Soft, Spongy, Rigid or Flexible?

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Life is change, but it’s common to think otherwise until jolted out of a comfort zone. Right now emotions are pulling me to extremes. At one end, at a considerably younger age than most I will be semi-retired in thirty days and completely in six months . What’s ahead for me is invigorating and exciting. At the other extreme, where I work is being sold and the vast majority of employees are being let go. Inwardly I feel good. My future is bright. Outwardly I am surrounded by fear, uncertainty and disappointment, even anger in some of those I work with.

All I can do is be compassionate and sensitive to my co-workers even though I am not going through what they are going through. It’s hard. So easily it is to commiserate and fall into thinking that mirrors theirs in an attempt to be empathetic. Using what I have learned about keeping good boundaries is saving me a great deal of anguish, yet allowing me to kind and thoughtful to others.

Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify for him or herself what are reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave around him or her and how he or she will respond when someone steps outside those limits. Wikipedia

Dr. Nina W. Brown is a professor in the Department of Counseling and Human Services at Old Dominion University. She believes there are four types of boundaries:

Soft – A person with soft boundaries merges with other people’s boundaries. Someone with a soft boundary is easily manipulated.

Spongy – A person with spongy boundaries is like a combination of having soft and rigid boundaries. They permit less emotional contagion than soft boundaries but more than rigid. People with spongy boundaries are unsure of what to let in and what to keep out.

Rigid – A person with rigid boundaries is closed or walled off so nobody can get close to him/her either physically or emotionally. This is often the case if someone has been physically, emotionally, psychologically or sexually abused. Rigid boundaries can be selective which depend on time, place or circumstances and are usually based on a bad previous experience in a similar situation.

Flexible – Similar to selective rigid boundaries but the person has more control. The person decides what to let in and what to keep out, is resistant to emotional contagion and manipulation, and is difficult to exploit.

Once upon a time my boundaries were definitely somewhere between ‘Soft’ and ‘Spongy’ although I hid my feelings behind a stoically ‘Rigid’ wall most of the time. Often then a boundary would be violated while I gritted my teeth and did not allow the hurt and discomfort to show.

Today I take good care of me. I step away quickly from most hurtful situations and encounters. I speak up for myself with all the kindness I can muster when someone steps over the line and into my ‘space’ with their words or actions. And I am quick to apologize and make amends when I find myself in violation of someone’s boundaries. Gratefully, now I can best be described as having healthy ‘Flexible’ boundaries. For my friends, peers and teachers who helped me learn this way of being I will be eternally grateful.

People who violate
your boundaries
are thieves.
They steal time
that doesn’t belong to them.
Elizabeth Grace Saunders

About James Browning

A seeker working to grow each day and be a better version of my self. Through sharing I commit myself deeper to my ideals and beliefs.
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