In the three previous Newsletters we examined the relational difficulties that occur when our boundaries are violated or we do not possess effective, healthy boundaries. As we develop through childhood we established the boundaries that are the physical and psychological space between you and the outside world. They define where you start in relation to all others and how that any intrusion across our boundaries triggers an emotional response. It is wise to remember that any time your physical and/or psychological boundaries are entered you will have a stress response. The effect the contact has on you depends on your current set of beliefs and emotional memories about the nature of that contact and how it matches with your sense of self.
As explained previously (see Newsletter 194. - ‘Boundaries - The Point of Contact’ - March 21 2022) the importance of a healthy boundary is relative to the closeness of the relationship.
In the diagram above there is a decreasing intensity of the effect a boundary violation has on the individual. It is easy to see that the relationship between yourself and an intimate other will generate much more stress than between you and a stranger. This is not always a negative experience, when you share cherished moments with a loved one this ‘stressful’ experience is pleasing. Because of the potential tension relationships at this level can generate, the benefit of honesty is crucial in maintaining trust.
Simply put, boundaries are controlling what is OK and what is not OK for you in any given situation. When we let people get away with what’s not OK it is natural to resent them. However, this assumes the other understands what you require when in fact they might be doing the best they can, this is the mature nature of having healthy boundaries. If we assume they are doing their best it allows you to stay in the relationship but you must act to ensure it becomes on your terms. In broad terms you have to:
- Provide an explanation – you need to convey the situation as you see it, how you want it to be and be specific.
- Acknowledge your Feelings – own your feelings and take responsibility for them but let them know that you have them.
- Articulate your Needs – say what you want. Be selective, realistic and be prepared to negotiate in the knowledge that both parties have equal rights in a relationship.
- Recognise Potential Consequences – Outline how things will be if there are changes or if they stay as they are.
A practical script to help you in this type of negotiation is to say the following:
- “When you …” – describe exactly what is upsetting you
- “I feel …” – let them know that this is having an emotional impact on you
- “Because …” – tell them why you are upset
This approach lets you communicate all aspects of how, what and why the situation impacts on you. When they are aware of this they can choose whether or not they wish to remain in a relationship with you but it will be on your terms. There is no guarantee that this will work but if not then you should re-evaluate the value you have in the relationship.
Sometimes you may find yourself in a situation where this approach is ineffective or with strangers when stronger techniques are required. In these cases use:
- “If you …” – clearly identify what it is they are doing
- “I will …” – explain what you will do in response to such action. This is where you let them know what the consequences may be remembering never make a threat you can’t carry out!
Having healthy boundaries is really taking responsibility for your life. However, this is a continuous task as while ever you are in the company of others your boundaries will necessarily over-lap. As mentioned, when this happens your will feel a change in your emotions and if this signifies you are under threat you need to identify what is happening and what you need to do to protect yourself. The following steps will help:
- Stay Calm – you will have feelings but don’t let those feelings control your behaviour
- Ask yourself, what is Really Happening – sometimes, especially with dysfunctional students the driving force behind the behaviour is not clear and in most cases their anger will not be directed at you
- Who is Responsible?
- Me - You must take action to address problem
- Not Me - You can’t ignore the situation but must take action to get the result you want in the future
- Review the outcomes, after you have taken these steps and things have changed for the better then the action has been a success. If not you should revisit the steps and try another approach. If the situation cannot be resolved then you should end that relationship!
At this stage of establishing healthy boundaries you will be in a period of negotiation with others. At this time you need to:
- Establish Expectations: - What are the areas of agreement and real differences
- Check your Intentions: - Is what you want fair for all, be aware of others’ feelings
- Consider Your Options: - Investigate the full range of options considering short and long-term consequences
- Suggested Options: - After discussion put forward your proposal
- Evaluate: - After trial evaluate and revisit procedure if needed and be persistent in putting your view
The illustration below summarises practical boundaries which in reality defines a functional adult who:
- Accepts responsibility for their actions
- Protects themselves from abuse
- Gets their needs met in a just manner
Boundaries for Teachers
The discussion above is really based on relationships between individuals with equal status, this is not the case with teachers and students. This equity is not to be confused with equal importance, everyone deserves to be treated equally but children are ‘works in progress’ and they are developing their boundaries. It is the teacher’s role to demonstrate effective boundaries and provide opportunities for students to develop their own.
You have to remember that you are the teacher and there is a real power imbalance. You:
- Have a position of power in the classroom, you have the authority to make decisions
- Are an adult with a tertiary education and the status that goes with this
This is the time for authenticity, it is not a time to ignore those things for which we are responsible or to disregard the moral and aesthetic irritations that come with dealing with the truth because we find doing this uncomfortable. It is a time to model responsibility no matter how difficult that may be because that’s how the students will learn.
As the leader in the classroom you need to establish the quality of its environment, that is you need to establish what are the professional needs within the setting considering:
- The teaching requirements; you need to present the assigned curriculum at the appropriate level for all students
- Ensure there is an opportunity for all members of the class to get their physical and psychological needs met
- The physical and psychological protection of all class members including yourself
- Demonstrate and even teach appropriate assertiveness and functional boundaries
You need to understand that effective boundaries support all healthy relationships and relationships underpin all successful teaching and learning environments!