Every way you interact with others is a boundary style. Some of these ways of interacting create harmony and success. Others create problems. Most people (and please don’t be like most people) have no idea what style they are using or how they come across to others. They just blindly plow ahead. Glad when it works. And clueless when it doesn’t.
Here you will learn The Six Biggest Mistakes. These are The Six Boundary Problem Styles that create upset, pain and frustration. Once you learn to think about boundary styles, you can better choices for your relationship success at home and work, with family, friends and strangers.
(I recommend you PRINT out this long chapter and highlight the behaviors you have used in the past. People who change fastest are those who identify their damaging patterns and review that information three times over a three week period. Go for it! You can stop falling into these dances, if choose to do the work.)
“Life is like a box a chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.” – Forest Gump
Forrest is right. Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get. Especially with the next person you meet – but you can be prepared. There are 6 helpful ways of interacting. These are The Six Boundary Solution Styles. And, there are 6 sabotaging ways of interacting. These are The Six Boundary Problem Styles. Once you know all twelve of these boundary relationship styles, you will be able to quickly identify what style someone else is using and adjust your approach appropriately. For example, if you know your friend is very firm to the point of being rigid, you can plan ahead of time what boundary solution approach to use with her so you don’t get bowled over by her approach.
If, on the other hand, she is very indirect and subtle, you run the danger of being seen as intrusive when you speak up for what you want without consulting with her first. It doesn’t matter if all of your other friends love your direct approach, with her it doesn’t work.
This is why it is important for you to understand others styles, how you come across to others and how others play out these different styles.
In this chapter you are going to learn the six boundary problem styles. These are the approaches that sabotage your relationship success. As you read them, see if you can find ways you have used each of these six styles.
Also, ask yourself if anyone else would say you used these styles. It doesn’t matter if you would agree with their opinion or not. It’s just to get a sense of how some other people see you. So don’t get all defensive on me, just try to see how other people see you.
And lastly, look at all your problem relationships, past and current, and see how you would label other people’s boundary styles.
I know I have fallen into using all six of these boundary problem styles. Yikees!
Knowing how to identify the styles in myself and others has helped me step back from a potential mistake and choose a different approach – even in the midst of conflict.
What a relief.
The Six Boundary Problem Styles:
The Rigid Boundary Problem Style:
A Receptivity Problem – Too Closed
Someone using The Rigid Boundary Problem Style is often somebody who has a clear idea of what he wants. He is willing to back up his opinions and will not change his views just because someone disagrees with him. He is not afraid to speak up, in fact, sometimes he enjoys a good debate.
Often very intelligent, he feels confident and will hold his ground when he knows he is right or wants things done his way.
When Things Get Off Balance
So what turns this confident, direct approach into The Rigid Boundary Problem Style? If someone gets off balance and, he might get so locked into his own opinions that he cannot see how someone else’s ideas could be useful. Because of this it is hard for him to collaborate with others. He won’t listen. He is too closed.
Even if he is not trying to impose his opinions on others, his definitive approach make it hard for people to share their ideas or vulnerabilities with him. Sometimes he comes across as harsh, judgmental or uncaring. He is unaware of others’ reactions to his approach. Unbeknownst to him his style alienates others.
Sometimes, when people won’t do things his way, he simply refuses to entertain others ideas. His relationship goal of “I want to have a good time hanging out with my friends.” gets pushed aside when he falls into this “My Way Or The Highway” rigid approach. He would rather stay home alone then eat with his friends at a restaurant he doesn’t like.
He often comes across as hard, uncaring and unyielding. His coworkers, family and friends become angry or disheartened because they realize, no matter how much they try, they cannot influence him. They don’t count.
There’s nothing wrong with saying “no” in a no-nonsense manner that blocks any further discussion, as long as this approach fits the situation and helps support relationship the short and long term goals. Unfortunately, he uses this approach when it is not appropriate or necessary. He uses it in a way that harms his chances for relationship success.
Being Perceived As Using Rigid
Sometimes he is not really using Rigid but is perceived by others as using rigid. If his friend has a different style of communicating, one that is more soft, indirect or gentle, his confident approach could come across as harsh or inflexible.
He might clearly announce what he wants and then sit back to see what other people say. If no one contradicts him or speaks up as boldly as he did, he assumes everything is all right. However, to someone else it might seem he made a final decision and there is no room for negotiation. His friend’s style might be to ask other people’s opinions first, and then toss out a few ideas and work to come up with a blended game plan.
There is nothing wrong with either style, but put together, it’s a train wreck. If he can’t see they have different boundary styles and make the appropriate changes in his approach, he’s going to have big problems.
He plows ahead as if everything is fine. He assumes everyone else will speak up, just like him. Later on, he wonders why he didn’t get the job, why his kids won’t talk to him and why his wife feels hurt and angry. Ouch!
He might say “Well, she should’ve spoken up if she felt that way!” But, that’s just the point. The people who will perceive him as using rigid are not going to speak up in the moment. But they will vote later on – with their feet.
This is why it is very important for you to understand all 12 boundary styles. Even a healthy style, like Firm or Assertive, is going to be a problem if you use it in the wrong way or with the wrong person.
Once you learn these styles it will be easy for you to spot a potential mismatch like in the example above. This way you can quickly shift gears and choose a different approach for the situation.
Signs You Might Be Using Rigid
Here are a few signs you might be using The Rigid Boundary Problem Style:
- you are unwilling to listen to someone else’s views after you have made a decision
- it is difficult for you to compromise or be flexible
- you don’t ask for other people’s opinions or input
- you make pronouncements about what is the “right way” to do things
- you insist on doing things your way even if it alienates others
- others have complained that their opinions don’t matter to you
- others have said you are rigid or unyielding
Signs Others Perceive See You As Using Rigid
Here are a few signs you might be perceived as using The Rigid Boundary Problem Style:
- someone feels shut down by you when you express your opinion
- others have said you are rigid or unyielding
- people no longer try to to explore ideas with you or express their opinions
- when someone finally speaks up to you they do it with an overcharged, hard edge
- when you announce your way of doing things, others get angry or withdraw
- personal or business relationships end when you thought things were going great
- others respond to you by becoming The Child in The Parent Child Dance
Michael Using The Rigid Boundary Problem Style
Here is an example of Michael using The Rigid Boundary Problem Style. He is so determined to have things the way he wants them that he isn’t aware of Angela’s feelings. Pull up a chair as we join Angela and Michael for dinner:
Angela has just finished putting the serving bowls on the dining room table. With a smile she calls to Michael, “Dinner’s ready. Let’s eat.”
Michael walks in the room and looks at the dishes. With the serving spoon, he lifts up the spaghetti. Lifting one eyebrow he says “What is this? “
Angela replies, “It’s spaghetti. The sauce is in the other serving dish.”
With a crisp tone he says “I know that. I mean why are we having this? These are thick spaghetti noodles. You know I only like the thin spaghetti.” He walks toward the front door and reaches for his coat. “I am going to the store.”
Angela’s jaw drops. “But dinner is ready…” These are the last words he hears as he walks out the door.
Rigid – It’s A Problem
Michael’s use of The Rigid Boundary Problem Style does more than give his girlfriend indigestion. She feels resentful and wonders if he cares about her.
If she’s afraid of abandonment or conflict, she might go along with his behavior even though she doesn’t like it. At some point, she might end the relationship because, to her, it seems what she wants is not important to him. She feels like he doesn’t care.
Luckily, since this incident both Michael and Angela have been learning about boundary styles so they can change their approach to their relationship.
By the way, the story above was actually about my mother and father. He left the house and drove through the snow filled streets so he could go get the “right” spaghetti. Ouch! And you wondered where I learned this stuff!
Rigid – What Happens
Some of your friends, family or coworkers will keep trying, for a while, to get you listen to them. They feel like they don’t matter to you. They may decide it’s just easier to go along with your plans. You don’t know it, but they feel resentful and distant.
Some people, when they reach their breaking point, will explode on you with anger. Others will just be fed up and leave. They don’t want to have to fight in order to be heard.
