Clear boundaries lead to healthy relationships and greater emotional well-being. Clear boundaries allow the relationships that are important in your life to grow and flourish while allowing those that would be better to let go of, graciously leave.
Here are some examples of what clear and healthy boundaries look like in a relationship:
- Each feels like they are their own person
- Each feels responsible for their own happiness
- Togetherness and separateness are balanced
- Friendships exist outside of your primary relationship
- Each focuses on the best qualities of each other
- A strong commitment exists in the relationship
- You have open, honest, and proactive instead of reactive communication
- Each respects the differences in the other
- Each asks honestly for what is authentically needed
There are 3 causes that might have led you to having unhealthy boundaries:
First is your family background. You might have grown up with unhealthy boundaries within the family. For instance, you might have grown up where the boundaries were too rigid or strict. The focus was on correcting misbehavior while disregarding the feelings that were underlying or causing the behavior. The focus was on having a compliant and obedient child instead of raising a healthy adult.
Or there may have not been enough boundaries. Of the two, this is the one I see most with the people that I work with, there isn’t enough discipline or structure in the household, or it is inconsistent. Structure for children creates a sense of stability and security, so when that isn’t in place, the child doesn’t learn about consequences until later in life when they can be much more painful. In some cases, the child might even feel like the parent doesn’t care.
Second is having ego-identity. As a child you had to develop an identity that was acceptable to those around you. The ego quickly formed at a young age to create the person you thought you were supposed to be as a survival strategy. As you grow older, you can end up feeling ashamed of the person you believe yourself to be, weakening your sense of self. The ego becomes like a facade that you must uphold at any cost, adjusting it according to what you think the expectations are of those around you. Without your own understanding of self, it is difficult to maintain an intimate relationship that is deep and lasting. Intimacy, or seeing someone for who they really are, becomes challenging because your ego is trying to protect you from being seen. You need a healthy sense of self in order to clearly communicate your needs and desires to your partner. By appreciating and loving your own positive qualities, and accepting and/or shifting your negative qualities, you can do the same for another.
And the third cause is to not address your feelings. There are three crucial mistakes that either your parents have made with you growing up, or you have made as a parent:
The first one is dismissing the child’s emotions. This can happen when the parent considers emotions as unimportant, so they can end up ignoring, or worse yet trivializing how the child feels. The child can grow up disconnected from their feelings, numbing themselves out, and emotionally unavailable in their relationships. They can also end up not trusting their own feelings or experiences which leads to self-doubt and lack of discernment.
The second is disapproving of the child’s emotions. If a parent points at a child in anger with the words, “Don’t you dare get angry with me!” The child learns to suppress their emotions, but also receives a very conflicting message that it’s okay for the parent to be angry but not them. It’s as though they don’t have the right to feel that way, that they are wrong to feel that way and end up feeling that something is wrong with them. Instead you are taught how you “should” feel and made to feel wrong for how you actually “do” feel.
The third is to acknowledge the child’s emotion, but not offer any guidance. They might offer up a distraction, like going to get an ice cream cone if the child is feeling sad. This only teaches the child to cope with their emotions with food, and we all know where that leads to as adults.
Over time these causes create tension in your relationships and stress in your life. You teach people how to treat you. Healthy relationships are mutually respectful and honoring of the boundaries you set. By addressing your feelings and expressing yourself openly and honestly, you are on your way to creating healthier boundaries and more fulfilling relationships.