Marta Adelsman Column: Healthy Boundaries
The boundaries we set in our personal relationships determine the health of those relationships. Many of us have developed either too much rigidity in our boundaries with others, or too much flexibility. See if you identify yourself in the descriptions below of rigid and collapsed personal boundaries.
Too much rigidity results when you fear that others will hurt you or take advantage of you. So you set up barriers that prevent you from experiencing real intimacy. For example, out of distrust or fear of abandonment, you may stay so busy that you avoid interaction with people. You may back out of activities or conversations that require self-revelation or close interaction with others.
If you build walls between yourself and others, you probably feel threatened if the emotions and situations around you get “out of hand.” My father used to try to stench the tide of my emotions by exercising a lot of control over how I expressed myself. “Stop crying, or I’ll give you something to cry about!” I’m guessing that my father’s attempts to impose his will on me stemmed from an inability to accept and own his feelings.
The walls you build stop your feelings from rising to the surface of your awareness. These barriers also prevent the feelings of others from touching you. You set up your environment, your routines, and your relationships so that everything is predictable and known. Loneliness often results from the isolation that such walls create.
On the other hand, if your boundaries are too flexible – too porous -- you may find yourself saying yes to everyone who makes a request of you. You fear that they will think ill of you, reject you, or abandon you if you don’t.
Perhaps you go out of your way to avoid conflict. In your desire to please other people, you make yourself a doormat. You allow them to bully you and treat you disrespectfully, feeling that you deserve it.
Unclear boundaries may also indicate a lack of knowledge about what you feel or need or want. I have a friend who has paid so much attention to doing for others that she has very little idea what she wants or needs. She has a hard time identifying and verbalizing those wants and needs.
I know a mom in Chicago who, after her son (in his middle 20’s) lost his job, made phone calls and attempted to line up work for him. Her action very likely robbed her son of his self-esteem by causing him to miss out on the growth that results from solving his own problem.
Your boundaries are too yielding if you have a hard time seeing the flaws and weaknesses in others. If you set them up as celebrities and yourself as their fan, you deny yourself the respect that you deserve. You, too, are the celebrity.
Today I’ve supported you to recognize unhealthy boundaries in yourself. In my next column, I’ll share my perspectives on how to maintain healthy boundaries.
In the meantime, observe yourself to determine where you set up too-rigid or too-flexible boundaries. Only after you recognize how you do so can you take steps to create personal boundaries that serve you and others.
Dr. Marta practices as a Professional Mentor (Life Coach in Communication and Consciousness. To contact her, write firstname.lastname@example.org or call 928-451-9482.