In the previous article titled An Introduction To Boundaries and Why We Need Them, we looked at what boundaries are and why it is important to have healthy boundaries. Here, we will explore the key problems people encounter related to boundaries and look at some solutions that you can implement to have better boundaries.
Key problems people have regarding boundaries
First, it’s important to remember what the purpose of boundaries is: to protect yourself and not to violate others. And so the most significant common problems are related exactly to that.
The degree to which a person’s formative years were traumatizing and wanting, and to which they haven’t dealt with it, is the degree to which they will have problems with setting and respecting healthy boundaries.
If your relationship with your primary caregivers and others around you were dysfunctional and you never actually thought about these things, then that’s what you have learned is normal and healthy.
For example, if people maliciously made fun of you and by extension you learned to make fun of others, even if it didn’t feel good you will find excuses that this is okay. “It’s just a joke,” “They don’t really mean it,” “I shouldn’t be so sensitive,” “You’re a pussy,” and so on.
What makes things worse, most people grow up in highly dysfunctional environments and many don’t even recognize it. As a result, a lot of what would fall under unhealthy boundaries, or unhealthy behavior, or unhealthy social dynamics, is normalized and accepted as “healthy.”
Because of this normalization, many individuals don’t see it as dysfunctional but rather that the problem is them, “It must be me because everyone else finds it normal and totally acceptable.” Mostly people suffer in silence. Often because in many situations if you bring it up or challenge it, you can be attacked further, ostracized, discriminated, etc.
And so the two key problems regarding boundaries are the following:
1. Accepting unhealthiness from others
Examples: accepting abusive or otherwise toxic behavior, being a people-pleaser, difficulties saying no, being afraid to stand up for yourself, low self-esteem, being susceptible to others influence often changing your beliefs or opinions to match those around you, being overly affected by others’ emotions, trying to save everyone and solve other people’s problems, being overly concerned about what others think of you, self-erasing.
2. Acting unhealthy towards others
Examples: physical or sexual abuse, lying, misleading, bullying, manipulating, stealing, cheating, acting entitled, using or hurting others. Basically anything and everything that falls under the initiation of aggression.
What aggression against others is and isn’t
It’s important to note that reaction to aggression is not the same as initiation of aggression. Such concepts as defensive force or self-defense or self-care are not the same as aggression, even though they may include unpleasant consequences for the aggressing party.
People whose boundaries were often violated and who have problems standing up for themselves often confuse the two. It’s because they were programmed into thinking that they have to make others happy, and if they are not happy then it’s always your fault.
So when such a person tries to set healthier boundaries they feel, or are told, that they are violating, hurting, and using others. This is completely untrue! Again, stopping to give something to someone is not the same as taking something from someone. It doesn’t matter if “it was always like that,” or “but they’re my parents,” or “but (s)he loves me.” Don’t fall for that toxic mindset!
I talk more about it in this video.
What you can do to develop healthier boundaries
Similar to many other psychological concepts, like self-esteem, you learn about it on different levels. So, how can you learn to have more satisfying relationships, healthier social interactions, and feel better in relation to others?
This includes learning the theory. Find a few books or articles on boundaries, watch some videos or lectures about it, attend a good seminar on it, and so on. All of this will provide a solid theoretical understanding of boundaries.
Even though learning the theory helps a lot, it’s never enough to solve the problem.
Practicing boundaries is easier if you already have at least a basic understanding of it. Here, you practice setting healthier boundaries for yourself and being more respectful of others.
The ‘conscious’ part is important! It means that you’re trying to be aware of what’s going on in your social interactions. It often helps to reflect on them, write about it in your journal, and learn from it.
Exploring your personal history
This is arguably one of the most important things you can do to improve all areas of your life. Here, you explore your childhood, your relationship with your primary caregivers, other significant relationships, environments, and experiences.
The goal here is to understand yourself better, to understand why you are who you are and why you have the problems that you have.
Exploring your history can involve working on yourself by yourself (self-work, self-therapy), or with a professional (therapy, coaching, consulting, counselling, psychoanalysis).
Improvement takes time
People are often quick to jump to solutions. I sometimes get messages from followers or responses from clients saying something like, “All this information you’re providing is great, but how do I fix it?” This is after reading one article or in the first conversation and in a very impatient manner. Meaning, “Yeah, yeah, whatever, I just want all of this to be fixed right now.”
People want quick solutions and that’s understandable, but sometimes it’s not very realistic. Resolving deep psychoemotional problems requires patience, dedication, hard work, repetition, and time. The same applies to developing healthier boundaries.
Really comprehending it takes time and a lot of practice. Just understanding what lead you to having these problems can take months or years. Often you need to read the same material multiple times. You need to talk about it with your therapist numerous times. You need to think about the same problem many times. You need to encounter the same situation multiple times. You need to practice the same thing numerous times.
In the words of Laura Davis:
“The healing process is best described as a spiral. Survivors go through the stages once, sometimes many times; sometimes in one order, sometimes in another. Each time they hit a stage again, they move up the spiral: they can integrate new information and a broader range of feelings, utilize more resources, take better care of themselves, and make deeper changes.”
So stay patient, work hard, seek help if necessary—and keep growing!
For more on these and other topics, check out the author’s books: Human Development and Trauma: How Childhood Shapes Us into Who We Are as Adults and Self-Work Starter Kit.