FIREWALL YOUR Relationships, Yourself: Boundaries vs. Borders

Uploaded 3/13/2023, approx. 7 minute read

What's the difference between borders and boundaries in relationships?

This is today's topic.

My name is Sam Vaknin. I'm a lot lighter. I lost my hair. And I'm the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited, and a former and current professor of psychology.

So we're going to discuss a bit of a new concept, borders.

You've all heard of boundaries. I'm not quite sure that you know what boundaries are.

People use words without defining them properly and leave a lot of ambiguity and vagueness in their wake.

But today we're going to contemplate both of these concepts.

In relationships, borders are like membranes in the living body. Borders allow in only selective types of communication. Borders require protocols, including communication protocols. Borders rely on rituals and routines. And borders are policed exactly in a national border. Borders are policed by cultural and social mores. Borders therefore are interpersonal. They are dyadic. They are inside the couple.

And again, borders are forms of selectivity. Borders regulate structure, introduce order into relationships. They are like an endoskeleton in a way.

Boundaries are not borders. Boundaries are individual.

You remember that borders are interpersonal.

Two people or more create borders. And borders are usually consensual. They are negotiated. They're compromised. Boundaries are just declared. They're promulgated. They're individual.

Personal boundaries are rules of conduct, red lines in the sand. Any infringement, any breach of the boundary is deemed unacceptable behavior.

You need to set your boundaries clearly, unequivocally, unambiguously, first and foremost to yourself. You need to talk to yourself. You need to ask yourself, how do I protect my dignity, my privacy, my freedom, my priorities, and my rights?

Once you have answered these questions, the list of answers, these are your boundaries.

You then need to communicate your boundaries to people around you, including your intimate partner.

And each boundary has to come with a cost, with a price tag.

So the list of boundaries is a bit like a price list. The cost associated with ignoring or violating the boundary.

This is my boundary.

But if you break it, this is the cost you're going to pay. I don't know. I'm going to leave you. It's a deal break or whatever.

So you need to communicate, not aggressively, not aggressively, but firmly, assertively. You need to communicate your boundaries together with sanctions.

What happens if these boundaries are breached?

And finally, you need to enforce your boundaries. Your credibility depends on a consistent and fair application of these rules of engagement.

Once you have declared the cost of a boundary and the boundary is breached, you need to enforce the cost.

You need to exact the cost. The ability to thrive in intimacy is inextricably linked to the capacity to maintain and enforce personal boundaries and negotiate and compromise interdichoic, intradiadic inside the couple, borders.

So borders and boundaries.

In personality disordered people, both borders and boundaries are sorely missing, lacking, compromised, or they are inconsistent and in constant identity disturbance, for example.

In identity disturbance in borderline personality disorder, the patient has no firm, consistent, long-term, predictable boundaries. Her values, her beliefs, and her boundaries shift all the time. She shapeshifts. She becomes different people. Self-states.

Self-states in healthy people come replete with boundaries.

But in most healthy people, the same boundaries apply to all the self-states.

In mentally ill people, especially people with identity disturbance, for example, borderline, and even to some extent narcissistic, in these patients, in these people, the boundaries, each self-statehas its own list of boundaries. And many of these lists are mutually exclusive.

Intimacy, however fleeting, and of whatever nature, even if it's merely physical intimacy in a one-night stand, intimacy is a tight-rope act.

On the one hand, intimacy involves the disclosure of vulnerabilities and the relaxation of firewalls and protections intended to fend off unwarranted or coerced attention.

On the other hand, real intimacy entails the maintaining of personal autonomy, agency, and self-efficacy.

In other words, real intimacy is at the same time separateness and vulnerability, at the same time keeping boundaries and negotiating borders, at the same time coming close together while not merging, fusing, or succumbing.

So intimacy is a bit paradoxical.

It's a huge problem to negotiate and to reach.

To attain intimacy, one needs to feel sufficiently secure of one's core identity, self-worth, self-esteem, internal regulation, and boundaries.

So secure that you feel safe to invite another person in.

Intimacy is an invitation extended to another person.

And exactly like in a real home or a boat, you won't invite a stranger in unless you feel totally safe.

The mentally ill tend to enmesh, engulf, merge, or fuse with other people. And then they push them away and flee.

And this is known as approachavoidancerepetitioncompulsion.

It's impossible to negotiate borders or to maintain boundaries in such a pendulum. It's very difficult.

The dysfunctional attachment styles are the outcomes of twin contradictory anxieties, the separation insecurity, abandonment anxiety on the one hand, and government anxiety on the other hand.

Wherever anxiety prevails, there is a pervasive lack of safety, a sense of insecurity, dread, fear even.

In these situations, it's not possible to have intimacy. It's very unlikely to negotiate a consensual set of borders.

And above all, your boundaries are in flux. Sometimes they're rigid and exaggerated, paranoid and aggressive. And sometimes they're mushy and fuzzy and permeable and to all intents and purposesnon-existent.

[ Pause ].

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