Do You Have Healthy Boundaries in Your Relationship? Take the Quiz

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.

  1. I often excuse or try to ignore behavior that is really unacceptable
  2. I go along with what my partner wants to keep the peace
  3. I get obsessed with what my partner is doing wrong
  4. I try to find roundabout ways of getting my partner to change
  5. I feel guilty about claiming my right to privacy and alone time
  6. I do favors I don’t want to do just because I am asked
  7. I don’t know how to avoid drama and blow-ups
  8. I stay in relationships that are probably hopeless
  9. I am afraid of disagreeing or doing something my partner won’t like
  10. My self esteem goes up or down depending on my partner
  11. I try to be perfect and not show vulnerability
  12. 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.

Why Sex Addiction is an “Intimacy Disorder”

What is an Intimacy Disorder?

Intimacy is the ability to be real with another person.  In its essence, intimacy is the connection between two people who are equals and are genuine and open about what they are feeling in the moment.  In other words the capacity to be intimate involves the ability to take the risk of being known for who you really are.  It is necessarily a willingness to take the risk of getting hurt or rejected.

Addiction and intimacy

Addicts of all kinds, including sex addicts have difficulty being real in their relating to people including a significant other.  They typically have early experiences in their family of origin that failed to produce a secure attachment to their caregivers.  These may take the form of neglect, abuse, abandonment or the absence of an appropriately nurturing caregiver.  Addictions are an adaptation or coping mechanism usually beginning early in life as a way to handle stress and regulate emotion.

Addictive behaviors are a way to adapt that does not depend on another person for comfort or support.  If other people are involved in the addictive behavior, it is because they facilitate or support the addict using a drug or behavior with which to distract, stimulate or soothe themselves.

Addiction is intimacy avoidance

Because of their early life experiences, addicts are afraid of intimacy.  Depending on their early experiences with their caregivers addicts will predictably approach the prospect of being intimate with:

Fear of abandonment

The addict tends to do and say what the other person wants rather than what they really think and feel

Fear of rejection

The addict feels that rejection will be devastating and will reinforce an already insecure self-concept

Fear of engulfment

The addict fears losing their separate identity and becoming totally absorbed into another person

Fear of conflict

The addict fears the other person’s anger and the sense that they cannot stick up for themselves or set boundaries

Addicts prefer to avoid getting close beyond a certain point.  Patrick Carnes states that intimacy is the point in a relationship when there is a deeper attachment and that this requires “profound vulnerability.”  He calls this “the ‘being known fully and staying anyway’ part of relationships.”

Addicts view intimacy as potentially painful.

Addicts often view intimacy as an inherently painful experience.  This may be all they know from experience and all they have ever observed growing up. Many addicts would much prefer physical pain to the emotional pain they might experience in an intimate relationship.  Often they learned early to be careful and self conscious around people.  Addicts will often avoid even close friendships or social situations because they anticipate having to play a role.  And playing a role is much more strenuous than being yourself.

Intimacy requires strength

The strength required for intimacy is a strong sense of self and self worth.  I prefer to use the concept of “self-efficacy” over that of “self-esteem.”  Being intimacy “abled” is not so much having a positive view of yourself as it is having a sense that you should and can act in effective ways to protect yourself and enhance your own life.

This is the strength that neutralizes all the fears that make the addict run from intimacy.  It is not a question of being tough; on the contrary, it is knowing that you may get hurt but that you will not get devastated.

Gaining these skills involves a combination of not only addiction treatment and therapy but assertion training, which involves de-conditioning what is essentially a phobic reaction to being emotionally honest and practice with basic relationship and communication skills.

Learning to be stronger is what allows us to be vulnerable in relationships.  And this vulnerability is a sign of strength.