Do I have unhealthy boundaries?


Having a fear of confrontation is a common theme I see in my office. I have seen people who would rather shove their own emotions down than express what they are feeling. They even go as far as to be passive even after a boundary has been clearly violated. The theme I get is that “I do not want to 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.

Many people do not have boundaries specifically for fear of them being rejected, invalidated, or not heard. It appears to be easier to throw up their 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. Are your relationships problematic because you have not established 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?
  7. Do you insert yourself into problems without being asked (move into fixing, caretaking, problem solving)
  8. Do you give unsolicited advice?
  9. Are you overpromising 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 alarmed if you scored 5 or more true. You may ask where unhealthy boundaries come from. There can be multiple reasons as to why unhealthy boundaries form. 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. If there has been abuse in your past your boundaries were violated and the concept of boundaries can become distorted from that point on.  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.

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.


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