Healthy boundaries identify and separate the self from others and consequently are the foundation of the Blue Zone. Boundaries are the fences, both physical and emotional, that mark off our world, creating zones of safety, authority, privacy, and territoriality. Boundaries are essential components because they:
• Define who we are – what we believe, think, feel, and do – where my story ends and yours begins;
• Restrict access and intrusions;
• Protect priorities; and
• Differentiate between personal (Red Zone) and professional (Blue Zone) issues.
Boundary difficulties go hand-in-hand with Red Zone issues. As I sink deeper into the morass of the Red Zone, my personal boundaries invariably become involved and compromised, and I engage others in my emotional drama in unhealthy ways.
For some people, boundaries become too rigid. Vital information — the lifeblood of any healthy person – is greatly restricted. Stylized ways of behaving become fixed. Prejudices are constructed and maintained. These folks often refuse to allow others on their teams put forward conflicting information that could be useful in ripening the conversation.
For other people, boundaries become too porous or ambiguous. In such cases, the integrity and cohesion of the person is threatened by a lack of definition — “Who am I, other than an extension of you?”
Too Rigid Too Porous
Those with porous boundaries are usually the ones who are most noticeably in the Red Zone. They are the ones who seem to be constantly influenced by what others do, say, and think. But those with too rigid boundaries can be just as influenced by the Red Zone. They’ve just constructed higher and denser walls to keep out external influences, because of their feelings (Red Zone) of vulnerability.
We are used to the visible boundary markers of our world: fences, hedges, traffic signs. Less obvious, but equally effective, are the internal boundaries that mark off emotional territory: “These are my thoughts, my feelings, my story” or “This is my responsibility, not yours.” These internal boundaries are emotional barriers that protect and enhance the integrity of individuals.
Boundaries are critical in understanding the Red Zone, because as we have said, sinking into the Red Zone represents a boundary violation. When I am in conflict with another person, it is critical that my thoughts and emotions stay present to the issues upon which we disagree. When I permit old storylines to creep into the equation and color my feelings, I have violated a boundary and I have compromised my thinking. When I begin to see the other person as a person other than who she truly is (to be discussed below), I violate a boundary. For those people who have poor boundaries (too rigid or too porous), the dangers of Red Zoning are all the more prominent.
Here’s a quick test to help you determine the strength and health of your own personal boundaries (based on ideas suggested by C.L. Whitfield in Boundaries and Relationships, also used in Thriving Through Ministry Conflict). See if you agree or disagree with the following statements:
I have difficulty making up my mind.
I have difficulty saying no to people.
I feel my happiness depends on other people.
I would rather attend to others than to myself.
Others’ opinions are more important than mine.
People take and use my things without asking me.
I have difficulty asking for what I want or need.
I would rather go along with other people than express what I would really like to do.
It’s hard for me to know what I think and believe.
I have a hard time determining what I really feel.
I don’t get to spend much time alone.
I have a hard time keeping a confidence.
I am very sensitive to criticism.
I tend to stay in relationships that are harmful to me.
I tend to take on or feel what others are feeling.
I feel responsible for other people’s feelings.
If you answered yes to three or more of these, your boundaries are too porous, with beliefs, information, values, and opinions flowing freely in and out without a clear definition of self.
Now look at this list and see which ones agree with you.
My mind is always made up.
It is much easier for me to say no to people than to say yes.
My happiness never depends on other people.
I would rather attend to myself than to others.
My opinion is more important than others’.
I rarely, if ever, lend my things to other people.
Most issues appear very black and white to me.
I know exactly what I think and believe on almost every issue.
I have a hard time determining what I really feel.
I spend much time alone.
I keep most of my thoughts to myself.
I am immune to criticism.
I find it difficult to make and maintain close relationships.
I never feel responsible for other people’s feelings.
If you answered agree to more than three of these, your boundaries are probably too rigid. Yes, too rigid. You might think that agreeing with many of the above statements gives you good, strong boundaries. But boundaries must be permeable enough to allow new information to enter to influence you in useful ways.
Steps to Creating Healthy Internal Boundaries are:
Learn to recognize your own emotional responses.
Become aware of when you are reacting to an authority figure, a peer, or a situation.
Become aware when the other is reacting to something in you.
Recognize situations in which you repeat the same behavior and produce the same result.
Recognize situations that create anxiety for you and acknowledge that fear to self.
When a conflict arises, talk about your behavior and feelings with someone. Avoid focusing on the other person’s behavior.
Become aware of the people who provoke emotional responses in you.
Identify the characteristics in that person that provoke the emotional response in you: e.g. he is so arrogant or so needy or so angry.
Recognizing that, if you are unable to resolve an issue with someone after talking about it then there is another deeper level conflict present.
If you realize that another issue is present, acknowledge that and get support from a third party.
Steps to Creating Healthy External Boundaries
Understand your target audience and anticipate what the resistance will be.
When you experience resistance from others, avoid personalizing the situation.
Ask questions in a non threatening manner and genuinely seek to understand the issues.
Do not respond in the moment if you are feeling threatened.
Organizational blind spots are just that, blind spots. There is no intent to do wrong because people are not aware of the consequences of their actions.
Determine when you need help, what kind, how much.
Create a safe environment.
Be aware of team values when attacked from outside.
Don’t assume the same things work for all.
Use dry runs for briefings.
Ask for help.
Have agreed-upon values and expectations / empowerment.
Share information within the directorate.
Create more clarity around task and purpose.
Create more clarity around roles and responsibility.
Re-organize ATO-P R&TD structure around existing programs.
Have clear understanding of the mission, vision and values of ATO-P R&TD.
Have an understanding and tolerance for various work styles.
Be better at giving and receiving feedback.
Show support for each other.
Be able to talk about the experience.
Include more peer review.
Look for people who have insight into your audience.
Value and reinforce the work we do as an organization for the organization.
Raise awareness when feeling micromanaged.