One woman I worked with told me she was tired of battling her husband to get her way once in a while. It was emotionally exhausting her. Since all his friends had the same dynamic, outspoken style as him, he had never realized that his gregarious approach was damaging his marriage.
He just assumed when something was really important to her, she would be as bold, persistent and direct as he was. She was thinking of divorcing him and he had no idea something was wrong. It was not until they learned the 12 boundary styles that they identified what was happening in their relationship. His up-front, powerful approach came across as rigid and her passive response had developed into The Invisible Boundary Problem Style. With this information in hand, they both picked boundary solution styles to change this off balanced dynamic. You will learn the boundaries solution styles in the next chapter.
Robots Or Innovators?
What do you want for employees – robots or innovators? It is fine to have standards and rules at work but, when you use the rigid approach for everything on the job you lose an important resource. Instead of feeling valued, your employees will feel like robots.
Most of your employees will follow your rigid micromanaging but they will lose their creative initiative to do more than what is expected. They won’t try new ideas, brainstorm innovations or have fun. A few will challenge you upfront. Others will sabotage the business behind your back. They will not care about you or your business because they feel you don’t care about them. Ouch!
Negotiable and Non-negotiable Rules For Children
Children need a blend of negotiable and non-negotiable rules. As they grow, these rules should grow and change with them. When you parent using a Rigid boundary style, you over use non-negotiable rules and forget to use negotiable rules. Your rigid stance makes it hard for your children to talk to you about what they want or need. They don’t learn how to think for themselves, problem solve or respect their own ideas. This is great for raising sheep, but not for raising children. The book Growing Up Again by (Jean Ilsley Clarke and Connie Dawson) gives many great examples of appropriate parenting styles for different ages.
What am I supposed to do?
So what am I supposed to do – never have an opinion again? Never say “no” again?
Of course not, the point is to keep looking at your short and long term relationship goals and decide if your approach is going to get you there or not. Learn to see other people’s reactions and to pick up on their boundary styles.
Sometimes, you need to set a hard line limit with someone and she is not going to like it. She might even say you are being rigid. It is okay to be perceived as using rigid as long as it doesn’t sabotage your relationship success. For example, I might set an immediate, no-nonsense limit with someone who is trying to park in my parking spot at work. A stranger is trying to use it as a load unload zone when it is marked for my private use. If that person perceives me as being rigid, I’m okay with that. I’m not trying to develop a long-term relationship with him.
But, the problem is, if this is someone you care about, and she has a more soft-spoken style then you, you might not know what she is feeling. You might not know your approach is damaging your relationship.
You can use a firm approach while still staying open and friendly. You can smile and be warm and still say what you want. You can be firm without being harsh. You can be clear about your opinions without coming across as righteous.
The Invisible Boundary Problem Style:
A Receptivity Problem – Too Open
Someone using the Invisible Boundary Problem Style is often a very thoughtful person. She likes getting along with other people and is good at avoiding conflict. Harmony is very important to her. Because of this, she puts aside her own desires in the moment and goes along with other people’s ideas. Through her words and actions she is more likely to say “yes” rather than “no”.
When Things Get Off Balance
So what makes this easy-going style turn into The Invisible Boundary Problem Style? Sometimes it’s because she over does it. She goes along with others’ plans too much, to the point of resentment, and doesn’t realize it until later on, when she feels angry or hurt.
Sometimes, she is so driven to avoid conflict that she doesn’t stop to think about her own needs or desires before compromising.
Other times, she does speak up but, if the other person doesn’t follow her idea, instead of bringing it up again or asserting her desires in a stronger way, she just drops it. But, of course, she doesn’t really drop it. She holds pain, resentment or blame. She doesn’t see how her passivity in the moment is creating a shaky foundation for her relationship in the future.
If she keeps using this invisible style, over time, she feels like a victim and blames others. She feels wounded and angry at others for how badly “they treat her”.
Being Perceived As Using Invisible
Sometimes, she might not the using invisible. She really might not care about where to go for vacation, what dress her friend wears as a bridesmaid to her wedding or what color to paint the house. Others might find it hard to believe she doesn’t have strong opinions about these things. So, they keep asking her if it’s really okay and they feel hesitant to decide these things without her input.
Unfortunately, if she really has used invisible in the past, she has set up a confusing situation for others. They remember other times where she did not speak up and got upset later. So now, others have no way of knowing when she is telling the truth and when she is using The Invisible Boundary Problem Style. This sets up a big problem for everyone.
Signs You Might Be Using Invisible
Here are a few signs you might be using The Invisible Boundary Problem Style:
- there are many things you want or need that you do not bring up to others
- you bring things up in an indirect, subtle or low-key way
- you are resentful about how much and how often you give in
- you feel like people take advantage of you
- your mouth says “yes” while your gut says “no”
- people don’t listen to you or respect what you say
- you allow people to do things that you do not like
- you do not set limits with other people or do not enforce limits you have set
- you do not say “no” in a way that is respected
- you feel bullied, pushed around or controlled by others
- you passively allow events to occur, even if they seem wrong for you
- You rarely assert your own desires or needs directly
- you are afraid of conflict
- you feel hurt, misunderstood or wounded
- you describe other people as overbearing, bullying or insensitive
- you tell “I’ve been done wrong” stories
- in The Dance Of Drama you fall into The Victim Role, occasionally moving to The Persecutor Role
Signs Others Might Perceive You As Using Invisible
Here are a few signs others perceive you as using The Invisible Boundary Problem Style:
- someone repeatedly asks you if you are okay with his decision even though you have already said it is
- someone seems hesitant to go ahead with his plans because you didn’t create them together
Beverly Using The Invisible Boundary Problem Style
Here is an example of Beverly using The Invisible Boundary Problem Style. She does not say what she really wants. Instead, she goes along with things and later feels resentful.
Beverly and Larry pull up to the movie theater. In her mind, Beverly says to herself, “Why did I answer the phone when he called tonight? I really should have stayed home. Why is he making me go out on a night before my big meeting tomorrow?”
After parking, Larry opens the car door for her, saying, “We’re here. Come on- the movie is going to start soon. Hurry up, let’s go.”
Beverly comes back from her thoughts, and says “Which movie? I thought we were going to pick the movie once we got here.”
Larry says, “There’s this old Clint Eastwood movie playing. It’s starting any minute- it’s great. I thought you’d like it. Let’s hurry up so we can get in.”
Beverly smiles at him as she says, “Oh, a Western… okay.” As she walks she is thinking, “I hate Westerns. There’s three movies here I’d like to see and that’s certainly not one of them.”
Once Inside the theater, Larry goes to buy a snack. “You want popcorn? I’ll get extra butter on it.”
Hesitatingly Beverly says, “Well, I don’t know if I want butter…”
But Larry says, “Oh come on, it’ll be great – they use real butter here”. Beverly nods her head “yes” while thinking, “I don’t want butter.”
She smiles as Larry hands her the popcorn. “Well, there goes my diet,” she sighs to herself as they walk into the darkened room, knowing that tomorrow she would complain to her girlfriend about how Larry made her break her diet again.
Invisible – It’s A Problem
When Beverly uses The Invisible Boundary Problem Style she ends up feeling invisible, used and resentful. She passively goes along with others, ignoring what she really wants.
When she finally does speak up, she is in a subtle or gentle way. This works great if her date is hyper-receptive or comes from a culture where people are trained to look for subtle, indirect clues. But most people will have no idea how important something is to her.
To top it off, Beverly gives mixed messages by saying one thing but then doing another. She says “no” but then goes along with it anyway. So, people think she simply changed her mind or it wasn’t that important to her. Like with the buttered popcorn.
How is Larry supposed to identify what she really wants – through her words or her actions? Whenever words and actions don’t match, it is always the actions that tell people what you like and how to treat you. Now Larry thinks Beverly likes Westerns and buttered popcorn – just like him! Will
Larry would be surprised to find out how hurt or annoyed she felt. Beverly uses invisible in many of her relationships. Like Larry, these people would be surprised to know Beverly perceives them as insensitive, controlling or self-centered.
