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Boundaries in Relationships keep us healthy

Setting boundaries in our life is essential if we want to be both physically and emotionally healthy.

Boundaries help us define what is reasonable, what is safe and how others can interact with us. They are our own personal guidelines that state what our response will be in light of someone else's behaviour should they step over that boundary.

Creating healthy boundaries can be empowering. By recognizing the need to set and enforce limits, you protect yourself, maintain self-respect, and enjoy healthy relationships.

Unhealthy boundaries can cause emotional pain that can lead to dependency, depression, anxiety, and even stress-induced physical illness such as chronic-fatigue, lowered immunity, digestive issues, chronic headaches and more.

Having a lack of boundaries can be compared to leaving the door to your home wide open: anyone, can enter, even burglars can come in and take whatever they want and give nothing in return. We have invited them in with our lack of boundaries and unwillingness to say "no".

On the other hand, having boundaries that are too rigid can lead to being and feeling isolated, lonely and cut off from the world like living in a concrete castle surrounded by a crocodile infested mote. No one can get close to you, and you can’t get close to anyone either.

Personal boundaries help you decide what types of communication, behaviour, and interaction are acceptable to you. In other words, we teach others how we are willing to be treated and what is acceptable by what we allow, disallow, and our responses to those interactions.

Some boundary violations are easy to pick up, take for example a "close talker" someone who invades your personal space when talking to you. When this happens we take a step back, showing them what our comfort zone looks like, but what happens when they keep moving in to this space? Do you keep moving and end up in a dance of duck and weave? Or do you confront them and ask them to give you some space? Perhaps you put a physical barrier between the two of you. How comfortable are you in maintaining your personal space boundaries? This may be impacted by your own history of having your boundaries violated and your ability to effectively defend those boundaries, or having your power taken away by someone stronger. *(if this is a trigger for you, consider booking in to see one of our professional counsellors today)

But what about our emotional or intellectual boundaries? These are less easy to define and defend. These boundaries protect your sense of self-esteem and ability to separate your feelings and sense of self from others’.

When we have weak emotional boundaries, it’s like getting caught in the midst of a hail storm with no protection. We can feel exposed and vulnerable as we become greatly affected by the words, thoughts, and actions of others and we end up feeling bruised, wounded, and battered.

Our beliefs, behaviors, choices, sense of responsibility, and your ability to be intimate with others are all examples of emotional boundaries.

When these boundaries are invaded we can feel enmeshed and entangled, not knowing how to separate your feelings from the other persons and allowing their mood to dictate your level of happiness or sadness (this is also known as codependency). We can end up sacrificing our own plans, dreams, and goals in order to please the other person. We can lose our sense of internal locus of control, not taking personal responsibility for ourselves and blaming others for our problems.

If boundaries are so vital to our own feelings of self worth and to our emotional and physical health, why then can it be so difficult to both establish and enforce our own healthy boundaries?

There can be several reasons, many stemming from our attachment styles in those early parental relationships (Attachment: Our biological need for social connection which protects us from danger by ensuring that one maintains proximity to caring and supportive others (Bowlby, 1969/1982). Attachment style: is the relatively stable individual differences of each person’s internal working model developed from how responsive and available they perceived their caregivers to be (Bowlby, 1969/1982, 1973, 1980). Attachment is either categorized as secure or insecure. Insecure adult attachment has two types anxious or avoidant.)

So why do we allow others to dictate how we feel, the decisions we make and the lives that we ultimately live by not setting healthy boundaries? Fear. Fear of rejection or abandonment or fear of confrontation (which may lead to rejection or abandonment or escalation, based on early models demonstrated to us).

Guilt. Which also has its basis in fear of rejection or abandonment.

Not being taught or allowed to establish healthy boundaries in childhood and into adolescence.

Safety concerns.

If you grew up in a dysfunctional family, you probably had very little help with boundary development. Let me help you.

1. When you identify the need to set a boundary, do it clearly, calmly, firmly and respectfully. You do not justify yourself, you don't need to get angry, and you certainly never need to apologize for the boundary you are setting.

2. You are not responsible for the other person’s reaction to the boundary you are setting. You are only responsible for communicating your boundary in a respectful manner. If it upsets them,understand that is their problem and not yours. You cannot control what others do or how they react, but you are entitled to set boundaries that are comfortable to you.

3. Some people, especially those accustomed to controlling, abusing, or manipulating you, will test your boundaries. Plan on it, expect it, but remain firm. Allow your behavior to match the boundaries you are setting.

4. At first, you may feel selfish, guilty, or embarrassed when you set a boundary. Do it anyway and remind yourself you have a right to set your own boundaries - this is a part of good self care.

5.Setting boundaries takes practice. And determination. Try not to let anxiety, fear or guilt prevent you from setting healthy boundaries and taking good care of you.

6. In relationships if you find yourself feeling angry, getting resentful or anxious, or wanting to avoid that person altogether, this is probably a clue that you need to set healthy boundaries, that your needs are not being met or you are feeling manipulated or controlled. Listen to yourself, determine what you need to do or say, then do it.

7. Learning to set healthy boundaries takes time. It is a process. It may not happen overnight or all at once, but step by step you can learn what healthy boundaries look like and begin the process of self-empowerment.

8. Develop a support system. Find people who understand and respect your right to set boundaries. Eliminate toxic people from your life, those who want to manipulate, abuse, and control you, and in those relationships where this cannot happen, establish strong boundaries so that you can be safe.

If you would like help in setting healthy boundaries in relationships, make a booking today to see one of our qualified professional counsellors.

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