What Kind of Boundaries in your Family?

What Kind of Boundaries in your Family?

One of the things families typically don’t talk about is how boundaries work within the family.  We are talking about psychological and social boundaries, although in principle they are the same as physical boundaries around one’s property, city, state, or country.

When thinking of family, there are three types of boundaries:

1.) Individual boundaries.  Our personal boundaries are those which define who we are in relationship to others.

2.) Intergenerational boundaries.  These are boundaries that help us define who the parents and children are.  For example, when these boundaries are blurred, the children often become the parent to the parents.

3.) Family boundaries.  These are boundaries that define our family and make it distinctive from other families.

Within each type, we can have three boundary states:

1.) Rigid boundaries, which are too strong, can be likened to walls without doors.  They are often impenetrable.  We cannot move back and forth across the boundary.

2.) Diffuse boundaries, which are too weak, can be likened to defining our property by drawing a line in the dirt with a stick.  It does not take much to wipe out the boundary.  People with diffuse boundaries may say no to something, but they change their minds with a little encouragement.

3.) Flexible boundaries, which are healthy, can bend when they need to.  If the circumstances warrant it, the no can be changed to yes, but never out of guilt or a sense of being ordered into something.  Flexible boundaries allow the other people who asked the question to then be able to accept the no and find another way to accomplish the task.

The way boundaries worked in your family has a lot to do with how you relate to your world today.

Question:  How would you describe your family’s boundaries?

This entry was posted in How Family Works, Marriage & Family Matters. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What Kind of Boundaries in your Family?

  1. Dave Fish says:

    I am responding to both “rules” and “boundaries” with a question: At age 83 I am wondering if most of us, at least, don’t out-grow both family rules and boundaries and even family traditions as other family members pass on to the next life before we do? I would guess that most family rules and boundaries stay with us because of a memory of something that happened between each of us and a family member, either once or repeatedly, but these lose their hold on us as the memory of that person gets farther and farther away.

  2. Trish says:

    Hi Dr. Stoop,

    I have both a question and a comment today. First, I received your new book, Rethink How You Think, from Club New Life today and read the first chapter last night – this is exactly what I needed to hear right now and I am looking forward to diving into the book more.

    The question related to boundaries. I have been fairly successful at setting boundaries with my parents and other family members over the last few years, and I am learning how to set boundaries with my ex-husband (divorced 6 months after 20 years of marriage). The part where I get stuck is being afraid of how he will react to this – not to me but to our son. I don’t want to avoid setting the necessary boundaries but have to admit I worry about backlash against our son, who is 11.

    Any thoughts you have would be greatly appreciated, either in response to this or in a future blog post. Thank you for all you do!


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