Day 4. The Types of Boundary
Boundaries fall into four main categories:
Healthy emotional boundaries mean knowing what’s yours and what belongs to others — you take responsibility for your own feelings and can empathise without over-feeling and taking ownership of other people’s feelings and behaviour. You have a sense of how and what you feel and in doing so, you have a line that’s emblematic of your emotional rights and responsibilities. As a result, you’re able to distinguish between someone dumping on you with blame and your true responsibilities. In a relationship, you’re able to retain your sense of self and get close to another.
If while growing up, you weren’t allowed to have feelings, or you were interrogated and even challenged about them, or you focused only on the feelings of others due to caretaking, you will struggle to discern the differences between yours and someone else’s. It often results in a delayed reaction, with discomfort only being recognised hours or days after, if at all. There will also be a tendency to be a blame absorber and to engage in shaming you plus, when you are aware of other people’s feelings or problems (or you guess them), you will make you responsible.
At times you’ll feel caught between a rock and a hard place – scared of being in your own skin, of dealing with your feelings or of being alone, but also scared of getting close to people due to not knowing where you end and they begin, but also due to your fear of vulnerability.
Healthy mental boundaries mean knowing which opinions and beliefs are yours and owning these even when challenged. You do so from a place of respect instead of feeling under threat and attacking you, going on the defence, or abandoning your opinions and beliefs to be ‘compliant’. You don’t suppress your needs, expectations, desires, feelings and opinions, and you don’t make people into authorities over what’s in your head.
Mental boundaries may be a challenge for you if you’ve learned to second-guess what you think and feel, making decision-making, expressing opinions, criticism, sharing ideas, and even respecting those of others difficult. The confusion that’s prompted by the emotional charge of old memories and feelings can trigger overwhelm and cause you to procrastinate, people-please, assume you’re being judged and “wrong”, or to lash out.
Healthy physical boundaries mean knowing and owning your space. It’s respecting and taking care of your body and filtering who does and doesn’t enter into your space or how close they get to you. In retaining your sense of self, you own your right to dignity and privacy. You have control over your body, you don’t physically impose yourself upon others, and you pick up cues of their discomfort and step back, and do the same for you.
If you experienced abuse or neglect of any kind during childhood, you are likely to have struggled at some point with speaking up when people are violating you in some way either for fear of repercussions or fear of looking “rude”. You will seek to please and win them over at any cost. This can spill into all sorts of areas including grinning and bearing it when a stranger or acquaintance keeps hugging or touching you or feeling duty-bound to ‘put out’ in a sexual situation even if it is not what you want. Or you might allow you to be swept up when someone is trying to Fast-Forward in the early stages of a relationship. You may not feel as if you have the right to voice discomfort or to say stop. You may find it tricky to discern your own physical boundaries when someone else’s differs from yours.
Healthy’ stuff of life’ boundaries means knowing the appropriate limits of giving and taking. You know your line with giving (as opposed to giving to receive and over-giving), and you’re discerning about where you extend favours and what you loan and borrow. You respect the belongings of others, you pay people back and return, and you don’t have a sense of entitlement about other people’s stuff and money. You own your right to your money, respecting it and exercising discretion about giving, loaning or spending it. You also own your right to your possessions and choose how and who you want to share these with.
If family members or caregivers took money or possessions without asking or refused to give or pay back, it results in confusing associations. Maybe you were always guilted into ‘sharing’ or giving stuff away, or your diary was read, or you were guilted if you objected to how people treated your money or material stuff. Maybe you heard, “Money is the root of all evil” or how people get jealous of or hate you when you have stuff or do well, so now in adulthood, you push away owning stuff or doing well. You might be financially reckless or feel obliged to loan and give money to the people in your life, even if it comes at the cost of your own financial stability or you’re being used and abused.
- Each type of boundary functions when you own your own and let others own theirs. This means knowing where you end and others begin and being able to take responsibility, care for and protect you.
- There are very specific reasons why you may struggle with boundaries in general or one particular type of boundary. It’s not because you’re a faulty person.
- Even if it was not the intention of key figures from your childhood, certain things that were said and done set the tone, on both a conscious and unconscious level, for thinking about and doing things in the way that you have been doing.
- Associations play a key role in why you respond to certain issues in the way that you do. When you increase your awareness about the experiences and memories that you still carry an emotional charge about, you have an opportunity to change the meaning and change the feeling. You feel less overpowered in the present because you’re not past oriented.
- Everyone has boundary issues to various degrees. It’s how we all figure out what does and doesn’t work for us. It’s how we all grow and evolve.
- If you change the meaning of your past experiences, you gain positive lessons and grow out of these experiences, which means you will not keep experiencing that Groundhog Day feeling. Life keeps serving us up lessons until we pay attention and take them on board. When you change the way that you deal with certain boundaries, you will no longer be open to certain types of experience because that person won’t have that same opportunity, and you will no longer feel the need to try to right the wrongs of the past or to try and convince this person to change or make you feel better.
JOURNALING: Take each type of boundary and for each one, write a paragraph summarising the experiences and messages that you were taught or observed that have contributed to your relationship with boundaries. Start with, “When I was growing up….”.
TASK: If you are feeling overwhelmed by emotions, try to get grounded by writing an Unsent Letter or using the Releasing Exercise in the resources section . Try to observe the feelings and thoughts rather than chasing after and feeding them with negativity.