Boundaries

You have probably heard the term “Boundaries” often and have some idea what it means, but the following information is meant to make it clearer. After reading this, you should have a good idea how understanding more about boundaries can change all of your relationships and the quality of your life.

Personal Boundaries

The line that marks where your personal and emotional space ends and others’ begins.

Healthy Boundaries:

A healthy boundary is flexible, not rigid. You can decide what you will let in and what you will keep out. You can evaluate what to allow in based on knowing your beliefs, values, feelings, needs and wants and using that information to determine what situations and relationships work well for you and those that don’t.

When you are operating with healthy boundaries, you give freely without guilt or obligation beforehand and without resentment afterwards.

You are responsible only for your own behavior, well-being and needs. You are not responsible for others’ feelings, needs, happiness, mood or behavior. You may be thinking how uncaring and cold that sounds, but consider how freely and generously you would give to and care about others and their feelings if it were not your job. You would feel no obligation or pressure, but rather you would give if you chose to give.

Unhealthy Boundaries:

If you are unaware of your own needs, feelings and beliefs and your focus is outside of yourself, you will either be overly rigid in your boundaries, too flexible in your boundaries or flip-flop back and forth.

Having overly rigid boundaries can feel like being “selfish” or “self-centered,” to you or other people. It can feel very “in control” or “controlling.”

You will tend to do whatever makes you feel most comfortable. You feel such an urgency to protect yourself and feel safe that it is very difficult to think about what others need and want. There is a “right” way to do something or feel about something and you strive to do that. You are critical of others who are different from you, because down deep you don’t know how to make sense of two different opinions. You feel angry and defensive when people disagree with you, because it feels like they are attacking or opposing you rather than just disagreeing.

Overly flexible boundaries feel like you are very giving, selfless, people pleasing, thinking of others before yourself. You do things out of obligation, because they are the “right” things to do, because you or someone else might think badly of you if you don’t do that something.

You will tend to worry too much about what other people think of you, believing there is a “right” and “wrong” way to do most things, focusing on what will make others happy, what others need. Trying to “guess” what answer will make another person happy to whatever questions they are asking you. Eventually, it will feel like people are taking advantage of you or that people don’t really care about you. You will become angry at how “needy,” “selfish” or “demanding” others are with you.

If you make a decision about what to do for or with someone based on guilt, you are not respecting your personal boundaries. Also, if you find you feel resentful or angry with another person to whom you gave something to (time, friendship, favors etc), you are actually angry with yourself for having not respected your own needs and feelings. In other words, you have not paid attention to your limits or boundaries.

When considering if your boundaries are too flexible or too rigid, remember that everyone is selfish or selfless at times. You are flexible or rigid if your primary way of relating to people is either self focused or other focused.

Indicators that you have unhealthy boundaries:

It is extremely challenging to set and enforce healthy boundaries when you don’t know yourself very well. Rather than clear and calm communication with others about what you want, need, feel and believe, you will likely have one of the following experiences:

1) Confusion—When confronted with a choice to make, you may feel unsure, foggy, tired and struggle with what the “right” decision is.

2) Anger—You may feel angry with another person or situation that is asking you or just wants you to do something for them.

3) Guilt—You feel guilty that you don’t feel the same way as someone else, don’t need or want the same things as someone else you are close to.

4) Frustration—When someone you are close to and care about is unhappy about something, you may be frustrated, annoyed or angry that they won’t do more to fix their problem or let you fix it for them.

How can I Improve my Boundaries?

These are some basic ideas about boundaries. This is a starting place for you to examine how you feel about your own boundaries and see if there is anything you would like to examine further.

Pay attention to your interactions with others and investigate if you are behaving in ways that indicate poor boundaries. When you catch yourself being too rigid or flexible with your boundaries, try to change your behavior.

If you find it extremely challenging to change what you say or how you act, you may have identified an area that you could use some help with. Change takes time and you cannot expect that just realizing something will automatically change it. Often, you will need assistance in identifying specific underlying causes of poor boundaries, as well as learning new approaches to interaction.

Having better boundaries will make life feel less stressful and calmer. Understanding what has brought you to where you are today will probably bring an inner sense of peace and clarity.

**No part of this work may be reproduced for personal or professional use.

**This paper is not to be used as a substitute for professional psychological help. Rather, it is to assist in the identification of psychological or behavioral issues that should be addressed with a Psychologist.

**While there are general ideas addressed herein, each person has their own unique set of experiences. These ideas should not be taken as advice for any specific person.

Copyright: Ann K. Wexler, Ph.D. 2008

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