New Year’s Eve provides a symbolic boundary that invites us to consider new promises to ourselves in different categories. Some boundaries protect, others serve to maintain or sustain, some open space for new creative endeavors.
The transition to the New Year invites us, our friends and clients, to reflect upon what we are looking forward to in the New Year, what we want to let go from the old year, and what we want to maintain or continue as is. Beyond the clichés of starting an exercise program or resolutions to lose weight, New Year reflections can range from the physical to the spiritual, from the emotional to the cognitive and… from online to the offline.
My Personal Relationship to Boundaries
New Year’s day represents another form of boundary. As many of you know, I am intrigued and fascinated by boundaries. As a paratrooper, I explored the boundaries of space and gravity. As a lieutenant and combat officer and during my years of living in Africa, I often stood on the boundary between life and death. As an oceanographer and a deep-sea diver, I passed through the boundary between air and water. Summiting the awesome 19,300 foot Kilimanjaro with my son in 2007 made me face the boundary between breathable air and lack of oxygen. After that, backpacking on the vast glaciers of Alaska in October 2008 was my next challenge: this time the boundaries were of subfreezing temperatures and an unimaginable wind-chill factor. Last year I learned, the hard way, about the driving power of monsoon rains in the rainforest of Malaysia.
On Walls as Boundaries
Returning to Singapore a couple of weeks ago provided me the opportunity to experience one of the ultimate physical boundaries on our planet, the awesome Great Wall of China. Stretching over 5,000 miles through seeming impossible treacherous terrain, the Wall is an ultimate undeniable boundary. Visiting the Wall was a moving and freezing (10 degrees F) experience. Looking north from its high vantage, I could easily imagine ferocious, nomadic Mongolian horsemen rapidly approaching, only to be stopped and deterred by the Wall. Visiting some of the more remote parts of the Wall in rural Northern China filled me with a deep sense of awe at the enormity and enduring parts of the construction and reconstruction.
Walls have been effective throughout the history of humankind in separating warring parties, reducing hostility, and (often) bringing peace. The Berlin Wall effectively separated the two Germanys and was dismantled only when the time was finally ripe for reconciliation. The Roman Empire was equally well-protected from the Barbarians by the Roman Limes. Other effective walls include those between the Greeks and the Turks in Cyprus, the Protestants and Catholics in Ireland, and the grim DMZ between North and South Korea.
As with countries, governments and peoples, so it is among friends, family members, lovers, and therapists with clients: it is important to know when to erect walls and when to fold them. It is essential to determine how high and wide to build them, and how to reduce or dismantle them at the right time.
Boundaries are important in psychotherapy, counseling and social work. As such, boundaries can only be understood when flexibly applied within the context of therapy. As with the Great Wall of China, this is an evolving, de-evolving, and re-evolving developmental process. Healthy boundaries are appropriate, effective, constructive, and ever-changing. There are times to have clear boundaries and avoid touch, gifts or self-disclosure. At other times, touch can be the most effective way to comfort a distressed client. Appropriate gifts and self-disclosure can be highly effective in increasing trust and connection. In short, the effective use of boundaries can only be understood within the context of therapy.
- What do you need to discard and let go of?
- What needs to be invited or revamped?
- What needs to be sustained or maintained?
I also invite you to think about boundaries in your life, whether it is with your lover, parents, children, friends or clients.
- Which boundaries need to be strengthened, clarified, or widened?
- Which boundaries need to be erected?
- Which boundaries need to be dismantled or made more permeable?
Videos On Boundaries in Psychotherapy
- Introduction to Boundaries
- Self-Disclosure and Transparency
- Gifts in Psychotherapy
- Dual or Multiple Relationships
- More . . .
Articles on Therapeutic Boundaries
Online Courses on Boundaries in Psychotherapy
- Introduction to Boundaries
- Boundaries and the Movies 6 CE Credit Hours
- Boundaries in Therapy 2 CE Credit Hours
- Many more courses