Boundaries are crucial for healthy, intimate relationships.
Boundaries make us feel safe. Whenever you feel anxious, it may be because your boundaries have been thinned out. They help us define whose issue, upset, or opinion belongs to whom. Boundaries set limits on how much others control us. Without boundaries, life feels unsafe and threatening. Many who experienced abuse (verbal, physical, emotional, or sexual) have had their boundaries systematically assaulted and dismantled, leaving them vulnerable to day-to-day stressors as well as to the aggressions (boundary incursions) of others.
The most profound paradox I know: The only way to be genuinely close to another person is to have boundaries.
Boundaries as Rights
You have inherent rights, which define your boundaries, such as a right to:
- Feel safe and free of intimidation.
- Choose, un-choose, and re-choose.
- Determine how you want your body handled.
- Say “no” to the needs and requests of others and to say “yes” to your own needs.
- Have your own opinion considered as valid.
- Define for yourself who you are. Others have the right to comment on what you do, but only YOU have the right to define who you are. (That is why name calling is always wrong).
- Make mistakes, genuinely apologize once, and do your best to make amends. You have the right to not have to apologize over and over.
- Decide if you want to be responsible for someone else’s upset.
- And many more…
When we are not confident of our boundaries or rights, we may rely on buffers to make us safe. However, buffers do NOT make us feel safe. There are four common buffers people use in an attempt to feel safe:
- Change Another Person
- Accommodate The Needs of Others
- Stay Angry At Someone
- Withdraw From Someone
Let’s examine each of these non-effective buffers.
- Trying to change another person is, of course, not possible. It is amazing how often, however, people try. By trying to change another person, our safety is dependent upon our ability to persuade another person to give up behaviors that effectively control others. It may not be in their interest to change! For example, Mrs. G. thought she could tread lightly enough to prevent her husband from being so angry. Her safety depended upon his moods. Where is her power? It is important to define your power within your sphere of control, such as setting boundaries, instead of trying to change another person. Often this requires learning new, assertive responses and behaviors.
- Accommodating the needs of others, to a certain degree, is part of the balanced give and take in relationships. When things are not balanced, one person is excessively allowing needs met at their expense. This is the essence of Battered Women’s Syndrome. The more and more we accommodate another person’s anxieties, jealousies, and excessive dependence, the deeper we dig ourselves into a hole. We really do train others how to treat us.
- Anger. Anger is how we distance ourselves from being hurt. The problem is, it takes a LOT of energy to sustain “a good mad on.” Staying angry is not easy and does not keep us safe in the long run. If we dare let down our anger, we risk being hurt again.
- Withdraw: When tension becomes too intense, people often engage in emotional cutoff, cutting off contact entirely until the tension subsides. The problem with withdraw or emotional cutoff is, it only temporarily makes us feel safe. Birthdays, holidays, funerals, & other events risk throwing us back into contact with others who make us anxious.
Learning to Carry Our Boundaries With Us
Learning to set boundaries is acquiring the ability to define our rights and safety when others try to control us in harmful ways. We learn to define our safety within our sphere of control rather than upon the good will of others. In order for intimacy to flourish, we must feel safe. Fear and anxiety destroys desire to be close. If you need to repair, or learn, boundaries in your relationships, it can be done!
© 2015 Dr. Daniel L. Baney