Healthy relationships are based on physical and emotional boundaries. Knowing when and how to set boundaries with others is a skill that must be learned. Unfortunately, some of us are never taught this valuable skill.
When we know and understand what our limits are, we can be rest assured that we’re establishing healthy boundaries. However, some people are scared of setting boundaries for fear of hurting other people’s feeling or because they’ve experienced some negative reactions, like getting yelled at, getting in trouble or being “black listed” as a “trouble maker.”
Although establishing boundaries can sometimes be a hard thing to know how to do, it’s also not fair for anyone to feel helpless or scared or “walked on,” being taken advantage of or having their privacy invaded. You deserve to feel great in relation to others. Learning how to stand up for ourselves and let those intruding in our lives, especially those pesky family members, know that we need space and that we have boundaries, will help your comfort levels in the end.
Signs That You’re in an Unhealthy Relationship
Knowing when to set boundaries with others and yourself can be hard to tell on your own. Often, it’s not a self-witnessing event. It can look more like others telling you that they need their space or you are bonding too quickly.
However, there are signs that can reveal how unhealthy the relationship you’re in truly is. They can be hard to recognize but in doing so, you’re acknowledging your own emotional issues. This can be scary for many people but it means that you can start to change not only your unhealthy relationship with the other person, but also with yourself. This will bring attention towards building a healthier relationship with the other person.
Here are five signs that suggest your relationship (and perhaps yourself) need some attention:
- Happiness or contentment, as well as self-esteem, are based solely off the relationship.
- Other relationships are neglected because of the compulsion to be in that relationship.
- There is an extreme need, fear or anxiety to want to fix problems when conflict or disagreements arise in the relationship.
- An interdependent emotional connection is created and feelings are absorbed by each other. When one person feels angry, upset or anxious, then the other person feels angry, upset or anxious.
- The connection is so strong with the other person that when they are away or unable to communicate with, the person feels extreme loneliness, which causes an irrational need to reconnect.
Why You Need to Set Boundaries
A boundary is a separation between two things. For example, walls and fences would be examples of material boundaries. However, relational boundaries are quite different.
When two people connect, boundaries separate them and help to distinguish each person’s unique identity from each other. The closer the relationship, like with a parent or sibling or other family member, the harder it can be to recognize or establish boundaries with one another.
Nevertheless, it’s important for a person to live their own way of life. By setting boundaries, they are teaching their loved ones how to treat them. A line must be drawn so the person feels safe. If a family member steps over the line, then the relationship can start to become enmeshed.
Each person should take responsibility for their own actions for the relationship to work properly. It can be difficult to figure out what belongs to you and what belongs to your loved one, but if you can determine how to sort things out, then the communication will be much stronger and each person will know what to attend to.
For example, there is certain information a parent can share with their child, like telling them how much they are loved and how proud of them they are, and certain details that they should refrain from expressing to them, like private confidences, marital problems and sexual intimacy.
If boundaries need to change within a family dynamic, it can be challenging to re-draw that line, but it must be done to keep everyone content. The best way to do this is to keep the lines of communication open, be honest and keep practicing this skill with each other.
How to Set Boundaries with Family Members
When the time is realized that change needs to happen with the family and new boundaries need to be set or just established in general if they never were, here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Start with small boundaries. Discuss little things that can be done by both parties and avoid accusing or judging each other. Express love for one another but try not to point out what someone did wrong. Each person needs to be sure to follow through with what they said they are going to do, which creates a space for respect and care.
- Take time for self-care. When a person is too involved in the relationship, it’s a good idea for them to start spending time alone, connecting with others, like friends or co-workers, taking up new hobbies or doing things that they have a passion for. They need to learn that they can still be happy without the other person. They will have more time to work on parts of their life that make them feel needy, insecure and unhealthy.
- Know your own boundaries. If a person isn’t sure what their boundaries are, then it will be hard to communicate them to others. Take time to look within and determine what makes you feel comfortable, safe and happy. What are you willing to accept and tolerate? Identify those feelings so you can express them.
- Allow yourself to have boundaries. Some people may feel uncomfortable telling a family member “no” even though they are already stretched too thin, or feel like they are being taken advantage of but too fearful to speak up. However, to give yourself permission to even have boundaries is practicing self-respect and building a stronger relationship.
- Seek help from an expert. When the conversation just isn’t moving things forward or people are having a difficult time expressing their feelings, it may be time to speak with a professional. Healing Happens Therapy in Oakland offers assistance to couples or families by bringing emotions to the surface and helping everyone establish their boundaries.
Remember, trust and friendship are earned overtime and are not automatic. Often, you might feel drained or overwhelmed. Check to make sure you are balancing taking care of yourself and others.