Unbeknownst to them, in her head she has been doing The Dance Of Drama and she is the Victim. With a capital V. Ouch!
Invisible – What Happens
When you use The Invisible Boundary Problem Style you put aside what is important to you. You might tell yourself “it’s not that big a deal” or “it’s not worth arguing about”. But you don’t realize, each time you choose to use invisible, you make yourself less and less significant. And, you are creating a of false portrait of you. Because of this, over time, you are eroding what could have been a good relationship.
You build up resentments as you passively allow other people to shape your choices and design your life. You act as if it is someone else’s fault that you do not get what you want and are unhappy.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter….”
– Martin Luther King Jr. –
Sooner or later, you might explode. You use one final incident as the tipping point to finally share all your pent up resentments. Your reaction is out of proportion for the current situation. This leaves those around you feeling hurt, surprised and confused. They might try to listen to you more carefully for a while, but since you don’t address issues as they come up, they don’t know how important things are to you in the long run.
At some point you might leave the relationship by saying he was controlling, self-centered or abusive. And the reality might be – maybe he was. On the other hand, if you have been using The Invisible Boundary Problem Style, and did not reinforce what you wanted by backing it up with consistent, congruent, impactful behavior you created a large part of the problem. Ouch!
Glaring And Pouting And Withdrawing – Oh My!
You might say, “But he knows I was upset.” Yes, you might glare, pout or withdraw when someone doesn’t listen to you. But if, after these emotional displays, you still go along with his agenda, you have just let him know it wasn’t that important to you. You can spend the whole evening being cold and aloof or cutting and sarcastic, the fact is you still went along with it. You just brought an attitude. It’s just another form of The Invisible Boundary Problem Style.
From Invisible To Rigid: The Pendulum Swing
When you use The Invisible Boundary Problem Style, you over accommodate and over compromise. But suddenly you’ve had enough. You take a stand. You announce “I will never do this again!” You swing over to using The Rigid Boundary Problem Style. No more Mr. Nice Guy. Now, you don’t care what others want – you are not going to compromise at all.
This pendulum swing response might feel right and justified in the moment, but really it is a sign you have been ignoring your own needs or desires for too long. If you do not start speaking up in the moment for each incident, you will do the pendulum swing again and again.
If you have a habit of using Invisible boundaries with your children, letting them get away with breaking the rules, you may overcompensate by suddenly coming down hard on them. You switch into using the Rigid style as you make harsh, out of proportion rules or consequences. Not only is this confusing for them it also makes it hard for them to trust you.
Why Do I Have To Keep Telling Him Again And Again?
If you want to change things, you need to speak up and back it up it up with your behavior. You don’t have to wait until you are full of resentment or ready to leave before you start approaching things differently.
Because you have used The Invisible Boundary Problem Style, you have trained other people that it is okay to treat you this way. Now you need to undo this. You will learn to use the six boundary solution styles to help you retrain them.
What Am I Supposed To Do?
So what am I supposed to do – be demanding and yelling for what I want all the time?
No, but you do need to be more assertive and speak up more often. And if someone doesn’t hear you or respond to the first time, you need to bring it up again. And again. Then you need follow through by using behaviors that back up what you say.
It is time to put aside your short term goal of avoiding conflict or making everyone else happy and focus on your long term goal of a healthy, respectful relationship.
Do not blame your partner, friends or children are having treated you u as if you were invisible. They were simply following your lead. As you step forward using new approaches do it calmly and clearly with clear intentions in mind.
You might be concerned that you are being demanding or selfish. But in reality, you are finally being honest and saying what you want. Is everyone going to like it right away? Of course not. We will deal with this and other reactions later in the book – stay tuned.
The Distant Boundary Problem Style:
A Connection Problem – Too Separate
Someone using The Distant Boundary Problem Style is often someone who is very self-sufficient. He knows how to take care of himself and does not need to rely on others.
He may also be a more private person and doesn’t feel the need to share his feelings with others. When dealing with problems, he might do best sorting it out when he is alone rather than consulting with others.
When Things Get Off Balance
But what happens when this independent style gets out of balance? What turns it into The Distant Boundary Problem Style?
Often when someone is using this style, he doesn’t have emotional connections with others. Even when he is with other people, it seems he is alone. He comes across as aloof, this interested or vacant rather than open, connecting and friendly.
When someone talks to him, it seems like he is not listening. It seems like he is a million miles away. If someone mentions this to him, he might get annoyed and say, “I am listening.” He might even recite back what she just said but something seems missing – empathy, compassion or emotional connection.
Sometimes, he will distance himself physically as well as emotionally. He does not initiate time together in relationships instead he spends time alone while others wish they had more time together.
His eyes, face and body might resemble a mannequin more than a live human being. Because of his flat affect, it makes it hard to read him. The back and forth facial expressions or gestures people use in communication are missing.
Underneath this distant or neutral appearance, there could be a whole range of other things going on; numbness, fear, relief, loneliness, contentment or pain.
Many people outwardly appear cold or aloof while inside they wish they had more friends and cannot understand why people don’t want to be with them. They are unaware they are using The Distant Boundary Problem Style.
But people can only go on what they see on the outside. And, if the external message says “stay away” most people will respect this.
Being Perceived As Using Distant
Sometimes, he is not using The Distant Boundary Problem Style but is perceived this way by others. Perhaps he is intensely focused on a task. His facial expression and lack of social interaction may come across as distant.
Or perhaps he has chosen to use Disengaged, one of The Six Boundary Solution Styles, to back away from a negative conversation. This is a conscious, purposeful choice with a positive goal in mind. He decreases eye contact and makes fewer comments. She might say he is being distant, but he knows exactly what he is doing. He is choosing to use disengaged.
Sometimes, someone is perceived as using distant when, in fact, it is a misinterpretation of a different personal or cultural style. For example, during conversations, he may show his interest, by being very quiet and still. But his mate might take this for lack of interest because, when she is in a conversation, she adds lots of comments and gestures as a way of showing she is listening and really cares.
That is why it is important to know if and when you come across as using distant. I have worked with a number of supervisors and teachers who were being criticized for being distant and unavailable to their employees or students. When I met with them, most of them were surprised at the feedback because they wanted to be helpful and deeply cared about others. It just wasn’t coming across that way. They learned how to use The Engaged Boundary Solution Style so their outside presentation matched their true feelings and goals.
Signs You Might Be Using Distant
Here are a few signs you might be using The Distant Boundary Problem Style:
- you find it hard to connect with others
- you retreat into your own world
- your face does not show your emotions, instead it appears flat and unfeeling
- it is hard for you to get a sense of or care about other people’s feelings
- you do not share your innermost feelings with anyone
- the people closest to you have complained you are emotionally unavailable
- you are not connected to your feelings, you feel neutral or numb
- you feel like you are observing the world instead of being in the world
- you are a loner
- you disconnect or pull away
- you do not initiate the contact with others, you wait for them to be open or inviting to you
- others have said you seem unfriendly, aloof or snobbish
- people treat you as if you’re wearing a sign that says “leave me alone”
- your mate feels angry or hurt because it seems like you don’t care about her
- your mate keeps trying to get you to open up and share more
Signs Others Might Perceive You As Using Distant
Here are a few signs you might be perceived as using The Distant Boundary Problem Style:
- someone gets upset because you do not speak up or initiate contact
- you wait for others to ask about you instead of speaking up on your own
- someone complains you are not interested when you are quiet or non-expressive
- someone feels hurt because you don’t respond to or pick up on their body language
- others have said you seem cold, aloof, one-up or emotionally unavailable
- people do not approach you to get to know you at events
- people do not smile at you or maintain eye contact with you
- those close to you say you don’t seem to care
- people treat you as if you’re wearing a sign that says “leave me alone”
Randy Using The Distant Boundary Problem Style
Here’s an example of Randy using The Distant Boundary Problem Style. He withdraws into his own world and ignores people who would be kind, empathetic or supportive to him.
Randy is at work trying to fix _____.
He finally slams his wrench down on the floor, cursing “Damn!”.
His coworker, Joe, right yells over the loud hum of machinery “What happened?”
