Personal Boundaries as a Cultural Phenomenon

As I thought for the first time about emotional boundaries, I also thought about them as a cultural phenomenon – in other words, I realised that my own assumptive world and sense of personal comfort did not just reflect an individual psychic and emotional structure operating to a set of rules that could be seen as general to humanity, but were in part learned in a particular cultural context. My own clue to this was in thinking about my father, whose work as a Methodist minister meant that he had to live in an environment of little distinction between his work and non work times, and for whom this lack of boundary seemed to fit with the way in which he was particularly private with little hint of what emotional inner world was operating. He lost his father when he was a teenager, leaving a family to face poverty and dependence on charity, but I can remember no occasion when he spoke about his father, nor about how he coped with his loss. He had also chosen to go into the ministry which separated him from his wider family in a very significant way. Whilst his brothers and sisters, many of them, lived close to where they were brought up and remained in and out of each others’ houses, we moved away, lived apart, only saw this wider family on ‘occasions’ – weddings, christenings, funerals etc.

Our world was therefore one in which we grew up to achieve a separate individuality; an individuality of personal achievement, individual creativity – ‘terribly house and garden’. But it became obvious that others had a different view of the world, in which being part of a wider ‘community’ identity was more important than individuality, in which conversations were less physically fastidious and more focussed on cementing a shared perspective than with demonstrating an individual personal insight.

So began the sense that to learn more was to expand the realm of the unknown and uncertain.


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