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From experience:

I was caught in a broken-down, barbed-wire fence once when I was young. It was night. No matter which way I turned, I got cut. Friends tried to free me by moving the fence, cutting me even more. When I finally escaped, my legs, arms and hands were pitted with puncture wounds.

The experience reminds me of living without boundaries. Until I established where I ended and where another person began, I could not separate my pain from someone else's pain. Thus, I was stuck in an invisible barbed-wire fence. If a part of the fence was moved, I was hurt. And no matter which way I turned, I got cut.

I was uncomfortable in the presence of a particular person who moved in close to talk. In fact, one night I found myself stepping back as she stepped forward until I finally stepped backward into a wall. At that moment, I said, "Please stand back just a little bit. I'm uncomfortable standing this close, and I can't concentrate on what we're saying."

It was amazing. I had known this person for 18 months, and for the first time I was able to carry on a conversation with her and not feel uneasy.

That was when I discovered we all have physical boundaries around us, a comfort zone if you will. This comfort zone is different for each one of us. Also, my comfort zone varies depending upon how close I am to the other person and what the conversation is about.

This piece of information has helped me in several ways. First of all, when I am in a disagreement with someone else, I make sure I'm standing in my space. I also try not to invade theirs unless it's necessary to do so to get them to back off. In the case of some very aggressive people, moving forward only escalates the dispute. In determining which will work-moving in or moving back, it's important to watch their body language and their eyes.

When I am in a social situation and someone gets physically too close, I don't back into a wall. Instead I smile and say, "Please, back up just a little bit so I can be more comfortable while we talk." And when they do, I thank them.

Those interested in learning what their physical boundaries are may do so by trying the following experiment, which takes two people, whom we will call A and B. A stands still while B approaches. When A becomes uncomfortable with the distance B is from A, A says, "Stop." B approaches from all four sides of A. This can be done with A standing and with A sitting. A reminder: physical boundaries vary depending upon the relationship between A and B.

I gave myself the smallest piece of cake, not because I was watching my weight, but because I was putting myself last. Now when I prepare plates of food, I make sure I receive a fair share. When I fix myself smaller portions, it's because I want to eat less, not because I am less important.

I was in a dilemma. I had been asked to do something I did not want to do, and I did not know how to say no. I called a friend who said, "People can't make you feel guilty. You allow them to make you feel guilty. You give them that power. So when you are dealing with people you allow to make you feel guilty, do not use the word want. Don't say, 'I don't want to...' Use the word chose. Say instead, 'I chose not to...' When you use the word want, you will feel guilty no matter the outcome.'"

Next: Boundaries, Page 3

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