“Nothing.” Randy clips back.
Joe says “I’m done over here if you want…” his voice trails off as he watches Randy, stone-faced, heading out the back door of the garage. Joe figured he left for the day. It was close to quitting time anyway.
Randy drives around town for some time before heading home. As he walks into his house his wife, Emma, is sitting on the sofa sorting laundry. She smiles at him as she questions “Are you okay? Dinner was ready a while ago. What’s going on?”
“Nothing. I had stuff I had to do.” He mumbles as he heads back to the TV room and closes the door.
Emma says “You want me to heat your dinner up? I put Kathy to bed early; she didn’t have much of a nap today and…” He is gone before she finishes her sentence.
The sounds of football game from the TV room cut into her words. She half-heartedly calls out, “Honey? How was your day?” Disheartened, she sighs to herself. “I wonder where that other blue sock is,” she wonders as she sits alone in the living room.
Distant – It’s A Problem
Even though Randy is married and has a child, he pretty much keeps to himself. He doesn’t have any close friends and the guys at work know that he is kind of a loner.
While his wife, Emma, seems open and friendly, he seems like the opposite. His face rarely shows any expressions. And this flat affect gives off a “stay away” message to anyone who would think of trying to connect with him. Even his voice seems monotone and uninviting.
Emma used to try more to create connections with him. She used to be upbeat and planned a lot of ways for them to share time together.
But now, with the new baby, she doesn’t have the energy to keep reaching out to him. So these days, she is making fewer attempts to reach out and he doesn’t seem to even notice.
These great ideas come from:
Distant – What Happens
When you use The Distant Boundary Problem Style, you miss opportunities for connection, support, intimacy and affection.
You might not understand what the big problem is when someone calls you emotionally unavailable or distant. You might feel fine. But it could also be that you are disconnected from your own feelings. Or maybe it doesn’t feel safe to connect with others.
Perhaps you want more connection with others and you just don’t know how to get it. You see other people in close relationships and you wonder why you don’t. But, now you know; when you use The Distant Boundary Problem Style, your outward appearance tells people to stay away. Everyone else at the office heads out to the corner deli for lunch together, while you sit alone at your desk.
You might have a friend or partner who loves you and has been trying to be close with you. They might work hard at it for a long time, but eventually it wears them out. At some point they will stop trying. And then they fall into depression, despair or someone else’s arms. Ouch!
Problem, Personality Or Preference?
As with all of the boundary problem styles, or even the boundaries solution styles, you could ask yourself is this a problem, my personality or preference? On one level, it really doesn’t matter. If you are not getting what you want in relationships you need to change what you are doing. You have to change the way you interact with others.
But with distant, there is another problem. If you use distant, or are perceived as using distant, you might be disconnected from your feelings or you might be depressed. If this is what is happening to you, you might not feel the painful emotional impact of not having an open-hearted emotional connection with others. When you are depressed, the part of the brain that helps you feel connected to others or to even want to have a connection with others, has stopped working.
So, you feel “okay” or neutral about being alone. Because of this, it is difficult for you to make an appropriate relationship goal because you can’t feel the desire for more connection.
In the appendix, I will talk more about specific mental health and medical issues to consider when looking at the six boundary problem styles.)
Using Distant As A Default Strategy
You might be using distant as a default strategy because you have not yet developed the more interactive, assertive boundary styles.
You might get short-term relief in using distant as a way to indirectly say “no”, but like using tape to patch a hole in the wall, it’s not a long-term solution. You will never develop a solid, respectful relationship if your only strategy for setting limits or getting your needs met is to disconnect or leave.
Just like everyone else, you need to look at what solution styles are most uncomfortable for you to use and to start practicing using them. Your relationships success depends on you being able to use all six of the boundary solution styles.
What Am I Supposed To Do?
So what am I supposed to do – start acting cheery and friendly to everybody? Never spend time alone again?
No, of course not. But it is time to start examining your behavior and see if it is sabotaging your relationship success. What do you really want? If you want more intimacy or emotional connection you have to change.
You may need to change how you come across to others. Learning to be more open and engaged is a set of behaviors like any other skill. If you learned how to drive a car then you can learn to be open and friendly as well. If this feels uncomfortable to you, get some coaching from a good therapist.
Once you stop using distant and start using engaged, one of The Six Boundary Solution Styles, you might be surprised how many people want to be your friend. You will enjoy caring about others and let them care about you as well. And you probably have more fun.
The Enmeshed Boundary Problem Style:
Connection – Too Connected
Someone using The Enmeshed Boundary Problem Style is often someone who deeply values relationships with others. She looks for ways to create connections. She would rather spend time with others than spend time alone.
She is often very empathetic and intuitive. She is often tuned into other people’s feelings and needs. Sometimes she is so connected to others that she feels their pain and anxiety as if it were her own.
When Things Get Off Balance
So what turns this way of relating into The Enmeshed Boundary Problem Style?
Sometimes someone using this style gets so overinvolved in someone else’s life that she doesn’t realize she has taken on others problems or emotions as her own. Her ups and downs are reflection of those around her. His pain is hers. This codependent bond helps assure her of connection with others.
Sometimes, in an attempt for connection, she becomes a chameleon. She takes on the opinions, interests or attitudes of those around her, leaving behind her identity. Her inner mantra is: “You and I are one…and who we are is you!”
She gets anxious at the thought of separation. Because of this, even disagreeing or having an argument is hard for her to handle. She has a hard time ending conversations, jobs or relationships even when she knows it is a good idea.
For some people, she comes across as smothering, needy or invasive.
Being Perceived As Using Enmeshed
Sometimes, she is not really using enmeshed but others perceive her this way. Sometimes she is trying to get more connection or intimacy than what someone else wants. So she comes across as using enmeshed.
For example, a client of mine, who had always had a good relationship with her son, was confused and hurt as he became increasingly distant from her. He did not return her calls as often and he got angry when she asked about his day-to-day activities. He said she was smothering him. They had always been close, but since he moved away to college he was behaving differently and she feeling anxious about this.
In response, she fell into using The Enmeshed Boundary Problem Style. She called him even more frequently, asked him more questions and was always ready to drop everything whenever he was available. In the face of this, he pulled back even more.
Once she learned the 12 boundary styles, she realized what was happening. Their responses to each other had become polarized between engaged and distant. When she realized this, she immediately gently pulled back, by using The Disengaged Boundary Solution Style. Within two weeks, he was contacting her and started sharing thinks about his life.
Signs You Might Be Using Enmeshed
Here are a few signs you might be using The Enmeshed Boundary Problem Style:
- you feel joy or pain through others experiences as if they were your own
- you play The Rescuer Role in The Dance Of Drama by trying to solve others problems
- you shift your likes and dislikes to match others
- you don’t know what you want until you hear what others want first
- You are uncomfortable when you and your friend have opposing opinions
- you don’t leave relationships or jobs when you know you should
- you feel anxious at the thought of separating from others
- you feel anxious if you don’t know the details of others’ lives
- is difficult for you to tolerate times of no contact with others
- you initiate contact in relationships before the other person has a chance to miss you
- you are a “yes man” at work and do not add differing views or opinions
- you feel anxious at the thought of your children feeling rejected or unloved
- you are afraid of your children not liking you, so you don’t follow through on consequences
- you are fearful of someone disconnecting from you for any reason
- you are uncomfortable being alone
- you are easily manipulated by The Abandonment Move in The Push-Me Pull -You Dance
- you have less power in the relationship because you “need” it more
Signs Others Perceive You As Using Enmeshed
Here are a few signs you might be perceived as using The Enmeshed Boundary Problem Style:
- people have complained that you are smothering or invasive
- others have said you are needy or clingy
- others don’t initiate contact with you – you usually do it first
- people have said you want or need too much from them
- typically others initiate the end of conversations or dates with you instead of you doing it
- people physically or emotionally pull back from you
- people try to “get space away from you”
- people have said you invade their privacy
Emma Using The Enmeshed Boundary Problem Style
Here is an example of Emma using The Enmeshed Boundary Problem Style. Notice how quick she is to shape her likes and dislikes so they match Randy’s.
