Boundaries are a necessary part of any intimate relationship and of relationships in general. They are guiding principles that I have which determine how I behave; what I will do and refrain from doing. As such they are part of the definition of “me.” For example setting a boundary that says “I will tell my partner if I have engaged in my addictive sexual behavior or if I have come close to it” defines me as “honest about my sexual behavior.”
Without boundaries I have no solid sense of myself.
Without a solid foundation to who I am I cannot hope to weather strong emotional upheavals or protect myself from destructive situations. In this case “me” becomes very vulnerable to what people say and do to me, to the momentary problems that crop up and therefore I cannot regulate my emotions. I am likely to respond reflexively, unconsciously or on the basis of old “scripts” from my past. I am a slave to my irrational thoughts and feelings.
Boundaries help keep me emotionally regulated
If I am emotionally dysregulated (meaning that I respond with excessively strong emotions and that I take too long to get back to baseline) then I have diminished self-efficacy. I will be less effective at getting my needs met in a relationship or in life in general. I will be vulnerable to the urge to grab hold of anything that offers some way to get back into emotional equilibrium, i.e. my drug of choice.
Boundaries in relationships: the quiz
The lack of boundaries can wreak havoc on relationships. Boundaries are essential to the ability of the partners to meet their own needs and relate to each other in a calm, open and rational way. Without boundaries I may become overly combative or overly compliant with my partner. I may allow myself to feel controlled and victimized. Or I may try to control the other person or “fix” them.
The following will help you look at your own boundaries or lack of them. Granted these items are somewhat arbitrary and there are a lot of different ways to describe the same processes. See for example David Richo’s Maintaining Personal Boundaries in Relationships (The California Therapist July/August 1990.) Look at the statements below and check those that apply to you.
- I often excuse or try to ignore behavior that is really unacceptable
- I go along with what my partner wants to keep the peace
- I get obsessed with what my partner is doing wrong
- I try to find roundabout ways of getting my partner to change
- I feel guilty about claiming my right to privacy and alone time
- I do favors I don’t want to do just because I am asked
- I don’t know how to avoid drama and blow-ups
- I stay in relationships that are probably hopeless
- I am afraid of disagreeing or doing something my partner won’t like
- My self esteem goes up or down depending on my partner
- I try to be perfect and not show vulnerability
- I have to feel “needed” in order to be in a relationship
Building better boundaries
If you check any of these statements you may need to think about the need to look at your lack of boundaries and work with someone on building better, healthier boundaries.
Having good boundaries is learned in childhood or is not learned properly. The process of getting better at setting and keeping healthy boundaries involves looking at your early experiences that may have made us feel unwilling or unable to stick up for ourselves. For example you may have had a family situation that discouraged or punished you for asking for what you needed or expressing your feelings. You may have had experiences that left you with abandonment fear and insecurity about whether you can put your needs first.