Strengthen your boundaries and attract healthy people
Boundary violations don’t have to be extreme in nature to impact us negatively. Often, it’s the small stuff we tolerate that wears us down.
Do you find yourself surrounded by needy or disrespectful people?
Are you constantly putting out fires?
Do you feel drained and exhausted?
If so, you might be suffering from weak personal boundaries.
So what is a boundary?A “boundary” is another word for limit. A personal boundary is a limit you can set on what you will accept of another person’s words or actions.
Boundaries protect the self. Often they are described as imaginary lines around the self to define the area that is needed to fully express oneself. Boundaries help us define who we are and who we are not.
“Boundaries bring order to our lives,” Ann Katherine writes in her book Boundaries: Where You End and I Begin. “As we learn to strengthen our boundaries, we gain a clearer sense of ourselves and our relationship to others. Boundaries empower us to determine how we’ll be treated by others. With good boundaries, we can have the wonderful assurance that comes from knowing we can and will protect ourselves from the ignorance, meanness, or thoughtlessness of others.”
“Healthy boundaries protect without isolating, contain without imprisoning, and preserve identity while permitting external connections. Good boundaries make good neighbors.”
What are the two types of boundary violations?
The author identifies two types of boundary violations: intrusion or distance.
When someone crosses a physical or emotional boundary, such as incest, or they force people to believe or think as they do, that’s an intrusion violation.
When someone withholds intimacy, such as when a parent doesn’t hold his or her baby, or if someone ignores his or her spouse or partner, that’s a distance violation.
Talking about boundaries can be uncomfortable for multiple reasons. One reason is that there are many misconceptions about boundaries. For one, boundaries are not meant to control others. They are only meant to protect the self. In most cases and depending on the severity of the situation, boundaries are not rigid walls. Another reason why the subject of boundaries is difficult for many to handle, is that they bring to mind a variety of issues, ranging anywhere from whether or not to tolerate gossip to protecting the self from physical or sexual abuse. It’s hard to set and maintain boundaries, especially if no one has taught us. It is beyond challenging to learn to do so, if someone has violated our boundaries at the deepest levels early on. If we struggle with unresolved childhood trauma or fear abandonment and rejection, setting and maintaining boundaries can and often do feel near impossible. This is when hiring a therapist is needed.
COMMON BOUNDARY ISSUES
Boundary violations don’t have to be extreme in nature to impact us negatively. Often, it’s the small stuff we tolerate that wears us down and stops us from having the quality of life we would like.
People often struggle to set appropriate boundaries when it comes to time and materials — so our boundaries in these areas might be weak at first. For example:
Do you struggle to say “no”? Do you say “yes” when you want to say “no”?
Do you commit to one project after another?
Do your kids use you as a carrier, problem-solver, or maid?
In a similar vein, our emotional or heart boundaries might feel weak when we first start to practice them:
Does a loved one tell you you’re stupid or put you down?
Does someone use jokes or sarcasm towards you (perhaps not intending to be hurtful), but you feel hurt nonetheless?
Does someone (like your spouse) constantly judge you, criticize you, or give you unsolicited advice?”
And as with the use of any new muscle, our capacity to exercise healthy boundaries in our spirit will probably also feel weak at first:
Do you subject yourself to disrespect or profanity from people?
Do you accept listening to gossip from others?
Do you engage in debates and feel the need to prove a point, even when you know you won’t convince someone else to change their thinking?
The following strategies should enable you to strengthen your capacity to set boundaries:
Time and materials: Practice saying “no.” Try saying no to your friends who love you and support you.
Heart: Teach people how to treat you. Write down what you will say to them, such as: “When you called me xyz, I felt hurt. It is not okay to say that to me.”
Spirit: Stop engaging in draining conversations that deplete who you are. Avoid places that damage the spirit.
These and other strategies can be useful to work on using the help of a coach. As you strengthen your boundaries, you will start to attract people who, like you, are healthy.
Everyone can make small incremental improvements with their personal management of boundaries, but if you’re struggling to achieve the level of improvement you feel you need, there could be some deeper obstacles preventing change. If you don’t feel that you’re entitled to boundaries, if it’s a new concept or one that feels difficult to implement, think about seeking the help of a therapist. They’re trained and qualified to help identify and address any underlying issues that have held you back so far.