Emma and Randy are on the way back home from his baseball game. Scanning the businesses along the street, he says, “Hey, Emma, are you hungry?”
She looks over at him, trying to read the tone of his voice, “Well… I don’t know. Are you?”
He groans with hunger and exclaims “Yea! I’m starved!”
With enthusiasm Emma joins him by saying “Yea, I’m starved, too!” Now on the hunt for restaurant with him, she says “Look there’s a Mexican restaurant on the corner.”
Glancing at her he asks “You want Mexican?”
Hesitating, she tries to sense what he wants before she answers, “Umm… do you?” As soon as he says he wants Mexican food, she relaxes and dives matching him.
Smiling she says “That’s great. Me too! I love those enchiladas with the chopped bits of raw onions on top….”
Randy steps in saying “Oh, I can’t stand raw onions.” As he sneers in disgust.
Suddenly backpedaling she blurts out “I mean… I used to like them. But not now. I really don’t eat onions anymore.”
Then Randy says, “Unless of course, they brown the onions first. Then they’re great.”
Alert and enthusiastic she agrees “Oh yes. Browned onions. They are so good that way. I love browned onions.” She breathes a little sigh of relief as once again, she feels connected to him.
Enmeshed – It’s A Problem
When Emma uses The Enmeshed Boundary Problem Style, she shape shifts, changing moment to moment, trying to connect with Randy. The unspoken motto of Enmeshed is “You and I are one- and who we are is you.” Emma quickly likes what he likes; taking on his opinions, feelings and attitudes as her own.
Because she needs the connection in the relationship more than he does, she feels insecure and needy. And since she is always ready to be there for him, he doesn’t have to invest very much energy in the relationship. In fact, it is hard for him to feel what it’s like to miss her and to want to be with her. She is too quick to fill up any empty space between them.
For him, it’s like being someone who has eaten and then has more food handed to him, he never has a chance to feel hungry. And Emma, like many people who use enmeshed, is afraid of abandonment, so it is hard for her to separate herself from him.
Since she has learned The Boundaries Method, she has realized how damaging this relationship style is to her marriage. Besides learning how to use the six healthy boundary solutions, she is also clearing her fear of abandonment in therapy.
Enmeshed – What Happens
At first, your friends and romantic partners won’t be aware you are using Enmeshed. In fact, they might be quite flattered – they’ve met their perfect match…themselves. But after a while, unless they are insecure or self-absorbed, they find your mirroring behavior boring or annoying. You add nothing new to the mix. There is little opportunity for growth, debate, new ideas or challenges.
“Be a first rate version of yourself,
not a second rate version of someone else.”
-Judy Garland –
(to her daughter, Liza Minelli)
When you use The Enmeshed Boundary Problem Style, over time you create an imbalance in your relationships. You become more dependent on your friend’s or partner’s attention. In turn, your partner respects you less. You feel taken for granted and you are. You set it up that way. Ouch!
The Enmeshed And Distant Dilemma
I have seen many couples like Randy and Emma. One person feels overwhelmed or intruded upon by his or her partner. And the partner feels drawn to move closer and closer for more connection. One grows more distant and protective while the other grows more invasive or needy.
The more this polarizes, the more frustration builds up. The partner craving more connection might criticize, cling or provoke in an attempt to get her partner to show up. Then the “distancer” feels more and more justified in pulling away. “If only she would just back off. She is a nag. She is needy.”
It’s useful to see which of the boundary problem styles you are using, or are perceived as using, so you can choose a different approach instead of repeating the same old patterns.
Invisible Versus Enmeshed
Notice the difference between the Invisible and Enmeshed boundary problem styles. When you use Invisible, you know what you want but don’t assert yourself to make it happen. You are overly flexible. You end up feeling ignored, resentful or hurt. But, at least you avoided conflict.
When you use Enmeshed, your goal is to make and maintain connection. You happily change yourself to match the one you are with. You feel relief when you avoid separation or feelings of abandonment.
What Am I Supposed To Do?
So what am I supposed to do – stop liking what my friends like? Start disagreeing with my partner?
No, but it is time to learn to start spending time alone and identify what you really want. It is too easy for you to hook on to other people’s dreams. It would be useful for you to start having an opinion, even about where you want to go to dinner. Even if you don’t care.
For you, the biggest change will occur when you realize you can be different than other people and still be loved and connected. And the biggest gift you can give others is an authentic you – not a Xerox version of themselves.
The Intrusive Boundary Problem Style:
A Momentum Problem – Sending Out Too Much
Someone using The Intrusive Boundary Problem Style is often a dynamic, vibrant person. She is passionate and expressive. She is comfortable being a leader or being the center of attention.
Sometimes her dramatic style is playful as she influences others with humor or cajoling. Other times, her style is inspirational or even confrontational.
She speaks up and is willing to state a different opinion even when everyone else in the group is silently following status quo.
She is the instigator. The leader. The one who makes the waves.
When Things Get Off Balance
So what turns this vibrant approach into The Intrusive Boundary Problem Style? When someone gets off balance, she loses awareness of how her dynamic style is affecting others. She is unaware of the subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, clues that her expansive approach is turning other people off.
Because of this, her energy or behavior seems overwhelming or invasive. Her voice is too loud. Her timing is off. She interru will pts conversations. She makes “helpful” or personal comments that are inappropriate or unwanted.
She might even be physically invasive, ignoring or not seeing others’ signals that say “back off”. Even her affection can seem intrusive at times. She hugs people who don’t want to be hugged. She sits too close.
Sometimes, she might be the class clown or the life of the party but is unaware when it stops being fun or funny for others. She doesn’t pick up on others negative reactions to her. She is too driven by her own immediate urges, needs, or desires.
Being Perceived As Using Intrusive
Sometimes she may not be using intrusive but she is perceived by others as using intrusive. Perhaps she is more outspoken than her low-key neighbor. Maybe her exuberant style is considered annoying by a more reserved coworker.
As you know from studying the 12 different boundary styles, people have different styles of relating. There are many reasons people use these different styles. Some of the reasons include cultural background, ethnicity, personality, childhood role modeling and personal life experiences.
The language researcher Deborah Tannen(?) does a great job describing some of these differences. For example, often someone who has grown in up on the East Coast of the United States typically has a different pattern and rhythm of speaking than someone from the West Coast. The East Coast approach has uses shorter pauses between speakers, intersperses comments more frequently while others are speaking and uses a more expressive tone of voice and speaks more directly when stating opinions.
On the West Coast, this can come across as intrusive. The West Coast person might complain her East Coast friend hogs the conversation, interrupts all the time, focuses only on himself and only wants to disagree.
Her East Coast friend might be surprised and hurt by this interpretation. He might say “I just thought we could talk about things honestly. I thought we were better friends and really trusted each other. Now I feel like I have to pussyfoot around you.”
Neither style is right or wrong. But, this is just one example how someone can come across as using The Intrusive Boundary Problem Style.
While some people are happy or relieved to have a friend or coworker come up with a game plan and speak up to make it happen, others might find it presumptuous or rude. Many people will not speak up in the moment to contradict a dynamic instigator. Instead, they feel annoyed, overpowered or manipulated. And they won’t want to play with you anymore. Ouch!
The problem is, most people who experience others as using intrusive, will not speak up about it in the moment or at all. This is why it is so important to know all 12 of the different boundary styles and how you might come across to different people and you can peg other people’s styles before you inadvertently offend them.
