Do you have good boundaries in your life? Boundaries are like fences around your property to protect it. You may have grown up in a home where boundaries were not taught. Here are some of the things that good boundaries protect: your trust, your need to have a voice, express your feelings and not having your feelings controlled by others, control over how you live your life, your opinion, your priorities and your values. If you grew up in a home where there were no good boundaries you may have felt that your voice, your thoughts, opinions and you yourself did not have value.
Problems with not having good boundaries affect our identity and we may stay in a relationship by hiding our true self to preserve the relationship. When you do not have good boundaries we put our values on the sidelines and let others chose for us how we live our life. When we maintain good boundaries we attract people who value our opinions and treat us with respect.
What does good boundaries look like? How many times do you say, “Yes” when you want to say, No”? Why do we all do that so often? What happens when you say “Yes” but really hate yourself for it? There is always a cost. I speak often to my clients about costs and benefits because my first major was accounting and bookkeeping. We say, “Yes” because we are not able to sit with the anxiety of saying “No” for fear that we can not handle the emotional response from the other person.
When you say “Yes” all the time, your “Yes” loses meaning. Think about that. You say “Yes” every time your sister calls to ask if you can pick up her children after school because she is running behind. She knows you will say, “Yes” and she takes advantage of it. You have taught her how to treat you. It isn’t about her taking advantage of you it is about you not setting boundaries and being able to be okay with her being unhappy because you said “No”.
Unfortunately, one of the reasons that we do not establish good boundaries is that with it comes responsibility. When you use your voice, set boundaries and value yourself, you must take responsibility for your life. Scary thought isn’t it? You can not blame someone else. You can’t say, “I am so sick of picking up my sister’s children every time she decides to spend the day at the spa and runs late.” You have to take responsibility for your choices.
Another important aspect of not setting good boundaries comes from our feeling that we are being selfish if we think of ourselves. We put the needs of others ahead of our own and we are not happy about it. If you love your nieces and nephews, you may want to spend time with them and enjoy picking them up every night after school, that’s wonderful. However, if you are doing it at the costs of your own voice then it is contributing to the loss of your identity.
One day you wake up and you realize that you are not living your life you are living the life that you have allowed others to define for you. Often couples will present to therapy with this issue, I will explain more about that later. You wake up and you begin to get angry. Of course, you don’t take responsibility and ownership in your choices you blame your spouse, your parents, your family, the economy, or the neighborhood cat. You think that everyone else has screwed up your life and you are the victim. How could this have happened? You didn’t set good boundaries. You didn’t know how and you didn’t even realize you it happened. So how did it happen?
Yes, you may have grown up in a family of origin where you were not allowed to have a voice because you had controlling parents. However, as you grew up and were with others outside your family you made conscious choices. For example, you get that call from your sister asking for you to pick up her children. You hear the voice in your head saying, “I wanted to spend an hour reading the new book that I just ordered.” What did you do? You minimize your own voice and you continued to do that every time you said, “Yes” when you wanted to say, “No”.
As I mentioned, couples come in to therapy talking about how they are in conflict and most often it is because of control. A husband may express that his wife makes all the decisions and she expects too much from him. He reports that she doesn’t listen to his opinion and discounts his work, his personal space, his time and ignore his emotional needs. He wants me to fix her. Yes, this does happen to men as well as women. How do you think this happened and why does this continue to happen in relationships? It continues because the parties are comfortable with it. It is easier to continue the same way rather than change. We do not change until we are uncomfortable.
In addition, when you do not set good boundaries and learn to take responsibility for your own choices, you are not being fair to your partner. In this scenario, how much of a burden is it for the wife to be the one that has to make all of the decision. She is taking all the responsibility and the husband doesn’t take any responsibility and express himself because it is easier. He doesn’t want to be uncomfortable or live with making a bad decision then getting blamed. It is easier to sit back and complain about his controlling spouse.
So how do you learn to set good boundaries? That is what I help my clients learn to do. I work with clients to help them develop coping skills, good communication skills, find their voice, set their priorities and improve the self esteem. If you are saying, “Yes” when you want to say, “No” and know that you are not setting good boundaries, call me for a free consultation.