I’m sure you have heard of the concept of personal boundaries. Like geographic boundaries, personal ones are the limits we use to establish our unique identity (to separate ‘me’ from ‘you’). They are also the limits we establish to keep ourselves safe; to prevent others from abusing or manipulating us.
Weak or poorly patrolled boundaries can mean unwanted and unhealthy intrusions into the privacy of our thoughts and feelings. They can also allow traffic to go the other way, outward. Then the risk is that we meddle in the personal affairs of others, say, by believing we are responsible for them in ways that we are not.
Some people who actually have weak boundaries themselves may appear strong . They are very adept at intruding or taking us over in ways we find difficult to manage; in effect, they ‘hack’ our inner workings and get us to do things we’d rather not. For example, a parent who thinks that their adult offspring should still be treated – and respond – as a child, or a ‘friend’ who expects things that a proper friend wouldn’t.
Such intrusions can be deliberate or incidental, but whether they are malicious or well-intended they are still potentially harmful to us.
I like the concept of ‘hacking’ here. A computer needs antivirus software and a firewall to keep it safe from unwanted intrusions. These must be kept up to date and refreshed in order to remain effective. They patrol the cyber horizon for potential intruders and either warn us or simply prevent them from getting in.
The significant thing about such software is that it works in the background; we are not aware of it and we don’t need to do anything ourselves to weed out the good from the bad. In a way, this is what we should do unconsciously. We scan the social horizons for threats and make sure our defences are intact. It is generally automatic and so we don’t need to make moment-by-moment decisions about who or what to let in.
Clear and firm boundaries reflect our values and our identity. When they are refreshed and up to date they will keep us safe from malicious attacks and unwanted intrusions.