How do you protect yourself in this world? How do you ensure that the things you care for are protected on a daily basis? One way we protect ourself is by having strict boundaries. Boundaries are extremely important for human beings to maintain. Without boundaries, you are likely to be taken advantage of, manipulated, abused, or “blinded” by the shallow, self-centered people we encounter in our daily lives. As a child, I was often reminded by my parents to maintain appropriate boundaries at all times. I quickly learned that boundaries were a great shield of protection in a world that rarely respects or employs appropriate boundaries. For many of us, we learn in high school and as adults how very important boundaries are to our survival. Sadly, individuals who have traumatic histories or poor emotional attachment often become victims to people who violate boundaries because of their own emotional neediness. Sometimes it is very difficult for these individuals to identify when they need to apply strict boundaries. This article will continue our discussion on poor emotional attachment which often results in poor boundaries. We will also look at 7 major signals that our boundaries need to be adjusted.
The term emotional intelligence (EI) has become ubiquitous in psychology literature. It’s deemed one of the most important aspects of human social connection. Without E.I. it would be almost impossible to survive in relationships or develop appropriate boundaries. Some people have what I like to call “learned boundaries” which are boundaries that a person has developed over time because of someone else they have observed in their life. For example, children often learn appropriate or inappropriate boundaries from their parents, teachers, and other adults in their lives. However, some people, often because of negative early childhood experiences, lack the ability to apply appropriate boundaries at necessary times and, as a result, is often taken advantage of. For those of us who have what I like to call “inborn boundaries” which are boundaries that we are born with, life is a bit more easier to navigate. Healthy boundaries often result from healthy attachment in early life. Sadly, individuals with poor attachment lack emotional intelligence (the ability to manage your emotions and sometimes others emotions) which tends to result in being harmed in the long-term and may even lead to co-dependency in some relationships.
Individuals who lack appropriate boundaries often struggle with telling others how they feel (for fear of rejection or ridicule), struggle with feeling burdened by how others perceive them (due to a desire to people-please), strive to make everyone happy with their performance (at work, in school, at home, etc.), and tend to stay in negative relationships (for fear of not finding someone else to love). It’s very easy to identify when we have either little to no boundaries in our relationships because we begin to feel trapped, overwhelmed, or manipulated. I often tell clients the moment they feel trapped or manipulated in a relationship is often the very moment in which they are lacking appropriate boundaries. This is the moment when we need to re-assess where we stand in relation to another person.
Dr. Whitebourne, a writer for Psychologytoday.com, says that “successful intelligence…involves having “emotional intelligence” which is being to read people’s feelings- and your own. With high EI, you can succeed in many areas of your life. Your close relationships can benefit from knowing how to read people’s feelings, regulate your own emotions (especially anger), and understand what you’re feeling, and why.” This is especially important for individuals with trauma histories and poor emotional attachment. Research suggests that a history of abuse (emotional, psychological, physical, sexual), domestic violence, trauma, poor attachment, and parent-child conflict, can affect the development of appropriate boundaries.
It is important to be able to identify when your boundaries need to be adjusted in your relationships (personal and professional). That’s why I developed, with the help of my learning experience, clients, and readers, a list of signs that you may need to employ stricter boundaries:
- You are an open book: One really big red flag to look out for is someone who is very open with their life. It is a fact that some people are simply unable to navigate the social arena appropriately and may not know how much information to share. Individuals who have poor emotional intelligence and attachment problems often share way too much information, way too soon or fails to share enough information for others to understand them. The foundation of this could be fear. I have worked with adolescents who are very open and tend to share almost every detail of their life for fear of being characterized as “shy” or “distant.” Sharing everything is not necessary to connect with others or have healthy relationships. But individuals who struggle with interpersonal relationships do not recognize this. Re-invent the wheel. Start over and re-adjust your boundaries where you need to.
- You feel someone is walking all over you: Sometimes we have our guard completely down just because we are either tired in general (and off guard) or simply tired of being guarded all the time with others. Whatever the case, some emotionally unintelligent people will take this as a sign of weakness and attempt to manipulate you, harm you, or take from you in some way. I’m sure you have heard people say “don’t take my kindness as weakness.” Sometimes you just need to distance yourself from people who just don’t get you and cannot appreciate your kindness. You owe them nothing, don’t stick around and be manipulated.
- You feel you have lost your voice: This is somewhat similar to #2 but the only difference here is that you have lost so much of your identity or independence in the relationship that you have no ability to stand up for yourself, re-assert yourself in a powerful way, or change things. It might be helpful to find a way to highlight your stronger attributes. For example, if you are good at designing things, find ways to highlight your talents and strengths. If you are really knowledgeable about politics, highlight your strengths here. Show that you have great attributes and you want others to respect them. Find a way to increase your level of confidence and things will fall into place.
- No one listens to you: Everyone runs all over you literally and figuratively. You just feel invisible. Some people exhibit a certain level of self-esteem that sets the stage for others to feel they have the right to run over them. This, again, is not your fault. It is the fault of the emotionally unintelligent person who lacks social skills and understanding. In therapy I have engaged my clients in brainstorming ways to re-assert themselves in their social arena and one thing that has seemed to help is the ability to re-align boundaries. By this I mean figure out where your boundaries may be too fluid or weak and try to strengthen them. For example, if you have a work partner who talks all over you in conversation, you may find it useful to stop them and say “I was talking, could I please finish what I was saying?” Or you can simply stop talking which will send them the signal that you are not pleased with how the conversation is going. Sometimes we have to show our firmer side to gain respect.
- You are suffering from depressed mood or anxiety: When a person feels his or her social interactions are off balance, everything else in life is too. As stated in previous articles, we are interconnected as humans and when our relationships are suffering, we do too. If you are feeling depressed or anxious because of previous attachment difficulties, poor emotional intelligence, or other social challenges, it’s okay to seek a therapist who can help you explore why your interactions with others affect you so much and how to change things. Sometimes we simply cannot navigate our worlds on our own.
- People use you or you feel used: Some people will use you no matter what and never feel guilty. Someone with attachment challenges or poor emotional intelligence will become the victim of someone like this. Manipulators seek people to use for their benefit in some way. They have learned how to flatter you, give you what you want with the goal of taking it back later, or placate you. The moment you feel you have been used, you probably have. Don’t ignore that red flag feeling and seek to be wiser next time.
- You just feel awful: Sometimes we can feel bad about ourselves because something in our communication with others isn’t right. I previously experienced this briefly as an adolescent who was often envied and bullied by other females. I realized by the time I reached early adulthood that my level of confidence and self-esteem were affected by my fear of insulting, harming, or making someone else feel a certain way. My identity was somewhat built on how other’s would interact with me. I realized with more life experience that it wasn’t them who needed to change (because they are who they are) but it was me. Sometimes feeling really bad about how your life is going at the moment, is just the right amount of discomfort to push you forward in a better way.
If you know someone like this, it’s important to keep in mind that emotionally unintelligent people and individuals with attachment issues are not out to get you. They simply cannot navigate their relationships appropriately because of their early life experiences.
In some cases, they are more of a victim than you think. Can you think of a few things that might cause you to consider re-adjusting your personal boundaries? For many of us, romantic relationships, marriage, or having children encourages us to re-adjust our boundaries. In cases such as these we are “forced” to change how we approach life and have allowed others to approach us.
As always, I wish you well