Sunday, November 26, 2006


One of AidelMaidel's recent posts has me thinking about personal boundaries and how to teach them. That's not what her post is about, but that is where my wandering mind went with it.

Personal boundaries are a lot like that personal distance thing we all know about. In different cultures people stand at different distances from each other. Within a culture people stand in different places. We can experience people standing to close as acts of aggression and standing too far away as acts of unfriendliness. Sometimes we are correct about the message and sometimes we are just interpreting cross-cultural signals incorrectly.

Personal boundaries have to do with privacy. How much about ourselves do we share?

Kids in foster care have had their boundaries severely violated. It perhaps should not surprise us that they don't understand boundaries.

Many (all?) forms of child abuse are violations of boundaries: physical; emotional; sexual. Children are told that it does not matter what they want to be private. They have no right to privacy of any kind.

And so they are rescued by social services. Social workers, police officers, advocates and others ask the child to reveal what happened to them. It may be necessary and well-intentioned, but it is again a violation of the child's privacy. It does not matter if they do not want to reveal the details of their lives; they don't have the right to keep those secrets. They must tell and they must tell people whom they have just met.

Dear Lord, is it any wonder that Evan has no understanding of personal boundaries? He either does not want to tell me anything. He gets anxious and suspicious when I ask who he was talking to on the phone. "Why do you want to know?" he asks me.

When he decides that he is going to share, he shares. Man oh man does he share. He does not seem to understand that when I ask how his date went all I want to know is did he have a good time? If he has complicated feelings about his sexual activity and wants to talk about those feelings then I'm all his. That's what aunties are for. I do not, however, need to know the details of what he is doing.

But I understand. He has not had people respect his boundaries. Not even the "good" people.

Though I have known all this, I have just been putting these pieces together this clearly for a while.

The next question is "how do we teach personal boundaries?" I'm not certain of that. I know it will require modeling, and that it will require understanding of the children as the fail to "get it."

I need to think more though about how to teach a child that he or she has the right to protect their privacy, reveal only as much about themselves as they feel safe revealing -- while at the same time demanding to be told where they are going, who they are going with, and when they will be back.

Anyone have any good ideas?

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous4:58 PM

    Good question! As a therapist, I try to teach adults who have a history of abuse how to establish and respect their own boundaries. My approach depends on the client, to some extent, but in general I encourage clients to try and identify the feeling they have when their boundaries are violated, and to trust that feeling, to act on it as necessary. When they can begin to recognize their own boundaries, then they can begin to respect others.


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