Boundaries Not Walls
What exactly does the phrase “develop good boundaries,” a phrase often used in therapy, really mean? It doesn’t mean building thick walls for protection.
Walls can be impenetrable and only serve to isolate.
Boundaries define who we are and who we are not.
The purpose of setting healthy boundaries is to develop a good sense of self along with a strong sense of safety and security, emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. Learning to respect and to love ourselves allows us to become close to others and to develop relationships without the threat of losing oneself, smothering another, invading another’s privacy or personal space, or being invaded or taken advantage of by another.
Melody Beattie in Beyond Codependency states that “setting boundaries is about learning to take care of ourselves, no matter what happens, where we go, or who we’re with.”
When the boundaries listed above have been developed, a healthy sense of self emerges.
How do we learn to set appropriate boundaries in our lives and relationships?
Family therapists help clients to claim their own voice, to speak up for themselves. It is important to tell others when they are speaking or acting in ways that are not acceptable or make one uncomfortable. It is a right and responsibility to protect and defend oneself and to insist on respect.
Likewise, it is important to learn to recognize and acknowledge personal feelings and emotions and to express them in an appropriate manner. This is often done verbally by using “I” statements. For example, “I feel hurt by that remark” or “I feel angry that you ignored me in that way.”
Family influence plays a strong role in healthy emotional development. Children learn to respect themselves and others by witnessing the way family members treat each other.
Experiencing physical, sexual, emotional, or verbal abuse at a young age sets the stage for unhealthy adult relationships.
Boundaries define who we are
In such families, there is no model for healthy boundary setting, in contrast to the experience of children raised in a warm, nurturing family where individual needs are respected and met. As adults we choose whether to allow our family experience to influence us by first recognizing whether it was positive or negative, healthy or unhealthy, and then deciding what role it will play in our life.
Unhealthy boundaries include
Boundaries become walls when limits are set out of anxiety, fear, or embarrassment.
Avoiding talking about something may let others unintentionally violate the boundary, and anger or resentment may then result, creating distance.
These walls or barricades may occur in every kind of relationship including family, friendships, and work.
How to set healthy boundaries
When safety is an issue, boundaries must be very clear and steps taken to ensure they are not violated.
IFL therapists seek to help clients develop and maintain good personal and relational boundaries as essential to a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
by Lindsay Watson,
For Further Reading:
Cloud, Henry and Townsend, John. Boundaries: When to Say Yes When to Say No, To Take Control of Your Life. Zondervan Corp. Publishers, 2001.
Beattie, Melody. Beyond Codependency: And Getting Better All the Time. Hazelden Publishers, 1989.
Linden, Anne. Boundaries in Human Relationships: How to be Separate and Connected. Crown House Publishing, 2008.