Healthy Boundaries

What are boundaries?

The word boundary in the American Heritage Dictionary is defined as “an indicated border or limit.” In relationships boundaries are often defined as the line that indicates where one person ends and the other begins. People with healthy boundaries have developed an identity separate and distinct from others and are not dependent upon others to nurture their personal and spiritual growth. Consider the following illustrations below:

boundaries1

Figure 1 illustrates healthy boundaries. In this relationship, the line between partners is easily identifiable. They are independent beings, yet they are close enough to be connected and to have an impact on each other’s life. In healthy relationships boundaries are flexible. They grow and change. Boundaries can be lowered to promote intimacy or extended to promote safety.

In Figure 2, it is difficult to distinguish one partner from the other. This is called enmeshment or collapsed boundaries. Partners in an enmeshed relationship generally try to merge with the other in order to avoid the emptiness they feel when alone. This is troublesome, because partners either seek to lose themselves in the other or expect their partner to become lost in them.

Figure 3 illustrates a relationship where each partner is completely self-contained, having very little impact on the other and very little emotional connection. This is called an emotionally detached relationship or rigid boundaries. The boundaries in this relationship tend to be more like walls and prevent intimacy.

What kind of boundaries do you have?

Look at the following characteristics to determine what kinds of boundaries you have:

HEALTHY BOUNDARIES

  • You can say no or yes, and you are ok when others say no to you.
  • You have a strong sense of identity. You respect yourself.
  • You expect reciprocity in a relationship-you share responsibility and power.
  • You know when the problem is yours and when it belongs to someone else.
  • You share personal information gradually in a mutually sharing/trusting relationship.
  • You don’t tolerate abuse or disrespect.
  • You know your own wants, needs and feelings. You communicate them clearly in your relationships.
  • You are committed to and responsible for exploring and nurturing your full potential.
  • You are responsible for your own happiness and fulfillment. You allow others to be responsible for their own happiness and fulfillment.
  • You value your opinions and feelings as much as others.
  • You know your limits. You allow others to define their limits.
  • You are able to ask for help when you need it.
  • You don’t compromise your values or integrity to avoid rejection.

COLLAPSED BOUNDARIES

  • You can’t say no, because you are afraid of rejection or abandonment.
  • Your identity consists of what you think others want you to be. You are a chameleon.
  • You have no balance of power or responsibility in your relationships. You tend to be either overly responsible and controlling or passive and dependent.
  • You take on other’s problems as your own.
  • You share personal information too soon. . .before establishing mutual trust/sharing.
  • You have a high tolerance for abuse or being treated with disrespect.
  • Your wants needs and feelings are secondary to others’ and are sometimes determined by others.
  • You ignore your inner voice and allow others expectations to define your potential.
  • You feel responsible for other’s happiness and fulfillment and sometimes rely on your relationships to create that for you.
  • You tend to absorb the feelings of others.
  • You rely on others opinions, feelings and ideas more than you do your own.
  • You allow others to define your limits or try to define limits for others.
  • You compromise your values and beliefs in order to please others or to avoid conflict.

RIGID BOUNDARIES

  • You are likely to say no if the request involves close interaction.
  • You avoid intimacy (pick fights, stay too busy, etc.)
  • You fear abandonment OR engulfment, so you avoid closeness.
  • You rarely share personal information.
  • You have difficulty identifying wants, needs, feelings.
  • You have few or no close relationships. If you have a partner, you have very separate lives and virtually no shared social life.
  • You rarely ask for help.
  • You do not allow yourself to connect with other people and their problems.

How do I change?

Understand that developing healthier boundaries (as with any life change) is a process, not an event. Thus, it will take time and practice. There are no quick fixes. However, healthy boundaries will lead to improved self-esteem and increased intimacy in your relationships. So the payoff is big, if you are persistent! Below are a few suggestions to help you stay on track in the process:

1. Identify the ways in which your boundaries are unhealthy. Make a list of how they express themselves in your life.

2. Write letters to yourself encouraging change and addressing the fears that work to prevent change. Nurture your right to have boundaries!

3. Make a list of personal rights (i. e. boundaries) in your relationships and paste it where you can read it often.

4. Keep a journal and record the pain associated with not maintaining healthy boundaries in your relationships. (Sometimes pain is a great motivator.)

5. Write an entry in your journal answering the question “Who Am I?” Do this periodically.

6. Look for role models of healthy boundaries in your life or in the media. When confronting a boundary challenging situation ask yourself “What would my role model do?” Better yet, if your role model is a part of your life, ask them!

7. Build in time for yourself away from your relationship on a regular basis. This will include alone time, time with your close friends, time for spiritual growth, and time to attend to life’s little responsibilities.

8. If you have difficulty saying ‘No,” look for opportunities to practice. If you have difficulty saying “Yes” to any activity that involves interacting with others, look for opportunities to practice.

9. Seek counseling to examine the roots of your unhealthy boundaries.

– author unknown at this time –

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