By Jocelyn Turnbaugh, MS, LAC, Turquoise Primary Therapist at The Meadows
My resentment towards a friend who is habitually late when we meet for coffee, instantly feeling like a failure when I receive criticism, the person sitting next to me on the airplane who half way through the flight I have heard their entire life story or they have heard mine, or being overwhelmed with completing tasks for others. Each is an example of boundary issues where I have denied or compromised myself, my reality, or have spewed on someone else.
Healthy boundaries are not about punishing others or deflecting in order to avoid an issue. Instead they are about protecting self from unhealthy thoughts, behaviors and relationships. Here are examples of healthy or appropriate boundaries. If someone has proven, through gossip or information being used negatively, to be an unsafe person with whom I might share vulnerable information, it is an indicator that future conversations will be limited in what private information is shared. Saying no to someone because there is not time to complete the task or would compromise values is establishing a boundary. Not allowing people to talk disrespectfully or to spew, that is having a boundary.
In recovery, boundaries are a lifeline to healthier behaviors. When I have effective boundaries in place, I will be able to esteem from within instead of looking for outside validation or believing I am better than others and I then will be able to ask for my wants and needs that I can't meet myself. My life will be more balanced and I will be authentic in relating with others. I can say yes when I mean yes and no when I mean no, while being vulnerable with people who are safe and with whom I can be open and recognize appropriate times and places to share and be heard.
However, asking the question, "How do I establish boundaries and when does it become spewing or a wall?” it is important to first look at motive. Am I creating a “boundary” so that I do not have to confront an issue or am I creating an environment where I only share with people who are safe? Is my goal to honor and respect my time, my talents and myself and not allow things that do not support these goals into my life? Boundaries are not about being selfish; boundaries are about protecting one’s self. When I am able to care for self and be in a healthy place, then I can also be a healthy support and example for those around me.
Second, it is important to communicate the boundary we are setting with those involved. Sharing with a family member that you are not willing to discuss a specific personal topic and then diverting the conversation when the topic comes up would be a way to communicate a boundary. An important aspect to consider is that one may encounter resistance from others regarding a boundary set. In these instances, affirming oneself and the purpose of the boundary along with standing firm with the boundary will be key. If resistance continues then sometimes it is necessary to set a limit. In conjunction with the previous example, sharing the boundary with the family member and then defining what the limit would be if the behavior continued could look something like “I will not have a discussion with you around this topic and if you continue to bring it up when we are on the phone I will have to end the conversation. I love you and I am not willing to discuss this topic”.
Walls or “boundariless” behaviors occur when we get out of balance with boundaries. Examples of such barriers include walls of silence, anger, smiles, perfectionism, addiction, sarcasm and words, among many others. Each one of the behaviors is developed either consciously or unconsciously as a way to block feelings so that others cannot see one’s authentic self. The opposite extreme would be spewing or as I like to think of it, verbally vomiting on others. When this occurs, whatever comes to one’s head comes out of the mouth without or with little regard to the appropriateness of the situation, content, or the person being subjected to the spewing. This behavior is an attempt to be heard and understood. However, allowing the lack of a boundary leaves one with the inability to emotionally protect self. This could look like denying my reality for the approval of others and gaining or losing esteem based on what others’ views are of me.
When we have healthy boundaries in place, the other aspects of our life begin to exhibit moderation. When we come from a place of love and compassion for self, we honor relationships with ourselves and others. Boundaries can be a struggle, but it is worth it when you begin to see work come into fruition.