Healthy Boundaries = Healthier Relationships

Have you ever found yourself wondering why you feel confident in one relationship yet inept in another?  Is there a person in your life who suddenly transforms you into the 5-year-old you?  Consider if there is someone that you seem to clash with the most.

Perhaps you have tried to keep this relationship on a comfortable track but still find yourself giving in or cleaning up someone else’s problems.  Maybe you know someone who simply will not accept “no” for an answer.   Perhaps you recognize that it can be hard for you to simply and confidently say “no.”   

In each of these scenarios, there is a difficulty with boundaries. I find that many times when a person feels dissatisfied, resentful, angry or dependent, it is because they are feeling pressured in a way that they cannot or will not communicate. Often, this is because clear boundaries are being disrespected - or even because solid boundaries have never been set.

It may help to visualize boundaries as an invisible forcefield that surrounds a person’s thoughts, beliefs, opinions, desires, etc. It is the line that separates one person from another. In essence, having healthy boundaries is a way of acknowledging, “this is where you end and I begin.”  Healthy boundaries come with an inherent mutual respect, signaling that each person has a right to their own thoughts, opinions, choices, etc., and that no one has the right to force their will on others.

If we wanted to express this separation verbally, we might say, “I have a right to my opinions, I respect that you have these same rights.  We both have a right to express ourselves and be heard.  We do not have the right to degrade or belittle each other.” 

Sometimes healthy boundaries and healthy communication feel like they are for “other” people. A person who feels this way may perceive that others treat them “like a doormat.”  This person is likely to use a passive communication style, which comes from feelings of not being “good enough” to stand up for their own opinions or independent actions. For the person who doesn’t stand up for anything, the payoff is not risking making anyone angry. 

A bully will use an aggressive communication style. Someone who blames others and seeks to get their needs met at the expense of others is never truly happy, and those around them are usually miserable. This behavior often emanates from feelings of insecurity, narcissism and anger. 

What happens when a couple, family or other group becomes enmeshed in poorly enforced or unclear boundaries? Picture several boundary “forcefields” all intertwined. The underlying assumption is “I’m not me without you” or “you’re not you without me.”  One person feels invalidated because another person makes an independent decision or has a conflicting opinion. Another person is afraid to step out of the norms. This is the land of unfulfilled dreams, guilt trips and screaming matches. The communication style is passive aggressive. This can be seen in the long-suffering martyr or perhaps, for Hulk fans, the mild-mannered Bruce Banner-type persona. Neither of these types will speak assertively while still calm … but when they’ve reached their limit, watch out!

You may have noticed that a person can switch styles depending on who they are dealing with!  One person’s doormat may act like the Hulk with someone else!  

The good news is that everyone can repair or, if needed, create boundaries. The even better news is that everyone could benefit from some fine tuning on their boundaries and in developing effective, healthy communication styles. 

 

CJFS provides individual and group therapy for family, relationship and parenting issues, as well as depression, anxiety, grief and other problems.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact Clinical Director Stu Jaffe, stu@cjfsbham.org or 205.879.3438.