How can we separate ourselves from others? For us to know about something, it has to have boundaries. Hence, to know about my Self, I have to know that the Other exists.
With another girl I tried to experience self-boundaries. We allowed our bodies communicate with another in order to observe subject-object interactions. I became unaware of everyone else in the room, it felt like it was only me and her. First, I would not move and simply observe her, to see what role she was going to take on. It quickly became apparent that she wanted to play with me, test my boundaries, making her the subject and me the object. I tried to pull back and keep my boundary, I felt like she was trying to crush me into a corner. While we had been looking at each other for most of the time, at some point I just stood still or turned around and didn’t look at her, which made me feel less ‘attacked’ and more like ‘within myself’ again. As Sartre would say: If you don’t want the gaze, you look away. It was interesting to see how close she would come, how little her own boundary was (probably on purpose though). Even if it was only me and her (ignoring the surrounding people), she was pushing my boundaries so much that it felt like she was everywhere. It made me feel very uncomfortable and at one point I just had to get away and went to the other end of the room. Of course, she followed, and it helped me to simply ignore her, stare past her.
This experience and other occasions when more people are involved show me how important my self-boundaries are to me. It comes as no surprise that I feel claustrophobic in crowded settings, because the more people and the closer they are to me, the more I feel like my self-boundaries are being attacked. Interestingly, the protective ‘barrier’ only really exists for strangers. Affection and all kinds of love push boundaries, make them become blurry. Physical contact and intimacy are important to human wellbeing, and a sexual act might be seen as uniting people, removing their boundaries altogether and allowing them to become one.
If a person never allowed anyone to break down their self-boundary (momentarily), I could imagine them becoming isolated. Being left with nothing but their Self they might get detached from reality and eventually even from their Self. There are several mental illnesses that make people feel alienated from their Self. Freud’s concept of the Ego is said to be an alienating and identifying function. In respect to the id and superego, the id controls primitive drives and is based on pleasure principles, the superego is based on morality principles, the ego is the reasoning in-between, the reality principle. I sense it as a voice that hears both my angelic and devilish opinion, and then reasons and comes to a conclusion. For example bipolar people might feel like their id was silenced during a depressive episode. The id boundary is sensed through the body, e.g. as pleasure or pain, and so they might feel rather lifeless, like their body was numb, unable to experience joy. During a manic episode on the other hand it might feel the other way around: their id would be heightened and their super-ego silenced. This could be due to a malfunctioning ego which is unable to balance between id and superego, leaving a feeling of alienation and removal from the real Self.
This reflection is meant to demonstrate how important it is to keep up self-boundaries in order to know that there is a Self which is separate to the Other, but that it is also healthy sometimes to let go of these boundaries so that we don’t become detached of Others, the world and reality.