The Real Cause of Boundary Issues
The ability to establish boundaries – as well as to respect others’ boundaries – is critical to your ability to form healthy relationships in all areas of your life. Yet most people struggle with boundary issues at some point in their lives.
Some people struggle to establish boundaries at work. They convince themselves that missing time with their families in order to complete rush assignments from the boss is a necessary sacrifice in today’s business world. Others find it virtually impossible to set boundaries with their parents. “After all, she is my mother and she doesn’t have anyone else,” they tell themselves.
Still others are most challenged with romantic relationships, figuring that uncomfortable compromise is required for marriages or long-term relationships to survive. And some unfortunate souls find it difficult to establish boundaries in any area of their lives, becoming the human equivalent of doormats on whom everyone else dumps their work and worries.
It is often easy to see when friends and family are allowing their boundaries to be violated, as well as what they need to do to protect their boundaries. But assessing and protecting your own boundaries can be much more difficult. That’s because the emotion that underlies all boundary issues — fear — clouds your ability to accurately gauge the situation.
The Root of All Boundary Issues
All boundary issues, regardless of type, are rooted in fear of some form. Fear of not being loved. Fear of losing someone or something. Fear of disapproval. Fear of not getting what you want. Fear of being “discovered” as a phony or whatever else you tell yourself. Fear of success. Fear of losing friends.
People who let their boundaries be violated or who refuse to establish boundaries at all often fear loss of approval or love. They are convinced that if they set a boundary — in essence, putting their own comfort and happiness above someone else’s — they will lose that person’s love, approval, and companionship. In some cases, they might fear losing even more, such as the employee who endures sexual harassment because she’s scared of losing her job.
People who violate boundaries often share the same fears. However, they have a much different way of coping with it. Rather than giving into someone else’s demands in order to win approval and acceptance, they take an aggressive role, throwing away their values and morals to get what they want. Boundary crashers demand satisfaction, much as infants and young children demand satisfaction with little or no care to what the people around them want or need.
The price for not maintaining healthy boundaries is steep, regardless of which side of the struggle you’re on. Boundary violators’ inability to function within social norms eventually costs them relationships, as the people around them grow tired of being treated with disrespect. People with weak or nonexistent boundaries eventually find themselves stressed out and drained, as they give more and more of themselves in the never-ending pursuit of love and acceptance.
Successfully addressing boundary issues involves a variety of steps. First, you must tap into enough love to be able to say “yes” to yourself. Setting boundaries is about self-care and self-respect.
Once you’ve chosen to make yourself a priority, it’s critical to identify and deal with the fear that fuels your boundary issue. Without this crucial work, learning the mechanics of setting boundaries, such as the language to use when enforcing a boundary, will be ineffective and produce temporary results.
Finally, identify and communicate your boundaries to others. Be aware that to do this successfully, you must be willing to redefine or even walk away from unhealthy relationships. Boundary crashers will try to find ways around your boundaries, using manipulative techniques such as lashing out in anger, trying to induce guilt, or attempting to make you doubt yourself and your new boundaries.
Many people who attempt to learn boundary-setting techniques on their own discover that frustration and confusion are common side effects. This is not surprising, as breaking these lifelong patterns involves learning to interact with the world in a completely new way.
Guidance and support from a third party can be extremely beneficial as you practice your new skills. Options include programs that teach boundary-setting skills, as well as workshops that allow you unearth and address the all-consuming fears that drive boundary issues. Some people, especially those who have suffered trauma or struggle with addiction, may find that help from mental health professionals is particularly beneficial.
Walking through fear takes great courage. But the reward of greater personal freedom and more satisfying relationships makes the exercise worth the price.