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  • Alicia Paz

Interpersonal Effectiveness Skill: Boundary Garden



Last week in group DBT skills coaching, someone mentioned how much they loved this skill! It's not technically a DBT skill. 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 boundaries.

Those with Borderline Personality Disorder often struggle with healthy boundary setting. From my perspective, this is part of black & white, all or nothing thinking. Sometimes it's obvious when someone has porous boundaries. The story I always tell to describe what ineffective 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 and she was now living with her father. He didn't know how to cook and was "icked" out buying her tampons. This classmate said had an array of mental health issues. She told me what medications she was on and showed me personal self-harm scars from a few months back. My radar went into the red danger zone. It was a lot at once, too much for me to handle and I didn't know at that age how to respond. The friendship began and ended on that day. Those with all or nothing thinking struggle with making, having, and keeping friends for this primary reason. A client of mine once described a peer as "they are either my all-time best friend or my worst enemy." 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:


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 their relationships. 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 your relationships are. It's a great tool to integrate into your DBT interpersonal effectiveness practice.