Learning to develop and hold healthy boundaries is at the heart of all of our relationships. Understanding our own needs is also critical to navigating our relationships, where we understand our own needs in balance with the needs of others. Relationships are about giving and receiving, about enriching our life experiences together. Boundaries help us define “me” versus “the other”. They are not walls and it is not merging with the other.
Boundaries and Needs in Our Support Roles
These things are true when we are working to support another, either through a formal role such as leader, coach, healer, etc, or in the normal course of being in relationship. When it comes to working with others as “helpers” this dynamic of balancing boundaries and needs is even more crucial. We are primarily focused on the experience of the other. In the context of a professional relationship with our clients and in work relationships, we have ethical, moral and professional reasons to hold strong boundaries around relationships.
Some advocate that helpers should “put away” their needs and maintain focus on the client at all times. Is this really realistic? In the moment, it can be but make sure you give yourself time and space to reflect on what was happening in that moment. This reflection (and / or with the support of a coach or other) can help you identify what inner dynamics were at play for you, and help you strengthen trust in the relationship.
Working with Support
Recently, I was conducting a supervision session with a coach and the coach was asking for help with boundaries. As we progressed in the conversation, we talked about a specific instance where her client asked to hold a stronger boundary and the coach was struggling with this request. The coach wanted and felt that she needed more contact to be in fuller service to her client.
Earlier in the conversation, she shared a childhood experience. There was an intuition to go back to that experience and explore that further and it turned out to be a fruitful exploration.
The insight that was eye opening for the coach was this:
When she was struggling with holding boundaries, there was an unacknowledged need that was lurking.
This may feel like a blinding flash of the obvious, but for someone who has this in his/her blind spot, this was shocking and embarrassing. She had competing commitments: her dedication to her client and her need for deeper contact with her client of which she was unaware. She started to talk about other examples with other clients, and this opened a door into her own behavior and awareness.
Boundary Challenges as Vital Clues
When I work with a client and there seem to be boundary issues, this is great territory to explore more with the person. In this case, asking a simple question: “Is there a need that you have in this situation?” was a great opening.
In all relationships, there is a symbiotic relationship between boundaries and needs. If you are routinely violating the boundaries of another, it may be a good opportunity to examine if you have unconscious, unmet needs at play. As a professional / helper, it is a good area to keep exploring with your own self or with support from a coach.
Asking a simple question “What do I need right now?” can help put you on the path to happier, more fruitful relationships.
Here is a chart that summarizes different boundary / need situations:
|Boundary||Strong boundary||Clearly defined boundary to support the client’s needs and build trust||Healthy relationship boundary; understanding and respect for needs of self and other||Weak boundary|
|Degree of Separation||May feel like a “wall”, very separate and alone / lonely||Focus is on the other and his/her experience; the helper is fully present and uses information to support the situation but does not disappear||Ability to differentiate “me” versus “you”; exchange that feels supportive and fair||Feels like there is little difference between the two|
|Needs Statements||“I can take care of myself”; “You can take care of yourself”||;“I am here to support you”; “My needs do not disappear but I can manage them with choice and awareness||“I offer the opportunity for you to help me with my needs, as I can help you”||“My needs and your needs are so alike / we have so much in common”; and/or “My needs are not important”|
If you are a leader, coach or other professional support person and would like to work with a coach and receive additional support, I can help. Please click here and we can set up a time to discuss your particular situation.