Signs You Might Be Using Intrusive
Here are a few signs you might be using The Intrusive Boundary Problem Style:
- you enter into conversations without waiting for appropriate openings
- others have said you are pushy, domineering or overwhelming
- you are good convincing other people to do what you want them to do
- it is easy for you to speak up and to direct others
once you move into action, you are unaware if others like what is happening or not
- you become the center of attention and drive what is happening in a group situation
- you respond faster than others in conversation leaving no room for someone else to respond
- others have complained you are not a good listener
- you physically intrude by bumping into others or taking over physical space
- you give people advice, comments or feedback even though they don’t want and did not ask for it
- you touch people even though they don’t wanted and did not invite it
- you do things to others even though they don’t like it and are uncomfortable with it
- you do not pick up on the subtle clues that indicate someone is uncomfortable with what you are doing
- you are funny even when others clearly don’t appreciate it
- when someone says she didn’t like your joking comments you discount it by saying “I’m just kidding”
- people act angry or harsh with you to get you to stop what you’re doing or to be heard
Signs Others Perceive You As Using Intrusive
Here are a few signs others might perceive you as using The Intrusive Boundary Problem Style:
- people feel you are overly direct with your comments
- people seem to feel uncomfortable when you ask them questions about them
- people resent you making unwelcome comments about them
- people passively go along with your game plan
- you find out later on someone felt pressured by you into doing things they didn’t want to do
- someone gets upset because you add comments or anecdotes while she is speaking
- you are told you interrupt or dominate conversations
- you get the sense others think you are too big, too loud or have too much energy
- people resent you for taking over
- people physically pull back from you
- people get angry or harsh with you to get you to stop what you’re doing or to be heard
- people find it hard to say “no” to you
- people say “would you tone it down” to you
Greta Using The Intrusive Boundary Problem Style
Here is an example of Greta using intrusive. She is so caught up in her own momentum and agenda that she is unaware of others’ negative reactions to her.
Already late, Greta marches into the team meeting. Getting the contract for the new downtown shopping mall had been a great boost for their architect firm. Now was time to move into action and she knew just what should be done. The conversation at the table is momentarily disrupted by her grand entrance.
She grabs a chair and pushes her way into the circle of people gathered around the table.
“Ouch!” somebody mumbles as the chair hit his foot.
Finally situated, Greta drops her briefcase on the table with a bang just as Michael is in the middle of saying something about building codes. She bursts in with her agenda, “The main entry should open up on to First Avenue not Cedar Street. It’s obviously a better location for pedestrians.”
With an annoyed look, Michael says, “Greta, we were talking about codes not entries.”
“I know, but let’s look at the entry first.” she pushes on. Everyone around the table looks at her with mild irritation.
Straightening his notes, Michael works to get back on track. Seeing she’s getting nowhere, Greta finally slumps back in her chair with an audible sigh. That seems to say “Why did I bother coming to this meeting?” Throughout the rest of the meeting she makes disruptive side comments that draw the attention away from the speaker and back to her.
Before the meeting is over, instead of quietly slipping out the side door, she interrupts to announce she needs to leave early. Her in a flurry she gathers her belongings together making it so no one can focus until she is out the door.
Intrusive – It’s A Problem
When Greta uses Intrusive, she steps on others feet and feelings. Notice how she takes over the momentum of the meeting. She becomes the driving force. Her entry and exit made it so others had to focus on her.
Instead of blending into the existing rhythm or structure of the meeting, she interrupted to steer it in a new direction. When that didn’t work, her behaviors still changed the focus of the meeting back to her.
Because she got so focused on her one goal, she forgot to be aware of other goals, such as co-creating decisions, letting others take the lead or creating a foundation for ongoing harmony with her coworkers.
Greta will do what she can to get things done her way even if it leaves a trail of angry people in her wake. When people have tried to talk to her about this behavior, she deflects it by saying “Well, you got a break a few eggs to make an omelet.” This can be disheartening to those around her because they realize that their requests are being discounted. They are now faced with the dilemma: how do I make her listen to me?
Intrusive – What Happens
When you use The Intrusive Boundary Problem Style, some people will go along with it for a while. Then they may have pulled back a bit from you or felt uncomfortable around to. This is a problem. When you use the Intrusive style, you often don’t pick up on non-verbal clues.
Maybe they tried to tell you to tone it down, but it didn’t sink in. Unless they are more intense, more alpha or more intrusive than you, you just don’t respond.
Sometimes, you are like an enthusiastic, friendly St. Bernard jumping up on someone’s lap. You are bighearted and friendly but you just don’t know your own strength. And somebody gets hurt in the end and often times it’s you. Ouch!
Some people feel overwhelmed or annoyed but don’t speak up. Secretly annoyed, they build up resentments and don’t say anything until it’s too late. They are done. They might explode, but more often they just stop inviting you to spend time with them. And you don’t know why.
“I can win an argument on any topic, against any opponent. People know this, and steer clear of me at parties. Often, as a sign of their great respect, they don’t even invite me.”
– Dave Barry – comedian
People Prepare Themselves To Deal With You – or they just don’t invite you.
People shrink when they see you coming. Internally they brace themselves, knowing they have to work hard to hold their ground if they are going to deal with you. And if they feel like they can’t do it on their own, they might complain to a friend or just avoid you.
If it’s at work, your coworker will complain to your supervisor because they realize it doesn’t work to talk to you directly. Your boss might ask you to be more sensitive to others feelings, to stop disrupting meetings or to stay out of someone else’s office.
You Set Up Big Reactions In Others
Since you don’t pick up on, or respond to, others’ subtle clues or calm statements they feel they have to pull out the big guns to get you to listen. They feel like they have to explode or rage at you for it to sink in. You might respond by saying “Gee, you don’t have to yell at me!” But actually sometimes they do. What else could they do to get you to listen?
Rigid Versus Intrusive
Notice the difference between the rigid and the intrusive boundary styles. With you use rigid, you are immovable like a rigid rock. You are not receptive to others opinions and will not negotiate. Others feel stonewalled by you. “My way or the highway” is the rigid motto. If they won’t play your way, you just won’t play.
When you use intrusive, you intrude upon others. You overstep the boundaries into other people’s physical space or personal lives. You have too much momentum coming from your own desires and a lack of awareness of others. Your behavior becomes a driving force that will control or push others into following your agenda.
Where, with rigid you sit there and unmoving whereas with intrusive you move -right into someone’s face!
Don’t worry too much if you can’t always tell the difference between these two styles. The point is to identify any behaviors you use that sabotage your relationship success.
What am I supposed to do?
What am I supposed to do – sit back and be quiet? Do nothing at all?
Well, it would be rather interesting to see what would happen if you did sit back and observe for a while. It would be a great exercise for you to practice being aware of others. Learn to sense the tone of a conversation before you dive in. Practice letting others lead things instead of you running the show.
If you have people in your life who have polarized with you, by complementing your intrusive style by being passive, practice sitting back and finding out what he would like to do instead of you deciding.
Start looking for nonverbal cues and listening for the less direct ways that people indicate “no”, “back off” or “I’m trying to tell you something”.
You can still be a dynamic, directive or enthusiastic person but be aware in the moment if this style is working for you or against you. Also, learn to notice the boundary styles of people around you. You might be surprised, like I was, to find out how many people are going along with your agenda without saying what they really wanted. By learning to hold back, scan for clues and ask questions you will invite other people to say what they want as well.
The Hyper-Receptive Boundary Problem Style:
Momentum – Taking In Too Much
Someone using The Hyper Receptive Boundary Problem Style is finely tuned to create and maintain harmony with others. She is good at reading situations and takes action before upsets even have a chance to occur.
She is keenly aware of others energy, feelings and needs.
She is very good at multitasking. She can sense and respond to many different people’s needs at the same time. Because of this, she could be the ultimate host or organizer for group events.
These great ideas come from:
When Things Get Off Balance
So what turns this keen overseeing ability into The Hyper-Receptive Boundary Problem Style? When someone gets off balance, she becomes so overly focused on other people and the need to keep harmony that she has lost connection with any personal needs or desires other than to keep the peace.
Her hypersensitive radar system keeps her so tuned in to others at all times that there is not a chance for her to be aware of or respond to her own needs. She is constantly alert to everyone else’s needs, real or imagined. Because of this, the momentum for her actions are too “other” driven.
Underneath it all, there is often an anxious drive to make sure no one gets upset. It’s as if she is hardwired to “keep everybody in the family happy”.
