaction with this 'object' is with the purpose of self-stimulation. This may be through the need to experience power, control, sexual relief or any number of other elements — but always is the intent selfish.

When healthy boundaries are ingrained as a life management tool, this awareness does not end at the border of one's identity. Instead, it extends to the identities of others — thus allowing things such as intimacy and compassion to be experienced. With the possible exception of sociopaths, when one connects to the boundaries of another, the potential for them to objectify/violate that person diminishes significantly.

Another example may drive this point home. A female home health aid is given the task of bathing a brain-injured, non-responsive adult. As the man's privates are being washed, he becomes erect. A healthy person with boundaries in place would recognize that this man has a past, and is deserving of dignity and respect. They would be able to recognize the inappropriateness of engaging in sexual acts with this man. A person without boundaries, however, would see this man as an object. They would not consider the fact that this person is a father, a husband...they would not consider that this person may one day wake-up (not that that should matter)...nor would they consider whether or not this person would want such acts performed. All they consider is that: 1) this person is here 2) this person is erect 3) their own curiosity is piqued 4) the urge and opportunity to perform such acts is there 5) they stand a good chance of not getting caught. And so they engage in the behavior. In their warped thoughts, they may rationalize that he is probably enjoying what was happening to him — but that is mere justification fodder.

One only needs to listen to the news of yet another abused elderly woman, molested child or pregnant institutionalized girl to know that such behaviors are far from rare. And while they are some of the more extreme behaviors, rest assured that almost all healthy communication and interaction is based on the recognition of mutual boundaries — recognizing the boundaries of others and respecting one's own boundary system.

Lesson 40 Exercise:

I. Choose someone in your life that you feel close to. A spouse. A child. A parent. A friend. Rather than assuming what boundaries they have; or what values they want protected...take some time to step into their lives. Refresh those perceptions that you have. Consider how you can HELP THEM reinforce those boundaries. Post a few thoughts about this in your thread.

II. Consider what you could do should YOU become aware that you have violated a boundary of theirs.

III. Consider your reaction should they tell you that you have violated a boundary of theirs. Think beyond defensiveness...keep working until you grasp a healthy reaction.

IV. Share your thoughts in your recovery thread.

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