Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Defenses vs Good Boundaries

Yesterday, I wrote about the "Wall" in Israel and Palestine. I said it would never bring peace and security. It might temporarily give a sense of 'progress' to people who are afraid, but it will only bring more hardship, hatred, despair and violence in the long run. It is a misguided attempt to solve a problem that has not been defined properly, or analyzed from an enlightened perspective. The 'solution' comes from fear and ignorance. No solution that comes from that place will ever solve any problem.

I thought it would be useful to have a discussion about walls (which I would call a 'defense') and boundaries. I came across two great books a couple years ago by Anne Katherine. One is titled, "Boundaries" and the other is titled, "Where to Draw the Line: How to Set Healthy Boundaries Every Day." In these books, Ms. Katherine talks about the difference between a 'defense' and a 'boundary.'

A defense is something we erect out of fear in order to prevent things from getting to us. It is a barrier that is impermeable - it keeps EVERYTHING from getting through... good or bad, desirable or undesirable. It makes no difference what it is, a barrier prevents it from getting through and into our space. A defense removes our ability to interact with our world in a healthy, empowered way. A defense takes us out of reality, and puts us in an isolated world of our own creation. We deny what is outside the defense and try to ignore it. The irony is that ultimately, that which we are trying to keep out, does find a way in, but usually in a much more threatening manner.

A boundary, on the other hand, is something that we construct to keep some things out of our experience, but allow other things in. We choose. We decide. We can allow or not allow, depending on whether something is good for us, or not. A boundary is constructed with awareness and is designed to provide good self care. It is not created or maintained from a place of fear or desperation. It is an empowered way of interacting with the world. It allows us to fully experience all that life has to offer, while still protecting our self from things that might harm us.

Most of us resort to putting up defenses, because we don't know how to set good boundaries. When we have poor boundaries, and aren't assertive enough to set and enforce good boundaries, our fear drives us to throw up defenses. Defenses are more straight forward. There is nothing but black and white. Nothing gets in. That's clear and easy to understand. Boundaries are more complex and take more awareness, assertiveness and mental health to create and maintain. There is more risk involved in boundary setting, because the answers aren't so cut and dried about what should and shouldn't get through. Boundaries are infinitely more healthy, honest and reality based. Defenses are based on the fantasy that we can keep ourselves safe by blocking the rest of the world from accessing us and our inner world.

The wall in Israel and Palestine is a great example of a defense. Built from a place of anger and fear, it attempts to keep out threats, but actually works to perpetuate more hatred, anger and resentment. It limits the interaction between the two peoples: the Israelis and Palestinians. It makes positive interactions as impossible as negative ones. It creates a false sense of security from the 'bad' things, and it eliminates all the positive interactions that could actually create a lasting and true peace.

The sad thing about defenses is that they don't really work. They might appear to, for a time, but the things that defenses are intended to prevent and keep out, eventually get through, around the edges. Those 'dangers' cannot be held at bay in the long run, because they originate from deeper causes which must be addressed before they are resolved. The defense only delays the inevitable 'day or reckoning' and in the mean time prevents positive things from 'coming through' that could actually speed up the true resolution of the problem.

Defenses are an illusion. They don't work. They are short sighted and misguided. They do not address the real problem. They wrestle with symptoms and make everything worse... not better. It might feel good temporarily, but that too is an illusion.

Our quality of life is greatly improved when we are setting and maintaining good boundaries. They help us maintain healthy and satisfying relationships where no one is the victim and no one is the abuser. Defenses encourage and sustain relationships of abuser/victim. The wall in Israel and Palestine is a great example of this.

Learning about how we use boundaries and defenses in our individual lives is an important and worthwhile endeavor. As each of us gets healthier in setting boundaries, and stop relying on defenses, our world will get more and more peaceful.

It really is that simple!

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