A boundary is an algorithm of thoughts, beliefs, values, emotions, conditions of worth and our self-image that define our sense of self, who we are physically, sexually, mentally and emotionally. It is the imaginary line at which someone else’s reality ends and yours begins.
Personal Boundary Categories
• Porous: Allowing others to exploit and manipulate you
• Rigid: Allowing no change or influence though experience
• Flexible: Allowing you to change and adapt without giving up your sense of self
You will find it difficult to have boundaries if you aren’t clear about your personal reality.
Healthy self-esteem requires healthy boundaries. Our internal boundary requires us to recognize what our rights and responsibilities are as we engage with the world around us. We all have complex ways of interacting with our boundaries that both influences and reflects our self-worth. Many people have no idea how to maintain healthy boundaries with the world around them. Some are extremely reactive to perceived attacks on their self-esteem, living their lives feeling that they must defend themselves from any real or imagined affront. On the other side of the spectrum are people who have no idea how to maintain a healthy boundary and thus become the “doormats” of the world, susceptible to people prone to violating others’ boundaries.
Boundary violators do not want to hear or accept “no.” They plow through a boundary, regardless of the request being made to them. They are pushy, manipulative, and devaluing. They can be both the nicest and the nastiest people in the world. And, they can use a variety of offensive behavior tactics to get their way, including the following:
One of Dr. Paul Standal’s goals in individual and relationship counseling is helping individuals and partners re-establish healthy boundaries in the following areas:
Physical: Your body’s temperature, size, aches, needs (hunger, thirst, rest, etc.), abilities, and appropriate attire.
Sexual: What feels comfortable to you, what feels arousing, where, with whom, or under what circumstances?
Values: Your beliefs, where you stand on an issue, your likes and dislikes, and your ideas, perceptions and memories.
Emotional: Under what circumstances do you experience joy, hurt, anger, fear, shame, guilt, or loneliness?
Where Do We Get Our Boundaries?
We create our boundaries, our sense of self-efficacy, through our early experiences. In fact, we all create healthy flexible boundaries and a self-image through the secure, loving attachment to our original caregivers, usually our parents. Early trauma, emotional, physical or sexual abuse or neglect creates a fear and uncertainty that hinders the development of healthy boundaries and attenuates the assertive defense of our self-image and boundaries in relationships.
People with low self-esteem who require the regard of others to feel secure have porous, soft boundaries. They cannot say “no.” They feel afraid of not being liked, feel responsible for other people’s hurt and angry feelings, and are typically doormats. They hold resentments, feel powerless and are unable to see options and usually suffer from a number of physical ailments. They consistently complain and are often not respected by family members and co-workers. They tend to give up and become passive in order to get the regard of their mate. They become needy and co-dependent. If they pair up with a boundary violator, their relationship may be stable, but also unhappy and filled with distress.
Signs of Unhealthy Boundaries
Where Do I Get Boundaries?
We don’t “get” boundaries; we create boundaries.
1. We can create imaginary boundaries for ourselves. Give it a try to find what kind of imaginary boundaries you create for a variety of situations.
2. Write your boundary down in a statement. Share the boundary statement with a friend and practice saying it until it feels comfortable before setting it with the intended person.
3. Before setting a boundary, get your “adult self” centered and on board. Take a few deep breaths and think of a time when you felt powerful and in charge. Then you will feel more prepared to set the boundary.
4. Check in with yourself throughout the day. Ask yourself: How is my body feeling right now? What do I think about this issue? How am I feeling in this situation? Am I behaving appropriately and responsibly?
5. Ask yourself if you are carrying any feelings of resentment. If so, journal what they are about, then examine where you are not setting boundaries.
6. If you have children, make a list of your rules, limits and personal boundaries. For example, is it okay to eat something before dinner? If so, what is it? How much? Get clear or you will lose the power behind the boundary and your kids will pick this up and push you harder.
7. Let go of the outcome.
Boundaries and Violations
Boundaries are Violated in 2 ways:
Intrusion: Enmeshment. Physical, Sexual, Emotional Abuse
Distancing: Withdraw. Reject. Ignore. Isolate. Neglect
* Value, power and a sense of abundance are instrumental in creating healthy boundaries:
POWER: Self control
VALUE: That you matter
ABUNDANCE: Sense that you have enough
When individuals learn to establish those experiences internally, they don’t have to intrude or distance with others.
Family Boundary Violations
Physical Boundary Violations
What Are My Boundaries?
8 Steps to Restoring Internal Boundaries
1. De-escalate Conflict
2. Know the triggers for vulnerability
3. Learn to name the emotion, particularly shame
4. Learn to “put a period on it”
5. Practice in disclosing vulnerability
6. Learn to self-soothe
7. If you’re uncertain about your boundaries, ask someone you trust
8. Move from “reactivity” to “creativity”
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