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The Need/Boundary Dynamic

November 20, 2013

Sometimes needs and boundaries conflict; i.e. your needs may transgress another person’s boundaries, or vice versa. This dynamic is worth examining because it is a very common cause of interpersonal conflict.

There is a symmetry between needs and boundaries. Simplistically, a need is something that a person needs to have happen, a boundary is something that a person needs to have not happen. However, both needs and boundaries are situational and subjective.


Needs and boundaries often fill in for other needs or boundaries that are not met. We may need one thing only in the absence of another, more primary need, or we may have a certain boundary only when a different boundary is not secure. By changing the situation, by meeting primary needs and securing primary boundaries, the dynamic can shift. It might be easier to face a difficult situation when you have the support of a friend, for example, or it might be possible to have a conversation over the phone that you could not have in person.


Both needs and boundaries are determined by perception, which is constructed from a series of interpretations, or choices. Whether a need is being met, or whether a boundary is being transgressed, depends heavily on our interpretation of meaning, and we have a large degree of control over what we tell ourselves things mean. We often feel that a need is being withheld, or a boundary is being transgressed, simply because we are telling ourselves that it is.

The art of compromise is a balancing act involving awareness empathy, and creativity. The ideal outcome is always one that meets needs and preserves boundaries to the maximum degree possible.


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