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Setting Boundaries: How Mending Your (De)fences Can Keep Your Relationships Healthy

(De)fence - G Gawne-Kelnar

A couple of years ago, the house I live in was broken into, and some personal things were stolen. The person (or people) who did this got in through the back door. And the thing that made it that much easier for them was that the back gate to the property didn’t quite shut properly.

I’d known about this for some time, but somehow the fencing never seemed a priority to fix – until it was too late.

There are parallels here for our personal lives, too. You’ve probably heard about the idea of ‘boundaries’ between yourself and other people – the place where you ‘draw the line’ with them. Where you might let certain people in so far, but no further.

Part of the function of boundaries is to keep us emotionally safe. To draw some protection around our innermost selves and secrets, and to reduce our vulnerability.

Another function is to help us protect our identity and individuality, so that we can be connected, yet still separate, from the other people in our life. Boundaries stop us getting ‘enmeshed’ with another person, so we don’t lose our sense of self in the relationship.

Sometimes it can be tricky to keep some space between yourself and another person, especially if they’re your family or friend or partner.

Sometimes their expectation is that you ‘should’ be closer, or that ‘that’s what love is all about.’ (Sometimes, you might have those expectations yourself).

Yet might there be such thing as too much togetherness? And if so, what might such a thing cost you?

So what about your boundaries? What condition are they in?

Do you maintain them regularly, defend them fiercely, or leave them to quietly fall apart (making it easier for someone else to intrude a little more than you might like)?

What do they look like?
Are they fences or force-fields? Maybe a moat? A brick wall? Barbed wire? Or a maze of hedges?

Do they change, depending on who you’re with, or are they always static? Are they flexible or solid? Dependable or not? (And where does all of that often leave you in your relationships?)

Maybe you’ve kept the same boundaries in place for as long as you can remember? If so, what would it feel like to add another possibility?

For there are so many creative ways of maintaining your boundaries. Ways that aren’t only about shutting people out; or letting them have the keys to the palace; but negotiating the space between…

The photo, above, shows one such solution. An otherwise tall fence of imposing black poles is interspersed with random sections of rainbow colours, injecting some fun into the austerity.

And you can be just as creative with your own (de)fences, finding a way that feels right for you.

Mending fences can be important work. For it means a lot more than just keeping property safe – it can help us keep our relationships safer, too.

Photo: Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar

Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar (Grad Dip Counselling & Psychotherapy) is a Sydney psychotherapist in private practice at One Life Counselling & Psychotherapy. Gabrielle also co-facilitates telephone support groups for people who are living with cancer, for their carers, and for people who have been bereaved through a cancer experience. She is the editor of a journal on counselling and psychotherapy, the author of a private practice blog, and she provides regular therapeutic updates on facebook and Twitter @OneLifeTherapy.

Setting Boundaries: How Mending Your (De)fences Can Keep Your Relationships Healthy

Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar

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APA Reference
Gawne-Kelnar, G. (2010). Setting Boundaries: How Mending Your (De)fences Can Keep Your Relationships Healthy. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 24, 2020, from


Last updated: 22 Sep 2010
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