Happy Families Have Healthy Boundaries: Part 1
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Are you frustrated because you have to tell your child to do something ten times before she listens? Are you exhausted because you are doing more than your fair share of the housework? How often do you say things out loud or to yourself like: “He makes me feel stupid,” or “I’m depressed because she is always criticizing me,” or “No one really cares about what I need!”
If you believe that your self-esteem or happiness (or lack thereof) are caused by how your family members, friends or co-workers treat you, then you are falling into the role of “the victim” – whether you like to think of yourself that way or not.
Feeling victimized is a red flag warning. Something needs to change, and the sooner the better. What often is helpful when trying to break free of victim-like thinking is to examine where you need to set clearer boundaries.
Boundaries are essential for defining who you are as a distinct individual separate from all others. They include your desires, responsibilities, beliefs, ideas and limits. Boundaries in relationships define where you end and another person begins, acting like an invisible barrier to safeguard your feelings, thoughts and physical body. Healthy boundaries are the means by which we take care of ourselves and are responsible for our actions and feelings.
Happier, more loving families are able to set boundaries that are neither too rigid nor too flimsy. When our boundaries are too rigid, we tend to close ourselves off from our own or others’ feelings, creating an impenetrable wall of “I don’t care what you feel.” This stance does not allow for enough closeness. When boundaries are too soft, we worry so much about what the other person feels that we fail to stand up for what we think, want and feel. Without boundaries, we run the risk of losing ourselves, becoming enmeshed with our children, our parents, or our partner.
One of my favorite examples of enmeshment was a single parent mom I worked with who told me that whenever her son’s braces were tightened, her teeth hurt. Feedback from countless parents after reading “10 Keys to a Happy Loving Family” indicates that a majority feel they need more coaching on how to set clear boundaries when parenting.
People with nonexistent or enmeshed boundaries carry unnecessary burdens. Since they feel responsible for keeping everyone happy, they get worn out by what is obviously an unending, impossible job. They often blame themselves for the negative emotions of others, and feel depressed and unworthy. Or equally likely, they build up a stockpile of resentments and blame others for everything that goes wrong or for the fact that no one else seems to care quite as much as they do.
If anyone in your life is “making you” feel inferior, think about where you may need to create a better boundary. Boundaries can be built in several different ways, such as by communicating (“please don’t speak to me that way”), by choosing to spend less time with someone who disrespects your wishes, by spending your time together differently (such as by having certain topics you won’t discuss), or simply by creating an internal boundary where you silently remind yourself that you don’t have to believe everything you hear about yourself.
More to follow on specific tips and tools for setting clearer, more effective boundaries…
Happy family photo by Steve Polyak available under a Creative Commons attribution license.
Manchester MacMannis, D. (2012). Happy Families Have Healthy Boundaries: Part 1. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 4, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/parenting-tips/2012/07/happy-families-have-healthy-boundaries-part-1/