Interpersonal Effectiveness Innovative Skill: Boundary Garden

August 8, 2019

Last week in group DBT skills coaching- (check it out it's Fridays 4-5pm on Skype, friend me over there aliciapaz83 to join) someone mentioned how much they loved this skill!  It's not technically a DBT skill and I think I found it online and altered it through the years.  It's a helpful way of seeing where your current boundaries are and open options on how to re-build current boundaries.

 

Those with Borderline Personality Disorder struggle with healthy boundary setting.  From my perspective this is part of black/white, all/nothing thinking.  Sometimes it's obvious when someone has poor boundaries. The story I always tell to describe what ineffective and low boundaries look like is this personal one from when I was 15 years old.  I had just walked off the bus to walk to go home, as did another classmate I had not seen before.  It was the first week in school, so I guessed she might be new.  I began talking to her, figuring if nothing else it would give me someone to walk home from school with.  Our walk and only conversation lasted 8 minutes and in it she told me her mother had passed tragically she was now living with her father, he didn't know how to cook, was "icked" out buying her tampons, she had an array of mental health issues, told me what medications she was on and showed me personal self-harm scars from few months back.  My radar went into the red danger zone and I immediately knew this was not someone I would want to be friends with, even if it was 16 minutes a day round trip. It was a lot at once, too much for me to handle and I didn't know at that age how to respond.  This friendship ended on that day.


Those with all/nothing thinking struggle with making, having and often keeping friends for this primary reason; "they are either my all-time best friend or my worst enemy."  This was a quote from a client, whom I didn't at the time know much about BPD to diagnosis, but had traits.  I have my clients create boundary gardens to illustrate this point and have a visual for where their friends lay.  Below is the outline of the garden I have them fill in.

Here is an example of one filled in for someone who has low boundaries,

 

 


After I have the clients fill in the garden I ask a few questions; which section has the most people in it? Why are people in old brush and not out of the garden? Is there anyone who has been moved towards the old brush or into roses since starting therapy/group/recovery?  It's a great starting point for creating and enforcing boundaries.  I also have the clients put lines where they would like to move people, for example, "my step mom and I have had a better relationship the last few years since she stopped drinking, so maybe it's time to have her as a violet," or "My brother is a close friend now, but I think he has been stealing money from my purse, so maybe we need more distance and he needs to be moved to Geraniums."

 


It doesn't solve their boundary issues, but it gives them a starting point and a nice visual to begin working on and start to analyze a starting point.  This skill isn't about losing friends or removing people from your life but examining the different roles people have in it and how effective this relationis to both of you.

 

Take Care,

 

Alicia 

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