We all have to deal with boundaries in relationships. How do you know if they are unhealthy, and set up healthy, nurturing ones?
Trouble with boundaries can arise when you don’t feel comfortable with what your beloved (partner, mother, sibling, friend, child) wants to do, but they are super keen to have you see things their way. Should you stick to your guns? Perhaps you should make an exception? Should you agree, because clearly it means a lot to them, and not so much to you. What to do?
In most cases, we will likely default to our internally set boundaries. These, for better or worse, we learned from those who raised us, when we were kids. Boundary barometers are not set by what our parents said, but by what they did.
Here are a few different kinds of boundaries. Which ones do you relate to and which can you see in the people around you?
Some people have boundaries that are held super close around them. They can be very controlling and stonewall any attempts by anyone to get them to change. They don’t have much room to move. Everything has to be held in place, exactly where they want it to be. The idea of any kind of change is unthinkable. If you want them to consider something, it’s best to give them a month’s notice.
Drama queen, princess, prima donna boundaries
Some people have boundaries that are set through provocative and narcissistic tendencies. Their behaviours are over the top, needy, controlling, overbearing, abusive, and demanding. In this case their boundaries are squashing others, and living with such a person is like living with a petty tyrant. Sometimes when they think they are putting in place a boundary, all they are really doing is trying to force someone else to meet their needs. They are in fact being controlling and manipulative.
As you can probably imagine, the bulldozer is somewhat aggressive. Think of the big machines that invaded the forest in the movie Avatar. They had no respect for, and no interest in, what the native residents felt or wanted. They were cynical, harsh, cruel, violent, and heartless.
Fort Knox boundaries
Some people have tall, strong, impenetrable boundaries that cut them off completely from other people. They will not even talk to you. Maybe they just grunt and avoid you. They negate any possibility of a relationship. In extreme cases, the person can become a recluse. You may have a conversation with them and think you have come to an agreement. However, if it is not what they actually want to do, they just go their own way anyway. People with Fort Knox boundaries don’t trust anyone.
Some people put their boundaries in places that are clearly on other people’s land! Their expectations of others are so high, they can’t be met for very long. And, there is continual encroachment. First, they take a metre or two of your land, then another metre, then a few more, and bit by bit they push you back. So after a bit of time has elapsed, your kingdom has gone, and you have no idea of what your life is even about any more. The whole lot has been taken over, like an invasive weed killing off the native vegetation.
Then there are those with no discernible boundaries, who put up with just about anything. These people are over-sharers, letting everyone into their world. They let their boundaries be trampled on regularly. Often these people are fearful of conflict, and may lack much self-acceptance or self-respect. People with corset, prima donna, or trespasser boundaries like people with no boundaries, because they continually give their power away, relinquish their own preferences, style, priorities, and objectives, to fit in with everyone else. People with no boundaries trust people too soon and have no discernment.
People pleaser boundaries
A people pleaser moves their boundaries in accordance with what they perceive will lead to people liking them. They abandon their routines when others need things, even when to do so is highly inconvenient. A people pleaser is terrified of doing something that the beloved would not approve of, lest they be abandoned. If the beloved has a problem, the people pleaser energetically takes it on, feeling anxious and responsible for the situation, even if it has nothing to do with them. So keen are they for the beloved not to have any problems, that the people pleaser anticipates the needs of the beloved, juggling all kinds of things to be in the right place, have the right thing on hand, and say the right thing so that the beloved is not displeased.
In a pleasing relationship, one person’s needs are habitually secondary to the other. The people pleaser takes on a great deal of responsibility for the entire relationship and keeping everything on an even keel.
My personal story of being a people pleaser
When we have a pathological need to please others, this is coming from a state of disempowered consciousness in which we have inadequate boundaries. As a former people pleaser, I used to do whatever I could to avoid being rejected by others. I couldn’t stand for anyone to think I was anything other than a nice person and a good girl, and so I gave my power away continually. Little did I realise then that I was living in fear of being rejected. Pleasing everyone was my way of getting my basic human need for approval met. I didn’t have a clue how to do this at the time. This caused me to put up with lots of unsatisfactory relationships and games within those relationships, because I didn’t know what I could do about it.
The end result was a kind of disappearing act, where the real authentic me was gobbled up in the façade of who I thought someone else wanted me to be.
I tended to take on the interests and habits of my partner
At one stage I went to football matches every weekend, and I don’t have the foggiest idea why anyone would do that. At another time I found myself going sailing regularly and hanging out on boats, something that I find either boring or terrifying, and either way I can’t wait to get off them.
My own interests would be snuffed out as my time seemed to be sucked into what my partner’s interests might be. It is as though I was a chameleon, fitting in to what I felt was expected of me. My boundaries were paper thin, and someone only had to sneeze or look at me the wrong way and I would allow the boundary to be broken.
If you feel that your individuality is being lost and swallowed up in a relationship that you are in, then you may have a problem like I did.
When we cannot assert ourselves, no-one else knows who we are. Even worse, we probably do not know who we are ourselves. The lustrous, interesting person we were when our partner was attracted to us, disappears under loads of expectations, conditions, responsibilities, and habits. This slowly raises bars around us and we end up feeling like we are in a relationship prison. Sooner or later we will break out and leave.
Getting it right
Boundaries in the wrong place can lead to the demise of the relationship.
In some areas our boundaries might be quite healthy, but in others they might be repressive, or absent altogether. As our awareness grows, we may find that we desire to change some of our boundaries. This will require some work, and we might experience a bit of pushback sometimes when we call our spirit back and reclaim our power. Nevertheless, we can do this. We can build healthy new habits and find many tools in the wealth of literature and seminar selection that is now at our disposal.
In a relationship with healthy boundaries, there is time for you and time for the other. The responsibility for the relationship is mutual; decisions and resources are shared. In unhealthy relationships, one party takes far more of the burden of setting boundaries and the other is relegated more to a spectator status. In healthy relationships, both parties are aware of nurturing the relationship that they have with each other. Each takes responsibility for the happiness and success of themselves, the other, and the relationship. Their cups become full from self-nurturing and brim over into ‘plenty’. Both parties are then fulfilled.
We can create healthy habits to improve and enhance our relationships and find a peace and ease in life we would never have thought possible. I know, because this is what has happened to me.
Six tips for better boundaries
- If you saw someone else facing the decision you are, what advice would you give them? This is a great way to get more objective about what’s OK and what’s not.
- Often our boundaries are disturbed in the moment, when we have not had time to reflect. Ask for some time to consider what is being asked of you.
- Start to ask yourself how you feel when decisions need to be made. How does saying yes make you feel energetically, emotionally, physically?
- Meditate on it. Let it go into a deep blue sky, and depending upon your spiritual beliefs, allow the answer to come from a beloved saint, teacher, or from the universe.
- Do some inner work around self-love and respect. It is amazing how much the behaviours of other people seem to change when we change our own internal landscape.
- Be aware of which of these patterns is you, and, in that awareness, you will naturally start to change.
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