Wednesday, March 12, 2008


I don't remember when I heard the first mention of boundaries but I know it was in therapy. Before that I didn't have a clue about boundaries or my lack of them. While I might have told you that I clearly respected other people's space and their right to privacy, those things are only a small part of having healthy boundaries.

Over the years, boundaries seem to be one of the buzz words of psycho babble. Everyone seems to know about them, or at least they think they do. People nod in recognition but don't really grasp the extent of the subject at all. There are so many things about relationships that can indicate a poor sense of boundaries.

In the article Growing Down: Tools for Healing the Inner Child
Building Healthy Boundaries
the section What is a boundary? has the usual definitions. Emotional and physical space between you and another. The line where one person stops and another person starts. ect ect. The list has all of those things one would expect to see. And yet, I know people who would acknowledge that list like they totally get the picture who have terrible boundaries.

The problem is the list sounds simple enough but it is really pretty vague if you ask me. Human relationships are complicated and it's pretty darn easy to not see something that is right in front of our eyes.

It is the Signs of Ignored Boundaries that gets my attention. Over enmeshment, dissociation, excessive detachment, victim or martyrdom, chip on the shoulder, invisibility, aloofness or shyness, cold and distant, smothering, and lack of privacy are all signs of an unhealthy set of boundaries.

It's easy enough to take those words and apply them to others, particularly those who have hurt us in the past. But seeing how they might apply to ourselves is not as easy to do. I think the sentiments behind the following statements will help to make things clearer.

These statements are symptoms of unhealthy boundaries. Many are exact quotes from the website

Do you think it's not ok to say "no'' to others?

Do you think you can never trust anyone again.

Do you believe it's your responsibility to keep the family/group/team together.

Do you think if you act like you're invisible , you won't be hurt anymore?

Because you have been hurt in the past do you keep people at arms length for protection?

Do you have trouble figuring out what is expected of you in your relationships?

Do you feel guilty if you make plans and they don't include family/group/team etc?

Do you believe that people are generally up to no good and only want to harm you given the chance?

Do you believe that you must spend all of your energy and time making those around you more comfortable or happy?

Do you believe if someone is hurting you or treating you unfairly the best way to deal with is to keep quiet, not complain and it will eventually go away?.

Do you stay in an unhealthy relationship but ignore it so you don't have to feel the pain and hurt that comes from being abused?

All of these questions are just some of the examples of the kinds of beliefs that allow our boundaries to be violated. If you can change a word or two or see similarities to something in your life, the chances are you are having issues with boundaries that make it difficult to nurture your inner child.

Taking care of that child is the key to being healthy and happy emotionally. Learning how to counter-act those ineffective beliefs and build healthy boundaries are important tools in caring and nurturing that child and healing from the abuse that caused these beliefs in the first place.

More on Boundaries


lovelee said...

Healthy boundaries are something I am working on, and something that is really hard for me too. I haven't had any luck recently in finding a good therapist, who also takes my insurance to help me with this.

Daisy said...

Another spot on post. I read and say I have unhealthy boundary issues. I guess the next question is what can I do about them. Small steps I guess. Eg I so struggle with saying no and not feeling really guilty about it afters. What is the small step here. It causes much stress so I must admit I usually weigh the pros and cons and end up staying stoom.

Anonymous said...

healthy boundaries are good but can be hard to achieve. however, i have found that once i have acheived being able to say no and not feel guilty, i do feel free. unhealthy boundaries was taught to me, so creating healthy ones are hard but worth it, i have found.

i live in Canada. so i am pretty sure i didnt jump off the University Bridge you are thinking of, but thank you for asking.

thank you for being a support for me and i hope i have been a support for you too. take care and know that i am thinking of you ...

keepers said...

recognizing the boundaries we allow others to cross over or we prohibit ourselves from setting are very difficult to recognize, to set and respect our boundaries and others helps us move forward on our journey to healing. these were some excellent points for all of to ponder.

peace and blessings


Lily Strange said...

Hell, I have a number of those but I refuse to beat myself up about it. I've done that enough in my life. I really have no idea what healthy boundaries feel like. I do feel a need to protect myself and I'm not going to come down on myself about it. It's taken me too long to get into a mindset where I have the courage to protect myself.