If she senses she needs to be funny to keep the peace, she will be funny. If she needs to be consoling, she will be consoling. If taking charge is what will smooth things over, that is exactly what she will do. Usually, she is so good at “naturally weaving” this into the situation that no one realizes she is doing it. In fact, she is so tied up in doing this that, at times, she’s not even aware of it.
When she is around other people it’s almost impossible for her to relax. When the event or date is finally over and she is finally alone, then she can collapse with a sigh of relief. Whew! Made it through that one, no one got angry.
Be Perceived As Using Hyper-Receptive
Sometimes, she is not using hyper-receptive but it comes across that way to others. She might come from a family where being a good host means you continually check in with your guests, monitor them and offer things you think they need. If someone is not used to this, or has a different tradition, she might seem like a nervous , overly attentive host.
But, same as with the invisible style, the more common problem comes from when someone is actually using this style, as opposed to others perceiving this style being used.. When someone uses the style there is no room for his own needs or goals. His every action is designed to just keep things running smoothly.
Signs You Might Be Using Hyper Receptive
Here are a few signs you might be using The Hyper-Receptive Boundary Problem Style:
- you are constantly anxious or on guard
- your radar is set to be aware of everyone else’s feelings and needs
- your actions are shaped and motivated by others desires and needs
- you wait for others to invite you to join in
- you are more focused on others’ needs then your own
- it is difficult for you to relax unless everyone around you is taken care of
- you are overly alert or anxious if someone else is unhappy or irritated
- sometimes you are aware of others needs before they are
- you have a constant hyper awareness or anxiety when you’re around other people
- you can only relax when you are alone or no one you have to take care of
- you have little or no sense of your own needs or desires
- people feel uncomfortable or anxious around you because you won’t stop attending to them
- occasionally others are annoyed by what you do for them
- when others ask you what you want, you don’t know what to answer
- it is difficult for you to be spontaneous or initiate things on your behalf
- you have unbalanced relationships because others’ needs get priority
Signs Others Perceive You As Using Hyper Receptive
Here are a few signs you might be perceived as using The Hyper-Receptive Boundary Problem Style:
- people complain you hover around them
- people ask you to sit down and relax instead of being busy taking care of them
- people find it hard to relax around you
- people get annoyed when you help them
- people feel like you are constantly watching them
Matt Using The Hyper-Receptive Boundary Problem Style
Here is an example of Matt using hyper-receptive. Notice how, before he gets home, he is planning to share good news with the family. But as soon as he gets home, he is overly aware of everyone else’s real (or imagined) feelings and desires. He is too busy attending to others to even think of his own wants or needs:
“Finally, I’m home,” Matt pulls his car into the garage. Grabbing his brief case, he grins as he thinks about the new position at work. He has a good chance to get it and it is just the kind of computer software development he’s always wanted to do. “I wonder if I can tell Greta tonight. I wonder what mood she is in” he ponders.
Before walking in the door, he stops. He forgets about sharing his good news. Instead he is already imagining what might be going on inside the house.
Once inside the door, he makes a quick assessment. This is so ingrained in him that he doesn’t even notice he’s doing it. Greta’s shoes in the hallway. Mail tossed in a pile on the table. Greta’s voice in the background, complaining to someone on the phone.
Aware of her mood, he shifts into gear: gentle, friendly and consoling as he tries to soothe her. Later that night, as they have dinner with their two teenage sons, Matt is constantly alert to each person’s changing attitude or emotion. Without hesitation, without even being aware of it, he alters his actions based on what he intuitively reads:
Pouring Greta another glass of wine before she realized it was empty.
Adding a jovial story to change the mood after someone made a harsh comment.
Giving one of his sons and understanding glance to soothe his hurt feelings.
Surreptitiously cleaning things up so the boys wouldn’t fight about whose job it was to clear the table.
Each action Matt took was designed to keep everyone calm. Peace at any price.
And as for his new job position? He never thought of bringing it up again. He was too busy putting out real and imagined fires.
Hyper-Receptive – It’s A Problem
When using Hyper-Receptive, Matt has no sense of self. He is on hyper-alert as he scans for any clues that will tell him how to behave. He won’t take action until he has carefully assessed the entire situation. There is no room for spontaneity or authenticity.
He is a chameleon- changing himself from moment to moment to fit the situation. “Don’t rock the boat” and “Peace at any price” are his mantras.
“A life lived in fear is a life half lived.”
– Spanish proverb –
How long can this last? And what does this do to his relationships? His wife, Greta, has no idea he’s doing this. She has no idea of his constant monitoring, accommodating and fixing. She just thinks they have a great relationship.
Hyper-Receptive – What Happens
Sometimes, when you use the Hyper-Receptive style, your friends and partners feel uncomfortable as you hover about the monitoring them just want you to. They want you to back off or relax.
I used to have a pattern of using hyper-receptive when I would host parties at my house. I anxiously monitored my guests throughout the night. The first time I let myself relax and not use this style, one of my friends made an interesting comment. She said, “I’m having such a great time and I’m glad you’re finally having fun, too. It’s nice to not have you walking around all night long checking in on people. I finally can relax now, too.”
Yikes! My relationship approach had been making others uncomfortable. I used to be anxious a lot of the time and kept scanning for potential problems.
You might encounter the opposite kind of problem as well. You might have some friends who thrive on this over attentiveness. Some might even playing off your fears- pointing out problems so they can watch you try to fix things. By over focusing on them, you reinforce their self-serving attitude and minimize your own importance in the relationship. This sets up a damaging relationship pattern.
Usually most people will not know you are using The Hyper-Receptive Boundaries Problem Style. Like Greta, they will have no idea you are monitoring and changing yourself from moment to moment. What you do is behind the scenes, but it still sets the stage for th’s e relationship.
Hyper Receptive Versus Invisible Versus Enmeshed
While many of these boundary styles may have some overlap, it’s worth it to notice the difference between them. It will help you in changing your own style and in spotting the styles in others. Some of the styles might look the same on the outside, but are very different underneath.
Remember, when you use invisible, you are overly-receptive to following others agenda. Inside, you often know what you really want to do but you go along with others plans anyway. Many times it is hard for you to speak up for what you want. You might be afraid of conflict. In any case, sooner or later, you end up feeling unloved, disrespected or resentful.
When you use enmeshed, you are too connected. You merge into someone else’s identity. You quickly and happily take on others likes and dislikes as a way to cement the connection. You feel uncomfortable with separation and often fear being abandoned.
When you use hyper-receptive, you are stuck in anxious, hyper-alert awareness of everyone else’s moods and needs. Your momentum is so driven to keep the peace that you have no awareness of your own needs. While in this anxious, monitoring mode, there is no room for you to be spontaneous or consider what you want.
Again, don’t get too worried if you can’t always identify the separate styles. The main thing is to be aware of these dynamics and how they play out in you and in others. This way you can step out of unconscious, repetitive patterns and choose a strategic plan of action with the six boundary solutions..
What Am I Supposed To Do?
So what am I supposed to do – start ignoring other people and just do what I want?
Ignore other people’s feelings or discomfort?
It will be good for you to see how much your own anxiety drives your behavior. You are too driven by others. Before diving into action, it would be great for you to stop and breathe. Try practicing asking yourself “what am I feeling and what do I need and want right now?” Before doing anything for anyone else.
It will be important for you to know you are safe and acceptable even if someone else is upset or annoyed. You will make better life decisions when you stop letting fear or hyper awareness drive you. Learning to tolerate other people feeling uncomfortable will be a turning point for you.
Assessing Others’ Boundary Problem Styles
It will be easier for you to learn how to use The Boundaries Method if you identify your own boundary styles first, before trying to assess others’ styles. Once you’ve taken the time to look at your own styles, you can just keep them in the back of your mind as you assess others’ boundary styles.
As you start looking at others’ styles, be careful not to use this assessment as a way to make someone else bad. The fact is, there are other people who appreciate or even enjoy every single boundary style. What you experience as intrusive or rigid with a coworker might seem inviting and playful to someone else. So, don’t get all victimy on me here.
Your job is to step back, without your emotional charge, and see if you can define other people’s relationship boundaries.
As you look over The Six Boundary Problem Styles, think of current and past relationships where you have had difficulties. What boundary problem styles would you say your “problem people” used?
