Interpersonal relationships are no summer breeze; they invite turbulence, disbalance, and a perpetual struggle for autonomy. “Who’s right? I hear you. Do you hear me? Can you listen?” Heads up… Snowflake analogy incoming! If you google “snowflake”, you’ll find that each snowflake has a unique pattern. They can form infinite possible shapes as they fall to the ground. Poetic, isn’t it? Human beings are very much alike, as their individual natures wildly differ – although, on the surface, there aren’t too many differences.

an owl looking curiousBasic biology, right? However, no two human beings are alike. We all have our idiosyncratic, quirky, intricate layers of defense mechanisms whose sole purpose is to keep any impending detriment at bay and our sanity afloat. And that’s where our differences grow. The harder we look, the more our varying personalities unfold. So, let’s talk about how understanding internal boundaries can help the world thrive in unison (a much-needed hypothesis).

Understanding Internal Boundaries vs External Boundaries

Sports field in blue and green shows us how understanding internal boundaries can lead to open-mindedness.If there is a thing called “internal boundaries”, there must be an antonym somewhere. Or, in this particular case, an organic extension. So, all human beings possess (and should meticulously be working on) “internal” and “external” boundaries. Which is which? How do we separate the two (albeit symbiotic) entities? External and internal boundaries invite dollops of honesty into any given interpersonal relationship, giving our modest existence a shot at reconnecting with the people we love – organically. The moment we start utilizing self-awareness, it’s all quantum leaps from there.

What are Internal Boundaries?

Internal boundaries are defined as those we have with ourselves, within ourselves (having our well-being in mind, preferably). Furthermore, internal processes revolve around our base doings: what we say, think, feel, or do. It’s the autonomous, independent, inner-parenting boundary we set for 1. ourselves, 2. the world. It’s how we protect the world from us, in a sense. They challenge our identity, morals, and values (and often pair well with our instincts and intuition).

What are External Boundaries?

The juxtaposition angle: external boundaries are how we protect ourselves from the world and what we do to take care of the self. It’s where we set tangible, clean-cut intrusion limits, which we are prepared to tolerate in interpersonal relationships. For example, you may have a colleague at work who’s inclined to dominate any meeting or casual conversation. Setting external boundaries would address their need for dominance and respectfully ask for reciprocity and “vocal space”.

Balance is Key

Between us, humanity’s taken a dark turn over the past few years. Our interpersonal relationships have never been as fragile or more prone to incidental (or intentional) injuries. Instead of birthing a biotic need for interconnectedness, altruism, and philanthropy, we now witness society’s downfall (separation anxiety included). We have begun to stratify. And it’s frightening.

Two crane birds fighting over body of water.Oblivion is not the name of collective malaise; it’s egocentricity. Selfishness. It’s fear. Trauma. Our ears have grown thicker and our mouths weary and skeptical. We no longer cherish the truth – our own, let alone someone else’s. We speak words that can spark violence without any hesitation. Estrangement has become a habit, a dangerous one. Yet, we keep on embracing it.

Changing habits is hard, isn’t it? As we all know, change can be difficult. But, impossible? No. And often, we even like life, others, and ourselves more after a few attitude adjustments!

Which do you value more?

The truth or your own beliefs? They are not synonyms, despite our need for superiority. Truth? We are wrong about, well, so many things. Innumerable things. Our beliefs are (more often than not) light years away from objective truths. If we allow ourselves to believe our beliefs and values are one with the “universal truth”, then – what’s the point of dialogue?

child on playground looking curiously at the world.We are indefinitely closed to any sort of sensible, constructive interaction. To be open to hearing others’ truths (i.e., beliefs), we must learn to cherish objectivity more than our own opinions and stances. We must let humility take over the discourse. And trust the process. Why? Simply because… in filling the gaps of uncertainty and unfamiliarity, we find curiosity and open-mindedness. Once we gain consciousness, it’s game on.

Active Instead of Passive Listening

We love a good prenotion. We thrive on prejudice and biases. And, in a way, we enjoy an excellent opposing opinion because it strokes the ego the right way. “You know nothing, Jon Snow. Wait for it.” The excitement preceding our immaculate, airtight response can present blood-curdling imagery for any bystander. The hunter and the hunted. They elaborate, and you wait. Patiently. Stealthily. A blitz attack ensues.

Perforated silhouettes of two men fighting. Whatever happened to valuing differences? Has our evolution failed us that miserably? Where are we headed if we cannot create room for embracing individualism instead of uniformity? I’ll let you in on a secret, a little auto-restraint never bruised the ego (because self-inflicted restraints are not perceived as imposed).

Active listening can drastically change the quality of communication. By processing information, we allow ourselves to curate and filter (the unnecessary), find the “hook,” and get curious instead of immediately correcting someone’s monologue course. When in a bridging conversation, ask yourself: “Who am I to convert or fix someone’s opinion? Would I allow someone to impose their beliefs on me?”

So, practice humility and openness!

Understanding internal boundaries can help us acknowledge others’ worth. By pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone and straight into the social stratosphere, we are more likely to find our minds open and invigorating. New stimuli (even the unwanted, antagonism-inducing kind) invite boundary expansion into our mental and emotional existence. If the person you’re conversing with catches you off guard by saying something shockingly sensible, and you think: “Wow, that was actually good. Fair point.” don’t let the ego silence your nods. Be honest. Compliment their thoughts.