Healthy Boundaries Make Healthy Systems

Every system, whether a cell, a person, a river, or a galaxy, has boundaries. The health of the system is determined by how the boundaries are regulated. This is the principle of Openness.

For instance, a fish bowl is a closed system. If you don’t change the water and feed the fish, what is sure to happen? Yes. The fish goes to that great ocean in the sky. So that implies that a closed system is bad and an open system is good. But wait—if you dump a whole jar of food, unfiltered water or any other liquid in the bowl, the fish becomes quite vulnerable (and might also die). 

So a completely closed system always dies and completely open systems are extremely vulnerable. Just think of people who are socially isolated or cut off relationships versus those who overshare the intimate details of their lives. Both situations impact their ability to thrive.

In short, the ideal system can flexibly regulate its boundaries and decide under different circumstances what information or resources to let in, and what information to share with other systems. 

Consequently, the management of boundaries is critical because it means that whoever regulates the boundaries has the power and influences the health of the system. Surprisingly, in organizations very often this boundary regulator is not a formal leader! 

I know of one office where the administrative assistant was encouraged to flag any applicants who tried to make an appointment and were rude to her. This is quite a bit of of influence to have as to whom gets into the system! 

With the Flinders Program, we facilitate conversations that help people implicitly reflect on how they regulate their own boundaries related to the management of their chronic conditions. By thinking about the behaviors, goals, and resources they currently have versus what they want to have, we empower people to regain control of their own boundaries and build self-efficacy to improve their health themselves

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