What does a safe vs an unsafe relationship/friendship look like? Or healthy vs unhealthy?
In a safe relationship there can be healthy boundaries. This means the relationship is productive and supportive. In an unsafe relationship there can be an imbalance of power where one person may be controlled or manipulated by another person. It’s where boundaries are not respected. We all have a need to be accepted and to fit in and sometimes this may cause us to compromise our values or comfort level.
Let’s try an Experiment. Can all of you please close your eyes?
Imagine two very popular girls in the class decide that a certain backpack is no longer trendy anymore. They get new styles and say out loud for others to hear that the other one is just “not so mature anymore.” Now, with a show of hands, how many girls would make sure to get the new style of knapsack that has been approved by these popular girls? (Take note how many girls raise their hands. If it is a majority, have the girls open their eyes and look around to see everyone’s similar response). Ok, close your eyes again, what if you really like your knapsack, the one these popular girls said was not mature? With a show of hands, how many girls would get rid of what they liked anyway for the new style? (Take note of how many girls raise their hands and if it’s a majority have them open their eyes and look around. Have a discussion around those that say they would not change what they liked. How would they respond to another girl who comments on their “non-trendy” knapsack?)
This is an example of where good internal boundaries would be important. External boundaries help us feel into the space around us, and Internal boundaries are about what belongs to me and what belongs to the other. I can have my own feelings, thoughts, sensations and so can another person and it doesn’t have to be the same. Someone else’s choices do not have to define my choices. Setting a boundary can be really difficult to do in many situations. We can have thoughts about not wanting to do something and we
can also feel that “NO” feeling in other ways. Let’s try something. (We get a lot of cues from our bodies about situations that are not comfortable. A boundary exercise is a great way to experience cues from the body that can tell us that something may not be ok.)
Put the girls in groups of three. Two girls will stand a few feet away from each other. Girl A will walk towards Girl B and Girl C will be an observer. Girl B will let Girl A know when she is ready and then Girl A will start walking at a regular pace. Girl B will watch her and as soon as she wants her to stop coming forward she will put up her hand and say STOP. Girl A will stop immediately. Girl B will try to see what she experienced that made her say stop. Was it a feeling in her gut? Her heart? A thought? Did her jaw clench? Did she feel cold or hot? What was happening? Girl C will take notes on what she saw as an observer. Then everyone switches roles until everyone has a turn experiencing each part. After this is done, come together with the group and have a discussion about what everyone noticed. The feelings and sensations that tell us to say stop are our SOMATIC MARKERS (soma meaning body), It is our internal
boundaries saying NO, STOP, PAUSE or some other warning. Our bodies can give us a lot of information, even more than our thoughts sometimes and it is so crucial to learn to listen.
(Show image of girl with the snack.)
Here, one girl clearly brought a snack to school that everyone else wants. She is sharing her snack, but doesn’t look like she had in mind for everyone to take and now she’s not left with
much. What would happen if she said that no one could have? What are the consequences and what are the benefits
of setting that boundary. (Setting a boundary is not easy and will often cause another person to be upset. It becomes really difficult to hold that boundary and realize that someone else’s feelings are theirs and don’t have to belong to you. Discuss that happens when someone is upset at us and how we can manage that. Being able to tolerate that distress is important for life.)
In order to have healthy relationships we need to have the ability to set boundaries. Boundaries can be external which in this example may be asking someone to move back a bit and give you some space, because it feels like she is way too close and it’s making you feel uncomfortable. Internal boundaries have to do with knowing what thoughts, feelings, sensations, and behaviors belong to me and what thoughts, feelings, sensations, and behaviors belong to the other. So in this example if one girl says “you can’t share your snack, wow, selfish,” having healthy boundaries is the difference between taking those words in and thinking, “I am selfish, she must be right, it’s bad middos not to share” vs “I am not required to give away my snack to prove my middos. I am hungry too and that does not make me selfish.” There is the midah of derech eretz and we must always speak respectfully. There are plenty of ways to speak with respect and still maintain your boundary. (Practice what those could be).
Abuse requires the predator to break down a kid’s boundaries in order to get closer to him. A child who doesn’t know what he is worth and doesn’t know that he is allowed to set a boundary is an easier target. Teaching kids about setting a boundary even if you may not be accepted is a really important lesson to help build resilience against falling victim to abuse.