“Boundaries are, in simple terms, the recognition of personal space.”
― Asa Don BrownThe effects of childhood trauma on adult perception and worldview

Have you ever heard the saying, “Good fences make good neighbors”? It’s the idea that a tangible boundary between our space and our neighbors space strengthens positive interactions between us in a living situation. The same can be said for applying boundaries in our interpersonal relationships, but what actions represent healthy boundaries and why are they so important in creating and maintaining balance in our lives?

Relational boundaries, unlike fences between houses, are intangible. They are the standard we set for how we treat others and how we allow others to treat us. When boundaries are unclear, permeable, or crossed, we often find ourselves left with feelings of anxiety, resentment, and anger. Development of our interpersonal boundaries begins early on in life and they are often reinforced in our family systems. If our family system is unstable or compromised, often times our boundaries are, as well. This, however, does not mean that we are doomed to continue these patterns. The development of healthy boundaries takes work, but they are far from impossible to implement.

Maintaining healthy boundaries requires balancing respect for both yourself and others simultaneously. It also involves recognizing when this balance is swayed in either direction. What do poor or weak interpersonal boundaries look like?

Here are some examples:

  • Saying “yes” out of fear or anxiety when you wanted or needed to say “no”.
  • Giving your time, energy, money, or body to another when it compromises your own physical or emotional well-being.
  • Falling in love with someone you just met or someone who reaches out, without truly knowing them.
  • Giving your time, energy, money or body in order to get someone to “like” you.
  • Allowing another person to define you by requiring you to alter your forms of self-expression (how you speak, look, schedule your time, etc).
  • Rushing into intimacy (physical or emotional) with another person.
  • Taking of someone else’s time, energy, money, or body without limits solely to meet your own needs and with no intentions of reciprocity.
  • Abuse of substances, food, or sex.
  • Too much or too little trust in others, especially without truly knowing them.
  • Ignoring or not recognizing when you or someone else displays poor boundaries.

Though there are many additional ways interpersonal boundaries may cause issues in the overall functioning of an individual, these are some of the most common examples that lead a person to seek help from a therapist. During the therapeutic process, examining patterns that occurred in previous relationships and how these patterns impacted functioning is essential in learning how to implement change in a person’s use of boundaries. Identifying origins of these patterns through the examination of an individual’s belief system, private logic, and developmental experiences are also extremely helpful in correcting and altering behaviors.

With the support of a therapist, improving boundaries is a realistic and beneficial treatment goal that may create life-changing transformations in a person’s functioning across all life-domains.

About the author: Natalie Gomes MA, LPCS, LCAS is an individual counselor in Wilmington, NC. She also offers telehealth (aka online therapy) to North Carolina residents. Does your anxiety feel overwhelming? Call her today at (910) 216-0194 for a free telephone consultation or to schedule an intake assessment and let’s start working towards life feeling more manageable for you.