Do You Know Your Boundaries?

If you think about it, we have a lot of relationships in our lives: friendships, romantic partnerships, parents, coworkers, acquaintances, business partners, etc. This is great since humans require social connection; but like all things, relationships require a balance. That means understanding your needs, limits, and ultimately, your boundaries.

Personal boundaries are essentially our limits. We decide what we’re okay with in terms of how others can treat us, behave around us, and what they can expect from us. They are the physical, emotional, and mental limits we establish to protect ourselves from being manipulated, used, or violated by others. Boundaries come from our core beliefs and values. Without such boundaries, we are no longer in control of ourselves. People that we’re in relationships with may end up telling us how to think, act and feel, and that takes us further and further away from our authentic selves.

So, have you ever thought about what your boundaries are in different relationships?

When You Don’t Have Boundaries

When we don’t have boundaries, we’re more likely to spend our time and energy doing what others want us to do over what we actually want to do. We have trouble determining where we end and the other person begins. When we don’t set emotional boundaries, we might end up taking responsibility for others’ feelings, letting others’ feelings dictate our own, sacrificing our needs to please others, blaming others for our problems, and accepting responsibilities for others. This pattern repeats in mental boundaries.

On the more extreme side, not setting boundaries may reflect a high level of neediness or co-dependence, a need to have love and attention from others at a willingness to sacrifice personal identity. Over time, this can lead to issues such as anxiety and depression. This can be particularly challenging when an individual is in a relationship with someone who may have a narcissistic personality disorder. Basically, boundaries are hard, and they often require an active effort.

Symptoms Of Boundary Issues Include:

  • Asking ‘Why am I so nice? Everyone takes advantage of me.’
  • Resentmentanger towards someone because you are doing something you don’t want to do – you’re actually angry with yourself rather than the other.
  • Expecting your thoughts/ feelings to impact the behaviour of others.
    • Eg., ‘you need to do what I need you to do so I can feel safe;’ ‘I love you which means you love me;’ ‘I am selfless and what to help you, save you, rescue you, fix you, improve you.’
  • Having unreasonable demands for yourself
    • Eg., ‘I need to be alone sometimes but don’t want to hurt the people I love;’ ‘I feel guilty when I rest or do nothing;’ ‘Taking care of myself feels selfish;’ ‘Doing something for fun is a waste of time.’
  • Finding that relationships are difficult
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Making significant effort to not let others down

Enmeshed Families And Relationships

When 2 or more people have porous and indistinguishable boundaries, the resulting dysfunctional state is called enmeshment. It can occur between parent and child, whole families, or adult couples. It is often on an emotional level when 2 people ‘feel’ each others’ emotions. Often, in these relationships, people will experience the emotional states of others (E.g. daughter becomes anxious and depressed, so the mother does, too). Individuals can’t separate their emotional experiences from each other – despite thinking they have clear boundaries. Family members often have no real knowledge of what each other is experiencing, though they think they do. In families, this reflects an over-involvement in each others’ lives, which makes it difficult for the child to become independent. 

Enmeshment frequently stems from a family pattern passed through generations and may develop when an event occurs that requires the parent to protect the child (e.g. illness, trauma, significant problems in elementary school). The parent appropriately intervenes, but then may become stuck and involved in day-to-day interactions of the child.

Most often, enmeshment occurs between parent and child and may look like this:

  • Lack of appropriate privacy between parent and child
  • A child being ‘best friends’ with a parent
  • A parent confiding secrets to a child
  • A parent telling one child that they are the favourite
  • A child receiving special privileges
  • A parent being overly involved in a child’s activities or achievements

The consequences of enmeshment include the child:

  • Doesn’t adequately develop a sense of identity and self-esteem, and they may avoid taking healthy risks and trying new things.
  • May feel controlled, which may lead to resistance of parental influence or complete withdrawal.
  • May feel overly responsible for the emotions of others and feel guilty when they tend to their own needs.
  • Has difficulty regulating emotions.
  • Has difficulty with future relationships
  • May seek out relationships where they are responsible for caring for their partner.

setting healthy boundaries

How To Set Boundaries

Long story short, we need boundaries for healthy relationships. Challenges with boundary-setting are common, but recognizing and acknowledging that boundaries are necessary for healthy relationships is a great first step. Below are some tips to try to help with boundary setting:

  • Get to know yourself. What is your identity? What are your needs and wants, independent of others?
  • Think about your values. What’s important to you? What are your limits?
  • Learn that saying no is okay
  • Communicate. Part of setting boundaries is communicating with the people you’re in relationships with. As much as
  • We’d like them to just know, they don’t. You need to tell them.
  • Be aware of when you might be crossing someone else’s boundaries.

These tips are helpful, but sometimes we need to get to the root cause of these issues. We internalize negative beliefs about ourselves and the world (these are called limiting beliefs early in our lives. Some of the limiting beliefs associated with challenges with boundary-setting include:

At Shift, our unique therapy will identify these limiting beliefs and eliminate them using reprocessing. Eliminating these negative core beliefs will allow you to create stronger relationships with healthy boundaries, and to start living your ideal reality.