Like many people, you may have one or two main “profile type” people that cause you the most difficulty. For example, do you see a theme of having problems with people who are more dynamic and outspoken than you? For you, it might seem like they are using The Intrusive Boundary Problem Style. (And, of course, by now you also are thinking of your part in this dynamic and have probably identified yourself as using The Invisible Boundary Problem Style.)
Or, perhaps you have a pattern of picking people who are helpful and attentive, only to find out later on that they use The Hyper Receptive Boundary Problem Style so much that they have orchestrated their lives around everyone else’s needs.
The point of looking at all these different people is not to blame them. It is to see the dynamics that have been playing out in your relationships so you can strategize to make better choices.
The Six Biggest Mistakes Summary
So now you can see the importance of, not only assessing others, but also assessing the styles you use and how you come across to others.
Once you get used to assessing relationships this way, it gets much easier to sidestep potential problems and quickly assess the best approach to use in each situation.
For example, I have a dear friend who likes to get along with others and easily changes her plans to fit others’ needs. A number of times I have seen this has backfire for her because she over accommodates and feels resentful later on. This is a sign that, sometimes, she is using The Invisible Boundary Problem Style.
I also know, from assessing my own boundary styles, that my enthusiastic, direct approach sometimes comes across as The Intrusive Boundary Problem Style. This is especially true when I interact with people who are less likely to speak up about what they really want and need.
So I have learned, over time, to be careful when presenting ideas to this friend. I need to be more laid-back and less dynamic. I need to look for the subtle cues that, for her, mean “no”.
Because I have assessed my boundary styles (both my problem styles and my solution styles) I know where I can get into trouble in relationships. I know how to assess others styles and can see when we will have a potential mismatch.
In the next chapter, you are going to learn The Six Boundary Solution Styles. These are the approaches you will use to accomplish your relationship goals.
Rigid Do’s and Don’ts: To Help You Stop Using This Style
Do ask others’ opinions, do things their way sometimes and decide to enjoy it
Do start listening to others and look at things from their point of view
Do something outside of your normal routine every week
Do loosen up, relax, learn to play more and be spontaneous
Don’t say “no” until you have come up with at least 3 reasons their idea might work
Don’t forget to look at the bigger overall goal
Don’t take yourself so seriously
Don’t get stuck in being right or stubborn
Invisible Do’s and Don’ts: To Help You Stop Using This Style
Do stand up for yourself, speaking your desires clearly
Do repeat yourself if necessary
Do start having opinions about things, even if you don’t have one
Do treat yourself like you matter and follow through with consequences
Don’t hope others will care more about you and your desires than you do
Don’t accept things that, in reality, are unacceptable to you
Don’t be afraid to get angry and let it show
Don’t avoid conflict or uncomfortable interactions
Distant Do’s and Don’ts: To Help You Stop Using This Style
Do make a decision to step into conversations
Do learn to be vulnerable and feel your feelings
Do be friendly. Smile. Share who you are
Do find out about other people. Ask questions
Don’t take the easy way out, by avoiding others
Don’t shut down or numb out
Don’t pretend you don’t care
Don’t look for excuses to avoid people
Enmeshed Do’s and Don’ts: To Help You Stop Using This Style
Do develop interests different from those of your partner
Do learn to spend time by yourself
Do practice having your own opinion
Do look to yourself for validation and approval
Don’t wait to find out your partner’s opinions before stating your own
Don’t get all of your needs met by one person
Don’t let your fear of abandonment run the show
Don’t automatically agree until you think about it
Intrusive Do’s and Don’ts: To Help You Stop Using This Style
Do slow down, pay attention to your behavior and how others are responding to you
Do take others into considerations before taking action
Do learn to follow others lead
Do give yourself a few moments before following your impulses
Don’t be louder or more physical than others
Don’t always be in charge or get your way
Don’t draw attention to yourself in obvious or subtle ways
Don’t take action without first stopping and thinking “How will this affect this person?”
Hyper-Receptive Do’s and Don’ts: To Help You Stop Using This Style
Do remind yourself you are safe, even if someone is unhappy
Do learn to tolerate conflict and chaos
Do remember to breathe deep, slow breaths
Do calm yourself and let others take care of problems
Don’t take action if you are anxious
Don’t let take responsibility for others’ happiness
Don’t ignore your own needs
Don’t let fear drive your behavior
The Six Boundary Problems: A Quick Comparison
Here’s a brief overview comparing the six boundary problem styles
|The Rigid Boundary Problem Style:
Receptivity Problem – Too Closed
You are too closed to others opinions. Others can’t influence you.
You hold your ground and do things your way even if it means alienating others or sabotaging your long term relationship goals.
You come across as uncaring, harsh or unyielding.
“My way or the highway.”
|The Invisible Boundary Problem Style:
Receptivity Problem – Too Open
You are too open to accommodating others. You go along with things even if it doesn’t feel right you.
You minimize your needs and desires. Or you know what you want but you don’t speak up to make it happen. You end up resenting others and feeling hurt.
You come across as easy-going, open-minded or resentful.
“Oh well, I guess it’s not that big a deal.”
|The Distant Boundary Problem Style:
A Connection Problem – Too Separate
You are too emotionally or physically separate from others.
It is difficult for you to connect with other people, show vulnerability or share intimacy.
You might be shy or waiting for others to reach you.
You come across as cold, aloof, condescending or uncaring.
“Leave me alone.”
|The Enmeshed Boundary Problem Style:
A Connection Problem- Too Connected
You are too emotionally or physically connected to others.
You quickly or happily change yourself so you can match your partner. It’s hard for you to tolerate being separate, having conflict or being alone.
You come across as upbeat, easy-going or needy.
“You and I are one. And who we are is you.”
|The Intrusive Boundary Problem Style:
A Momentum Problem – Sending Out Too Much
You send out too much without regard to those around you.
Your timing, volume, intensity or physicality invades others. You become the driving force or center of attention.
You come across as overbearing, insensitive, pushy or rude.
“It’s all about me!”
|The Hyper-Receptive Boundary Problem Style:
A Momentum Problem – Taking In Too Much
You take in too much as you anxiously scan what everyone else needs.
The momentum for your actions is solely based on whatever you think will keep the peace. There is no room for your own spontaneity or needs.
You come across as attentive, caretaking or anxious.
“Peace at any price.”
Boundary Problem Style Questions:
- How do I use The Rigid Boundary Problem Style?
- Why might someone perceive me as using The Rigid Boundary Problem Style?
Who else uses this style?
- How do I use The Invisible Boundary Problem Style?
Why might someone perceive me as using The Invisible Boundary Problem Style?
- Who else uses this style?
- How do I use The Distant Boundary Problem Style?
- Why might someone perceive me as using The Distant Boundary Problem Style?
- Who else uses this style?
- How do I use The Intrusive Boundary Problem Style?
- Why might someone perceive me as using The Intrusive Boundary Problem Style?
- Who else uses this style?
- How do I use The Hyper-Receptive Boundary Problem Style?
- Why might someone perceive me as using The Hyper-Receptive Boundary Problem Style?
- Who else uses this style?
- There are six boundary problem styles
- They are Rigid, Invisible, Distant, And Enmeshed, Intrusive and Hyper-Receptive
- These styles are often based on good intentions and positive qualities
- When any relationship approach is used too much, in the wrong situation or with the wrong person it becomes one of these six boundary problem styles
- If you want to achieve your relationship goals, you must to be aware of these tendencies in yourself and others
- You must also be aware of how you come across to others
- Some people will perceive you as using these damaging styles even when you’re not
- When someone perceives you as using one of these boundary problem styles it will cause the same problems as if you were actually using that style
- If you can identify someone else’s boundary problem styles, you can create a strategy that works with their style
- Sometimes, you will perceive others as using one of these boundary problem styles, even when they are not
- Do not waste time blaming others, simply identify boundary styles and then choose your boundary solutions
- If you keep blaming the other person for your problems, I am going to have a can of “Victim Be Gone” sent to your house tonight!