Being afraid of confrontation is a common theme I see in people who do not have healthy boundaries. If this is the case for you, you may rather shove your own emotions down than express what you are feeling. You may want to avoid conflict and all cost and see the benefit outweighing the cost so you decide to “not make waves”. Lacking the ability to be assertive will lead to reverting to passivity, passive-aggression, or aggression. When a boundary has been violated and it is not expressly stated a wide range of negative emotions can occur. When these feelings are left unchecked you will get to one of two boiling points: imploding or exploding. Neither of these options is healthy and you will be left to pick up the pieces. The emotions of anger, resentment, and being overwhelmed are the primary emotions associated with not speaking up. The best way to deal with these emotions of is to become assertive and establish boundaries. You may find it hard to set up proper boundaries specifically for fear of being rejected, invalidated, or unheard. It can appear that it would be easier to throw up your hands and say that “everything is okay”. When in reality you know that it is anything but. You find yourself boiling on the inside. If you feel this is your story it is time to establish some boundaries with those around you. If you feel this is a pattern in your relationships it is time to make a step towards establishing a new dynamic with boundaries. How do you know if your boundaries are unhealthy? Answer the following True/False questions:
1. Do you put the needs of others or their boundaries above your own?
2. Have you established problematic relationships due to not establishing boundaries?
3. Do you avoid conflict even if that means keeping your opinion to yourself?
4. Do you make excuses for others problematic behaviors?
5. Do you avoid being direct and clear?
6. Do you overfunction for others? (do for others what they can do for themselves)
7. Do you insert yourself into problems without being asked (move into fixing, caretaking, problem solving, advice giving)
8. Do you ruminate over things you could have said differently but never approach the situation or person about it?
9. Are you overcommitting or stretching yourself thin
10. Is it hard for you to say no (feel guilty for saying no?)
If you have answered True to 5 or more of the following you may have unhealthy boundaries.
Do not be distressed if you scored 5 or more true. You may ask where unhealthy boundaries come from. There can be a variety of causes for the establishment of unhealthy boundaries. First, boundaries are modeled to us in childhood. We pick up on social cues that are voices are meaningful or have no bearing at a young age. We pick up on the boundaries that our parents or guardians had with others. Another cause to having poor boundaries is trauma or abuse in your childhood. Furthermore, not having adequate emotional support from your family of origin growing up is a catalyst to poor boundaries later in life. When emotional support is lacking from those who are supposed to care for you sometimes the roles can switch. When this happens the child become “parentified” and begins caring for the needs of the adult instead of the reverse. If you were a caretaker for your parent or guardian the roles were reversed and it becomes engrained that you must meet the needs of others before your own. That mindset becomes problematic in adulthood relationship, but you are left uncertain how to deal with and break the unhealthy dynamic. If there has been abuse in your past your boundaries were violated and the concept of boundaries can become distorted from that point on. You may begin to infringe on others boundaries or become codependent on others. The need to be needed or validated can come from the roots of being a caretaker or invalidated as a child.
In the next article I will discuss ways in which to assert yourself and create healthier boundaries. One of the first steps to creating boundaries is to write them down. We teach others how to treat us. It is our responsibility to let others know when they have violated a boundary. If people are interacting with you in a way that you do not like a boundary has most likely not been expressly stated. You can seek out the help of a trained professional to assist you in establishing healthier boundaries with others.