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All About Personal Boundaries: 9 FAQs, 5 Signs, and a Special Technique


Even though the concept of personal boundaries is an incredibly useful one, it’s also rather complicated to understand exactly what “personal boundaries” are. In fact, it’s one of the most common questions I get asked by my readers or at workshops and presentations.

So, for every person who finds the concept useful, there are many more folks who are too confused about boundaries to benefit from them.

So let’s start with some Boundary FAQS!

Frequently Asked Questions About Boundaries

What is a personal boundary?

It’s an imaginary line that encircles you. It is a protective barrier which filters or blocks negativity or hurt from reaching and harming you. Picture yourself standing on the star in the center of the green area below.

How many boundaries do I need?

You need exactly two. They are the two black circles that surround the green area below. Your inner circle filters what you put out to others and prevents you from emotionally harming others. The second boundary is the outer one. It filters and blocks the potential harms that other people fire at you.

How are boundaries helpful?

They make you less vulnerable to other people’s feelings, impulses, bad tempers or harmful acts. They give you confidence that you are strong and safe, and that you will be okay. They also prevent you from striking out at other people unnecessarily when you are angry or hurt.

What are the characteristics of a healthy boundary?

A healthy boundary is not static. It is changeable and adaptable to any situation. It can be firm in some situations, impenetrable in others, and soft and porous as needed. A healthy boundary is under your control.

How can boundaries go wrong?

They may be either too weak or overly rigid. Overly weak boundaries do not filter out enough, leaving you too vulnerable. Overly rigid boundaries filter out too much that’s coming in and too much that’s going out, isolating you.

Inner Boundary Weak

Inner Boundary Rigid

Outer Boundary Weak

Outer Boundary Rigid

When you’re upset, you are prone to say things you later regret

You are prone to holding back

You are easily hurt by things other people do and say

You prioritize self-protection over connection

You may behave impulsively when angry or hurt

You try to push down your hurt feelings

You immediately take criticism to heart

You minimize your vulnerability in all situations

Your relationships may be harmed by your occasional harshness

You don’t adequately protect yourself

You avoid situations that make you feel even more vulnerable

You hide your feelings from others and, probably, from yourself

You don’t feel in control of your feelings or reactions

Harmful people may identify you as easy to mistreat or take advantage of

You lack confidence in yourself

Deep down you feel alone and disconnected

What are some signs that my boundaries aren’t protecting me?

  1. Your feelings are hurt too often or too easily, sometimes by people who do not know you.
  2. You hold back from standing up for yourself because you’re afraid you might hurt someone.
  3. You have had multiple toxic people in your life.
  4. You find it much easier to give than to receive.
  5. In friendships and relationships, you find it hard to talk about yourself.

Why don’t I have good boundaries?

Emotion skills are the building blocks that boundaries are made of. When you grow up in a family that has good emotion skills, you learn how to accept, understand, and manage your own feelings and other people’s feelings too. This gives you the skills you need to manage your feelings and formulate words to express them in a way that others can take in. These remarkable skills allow your boundaries to work and become responsive and under your control.

Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. If your family ignored your feelings or treated your feelings as inconvenient or burdensome (Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN), you likely walled off your emotions. So you not only didn’t get to learn the emotion skills that your boundaries should be built upon in your childhood; your walled-off feelings make it hard to naturally learn them through the course of your adult life.

How can I improve my boundaries now?

Great question and I’m glad you asked it 🙂 You can start by making a conscious effort to notice and accept and value your feelings, regarding them as the enriching resource that they are. Once you start doing this, you have stepped onto the path of healing your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

Along the path, you will begin to encounter more and more of your blocked-off feelings. You will find yourself experiencing subtle feelings that were lost on you before. Feelings that will warn you, direct you, motivate you, or enliven you. Learning to understand and manage those feelings will follow, and these feeling skills will become your protection and empowerment: your boundaries.

Is there an exercise or technique to help build my boundaries?

Visualizing your healthy boundaries will help you build them. I do this visualization technique with many of my clients. Let’s do it now.

First, close your eyes.

Now visualize yourself in the center of the green circle with two boundaries surrounding you.

Decide what you’d like your boundaries to be made of. It can be anything you like.

Here are some examples of what some of my clients have chosen:

Plastic

Plexiglass

Glass

Picket fence

Moat

Bricks

Music notes

Rocks

Concrete

Flowers

Wood

Fabric

Leather

Ocean waves

Chain-link

Wire

Steel

Cotton

Visualize your inner and outer boundaries in detail. How high is each boundary? How thick?

Make sure they feel friendly and helpful as you picture them.

Imagine making each one very, very strong, and impenetrable.

Now imagine making them flexible.

Now open each boundary up, and then close it back again.

Once you have a clear picture of yourself, comfortable, inside your boundaries, and also in control of them, you have a good beginning.

Now go on to honor those feelings that you so need and that will help you.

Visualize your boundaries as often as you can. When harm comes your way, you will know that they are there to help you.

Powered by your feelings and standing strong on your emotion skills, you will go about your life knowing that you are more protected, connected, and safe.

To learn much more about Childhood Emotional Neglect, plus how to heal it, and use your emotions to build boundaries, you will find plentiful resources below in the author’s Bio.

All About Personal Boundaries: 9 FAQs, 5 Signs, and a Special Technique


Jonice Webb PhD

Jonice Webb, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist who is recognized worldwide for her groundbreaking work in defining, describing, and calling attention to Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). She writes, speaks, and trains therapists on the topic, and is the bestselling author of two books, Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect and Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships. She also created and runs the Fuel Up For Life Online CEN Recovery Program. Since CEN can be difficult to see and remember, Dr. Webb created the CEN Questionnaire and other free resources to help you figure out if you have it. Take the CEN Questionnaire and learn much more about CEN, how it happens, and how to heal it at her website EmotionalNeglect.com.


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APA Reference
Webb PhD, J. (2020). All About Personal Boundaries: 9 FAQs, 5 Signs, and a Special Technique. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 22, 2020, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/childhood-neglect/2020/08/all-about-personal-boundaries-9-faqs-5-signs-and-a-special-technique/

 

Last updated: 2 Aug 2020
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network (blogs.psychcentral.com) prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.