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Inner Circle Part 1: Exploring Social Boundaries in Art Therapy

by Lauren Fallat, LPC LPAT ATR-BC

We all have relationships with different people and groups of people. We engage in a variety of social activities, with different people, in different places and for different reasons. There are different levels of social intimacy that we experience in our relationships and there are different types of relationships we can have with others. In addition, each level often has different expectations and implications for our mental health. From the most superficial and casual interactions to the deepest and most meaningful bonds, we all move up and down this spectrum as we get to know new people and as our relationships evolve.

When it comes to mental health, social boundaries are especially important. Our social lives are complex, and our mental health is affected by the interactions we have with others. It's important to be mindful of the boundaries we set in our social lives, and to be respectful of the boundaries other people set for themselves.

What are social boundaries? Social boundaries are the limits we set on our interactions with others, both in the quantity and type of communication. They help us to define and protect our personal space, and to maintain healthy relationships.

At the most basic level, there are two types of social intimacy: surface intimacy and deep intimacy. Surface intimacy is based on shared activities and superficial conversations. It's when you know someone well enough to do things together and talk about everyday topics, but you don't really know them at all on a deep level.

Deep intimacy, on the other hand, is based on understanding and sharing personal thoughts, feelings, experiences, and memories. It's when you know someone so well that you can share anything with them and they understand you completely. You have a deep emotional connection that goes beyond just surface-level understanding.

Knowing the extent of disclosure of personal information can be tricky, but it’s essential for keeping our mental health strong. There are usually some people with whom we are more relaxed and with whom we share more personal information than with others. There are also sometimes people with whom we have difficulty knowing what to say, how much to say, or whether it is even appropriate to say anything at all.

An art directive that can aid in navigating and exploring your own social boundaries involves using a set of circles. For this directive all you would need is a piece of drawing paper, size of your choice. If you will be using colored pencils or thin tipped markers, feel free to use a 9x12” sized paper for more detailed work or if you are using oil pastels, 12 x18” sized paper would be ideal for larger images.

Once you have your paper and drawing materials, you are ready to create your circle structure for the drawing. We will be creating a set of circles, similar to the structure of a target symbol, with the circles sitting one inside the other, with the inner circle as the smallest, surrounded by continuously larger outer circles. For this activity there is no limit for how many circles you create. It is recommended that you start with an ‘inner circle’ and then add two more circle rings around this inner circle. The idea is that your inner circle will contain the thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that you consider most important to you and also most private. Some people might consider this inner circle as things that they keep to themselves, but the inner circle can also be things that you share with a select few.

After you have created your inner circle you can then add the next layers of rings. These rings will help you to explore the different levels of intimacy in your relationships. This is also a way to explore and define what intimacy means to you and how you develop and maintain it. As you begin to fill in your rings you may want to consider what determines a close relationship from a casual one.

If you are someone who is more private, then your inner circle may be filled with more symbols and concepts than the outer rings. On the other hand, if you consider yourself to be someone who wears their heart on their sleeve so to speak, then your outermost circle may be filled with more content.

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