Boundaries, Boundaries, Boundaries…
Boundaries, Boundaries, Boundaries…
Boundaries are a very important part of any relationship; a factor often ignored or unrecognised by many people. They are the blueprint, or foundation, that relationships are built on, and can govern the way they function. So why do they so often go unaddressed? Simple. Most people don’t even realise they are there. But they are.
In an attempt to better understand boundaries myself, I have compiled some information on them that I feel could be useful to many of us. As a young adult I often find that boundaries can be easily blurred or dismissed, and this leads to confusion, sadness, anger and resentment. So here’s what I have found out…
What are Boundaries?
As I’ve already mentioned, boundaries are the blueprint for our relationships. They are the rules that determine the what, where and who of all relational settings. Boundaries can be set on a physical, emotional, spiritual, sexual and relational level, and differ from person to person. I’m sure you would have different boundaries with your mum or dad than you would your partner, and your best friend.
We use boundaries for our own security – both physical and emotional. When boundaries are blurred or ignored it can lead to uncomfortable and confusing situations between people that could otherwise have been avoided. Instead, boundaries are a way of creating mutually respectful, caring and supportive relationships between people by providing limits for acceptable behaviour for those around you.
Finally, boundaries determine how we are to be treated by the people around us, which is why it is important to set healthy limits and to respect them.
What to Remember When Setting Boundaries.
Boundaries only serve their true purpose when they are promoting healthy relationships, communication and mental and physical health. Joyce Marter, LCPC, outlined two extreme types of boundary setters – the Diva and the Doormat.
Where the Diva is someone who has no respect for other people’s boundaries – creating tension with friends and often finding themselves unwanted by others – the Doormat is the person who has no respect for their own boundaries – they just don’t know how to say no. Neither of these leads to healthy relationships. They become codependent, desperate for others to legitimise their existence. This is also a good way of losing respect from your peers.
Do I Need to Adjust My Boundaries?
It is quite easy to detect when boundaries need to be adjusted or addressed; when you do not feel satisfied with the way you are being treated in a relationship.
A good question to ask yourself is; do you feel uncomfortable by the way people treat you?
When boundaries are weak they can leave you pretty vulnerable, and people may start to take advantage of you (even if it’s not intentional). Just like our “doormat” boundary setters, weak boundaries often leave us feeling obligated to say yes to commitments when we would rather say no.
Do you feel resentment towards the commitments you are making? Does it feel more like an obligation than a choice? Does it feel more like you CAN’T say no, rather than you want to say yes? If this is the case then you seriously need to rethink your boundaries.
On the other hand, boundaries that are too strong can leave you quite isolated. It is healthy to spend time alone – we all need ‘me time’ – but when you set strong boundaries you can make other people quite uncomfortable. People start to find you easier to avoid than to spend time with.
Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S, has given some very good examples of both of these:
Weak or Loose Boundaries
- When someone asks you for something, the inner voice that says “I should say no” keeps getting louder and louder, according to Clinical Psychologist Ryan Howes, who has a private practice in Pasadena, Calif.
- You resent the other person and yourself for saying yes, says Howes. This becomes a vicious cycle: You say yes, feel resentful and distance yourself. Yet you say yes, again, to another request, and the cycle continues.
- You disclose personal information that you feel anxious and vulnerable about, said Joyce Marter, owner of Urban Balance, a counselling practice in the Chicago area. She gave the example of “telling your neighbour that you just bounced a check.”
- You share inappropriate information that makes others feel uncomfortable, she said.
- “People take advantage of you, [such as] you often seem to be the one picking up the bill when your friends have ‘forgotten’ their wallets,” she said.
Strong or Rigid Boundaries
- “You feel lonely, isolated or disconnected,” said Marter, who also writes the blogs The Psychology of Success and First Comes Love.
- You feel like no one really knows or understands the real you, because you don’t open up to others, she said.
- You can’t relate to others, either, “because you squash their attempts to share with you by throwing up a wall — and eventually, they will stop trying.”
- You’ve alienated all your loved ones, Howes said.
- “You enjoy all the time you have for your projects, but they don’t include anyone else,” he said.
Hopefully these examples can also help you to detect whether or not you need to rethink your boundaries.
They Also Need to be Maintained.
Although boundaries are something that work in the background of the relationship, it is important that they are maintained. People can often try to test the limits of your boundaries, so it is very important to stay firm and keep them consistent.
As Alex Lickerman, M.D. suggests, consistency in boundaries is as important with adults as it is with children. If you let a child break one of your boundaries once, it is very likely that they will then expect to break it time and time again. “You let me do it last time”, they’ll say. While, as a parent, you hold a higher level of authority with your children, the principle is still the same. We need to keep boundaries consistent to keep them in place.
They may also need to be adjusted over time as a result of a changing relationship. This is completely normal, relationships change and so do people (including you). You may have more limited time, or may be growing closer to some people and drifting away from others. Just be aware that sometimes our boundaries fail because they need to be “updated”.
Tips to Adjusting Boundaries.
A great way to adjust your boundaries, and a simple way, is the five things method put forward by Jane Collingwood. Simply ask yourself the following questions – you may want to write down your answers – and you’ll have the things you want to change right in front of you.
- List five things you’d like people to stop doing around you, for example, criticising absent colleagues
- List five things you want people to stop doing to you, for example, being rude or inconsiderate, or ignoring you
- List five things that people may no longer say to you, for example, “you always give up” or “you’ll never get promoted”
Think about your current boundaries and ask:
- how much attention people expect from you at a moment’s notice
- whether you always make yourself available (e.g. do you answer the phone no matter what’s going on?)
- how much praise and acceptance you receive
- why you are popular with your friends
- how you feel after spending time with each friend or family member
Remember, people may not always react positively to this change. If people are so used to you saying yes, they may not like it when you start to say no. BUT it is important that YOU are comfortable with the boundaries you have set, so be strong, avoid being mean about it, and know that this is actually for the good of your relationship.
Written by: Philippa Berry
The Importance of Setting Consistent Boundaries by Alex Lickerman
The Importance of Boundaries by Wendy Strgar
The Importance of Boundaries by Stephanie Glassman
The Importance of Personal Boundaries by Jane Collingwood