Edwin Louis Cole once said “Boundaries are to protect life, not to limit pleasures”. In order to be healthy and happy and live harmoniously with each other, it is imperative that we learn to teach each other how to treat us.
Picture a man who has spent his entire life waiting to meet someone who will never upset him or let him down. He imagines that somehow the other person should know what he needs to be happy. He knows that the person will know how to not upset him. Time after time he gets hurt and finds himself becoming more and more disillusioned with the human race.
Picture a woman who has spent her life with high walls up all around her. She has decided that in order to never be hurt, she will always keep herself distant from them. She is lonely, but doesn’t know how else to avoid getting hurt.
Now imagine a person who fluctuates between being totally vulnerable (letting everyone in and not setting boundaries) and then becoming completely closed (once disillusioned about the human race as a whole). After being lonely and closed for a while, this person opens back up again, only to get hurt-only to find themselves victimized and jaded again after giving the best of themselves. They might ask themselves “When is it my turn?”
Difficulties setting boundaries is a very basic part of codependency. This article will discuss where this develops and how to start setting healthy boundaries.
There are certain conditions that impair children’s ability to set boundaries. If children’s thoughts are disregarded as unimportant, when children learn that it is bad to have certain feelings, and when the parents never take responsibility for their mistakes and apologize and when parents do not discipline in a healthy way (by either not punishing or over punishing their children).
In psychological terms, families range from enmeshed (meaning no boundaries at all) to rigid (uncompromising, overly strict rules). Often, parents in codependent families can be overly strict about minor/insignificant issues and laissez-faire about very important issues. As you can imagine, this can be very confusing to a child.
Enmeshed (too close, no rules, chaotic)——Normal (separate and connected, common sense rules, behavior is modified in a non-shameful way)—–Rigid (distant, rigid, overly strict and uncompromising).
Children from enmeshed families grow up with no boundaries at all (little or no concept of personal space). They do not have a sense of other people being abusive or intrusive towards them. They also do not have a sense of when they are being abusive or intrusive towards others.
Children of rigid families build walls instead of healthy boundaries. In order to avoid being hurt, they either isolate themselves, become silent, or use intimidation to keep people away.
Most people of codependent families have a combination of both. They tend to fluctuate between extreme vulnerability to extreme self-protection. Wanting the connection, but also not wanting to get hurt (as they do when they do not set boundaries in a healthy way).
As learning how to set boundaries is an extremely important part of overcoming codependence, it is important to start really focusing on yourself and beginning to notice what’s going on in your mind, body and emotions. You will not heal from focusing on fixing other people (that is merely invading their space, as they are responsible for fixing themselves). It is time to focus on yourself.
Do you know what you need, you just don’t want to have to fight for it? If so, read my article on Mastering Negotiation Skills and see if you can’t moderately start communicating with others in a healthy way.
Do you have a hard time knowing what your reality is? If so, you may try to begin to get in touch with your true self through meditation, journaling or some other form of creative expression. Let yourself sit in a comfortable place. As you breathe in, focus all of your attention on your breath. As you breathe out, focus all of your attention on your heartbeat. As thoughts come in, just let them go.
You may imagine the sky filled with stars. Each star is a thought. See if you can’t blot out the stars one by one until you see nothing but sky. When stars pop up again, just blot them out again. Let your thoughts slow until all is quiet and you are just being in your own skin.
Notice any sensations in your body, observing them without judging them. Notice any feeling that you have and where it is. Ask this part of your body, if it could speak, what would it say? Ask this part of you what it needs in order to heal. You may open your eyes and write out everything that comes to you. You could draw a picture of the impression that you get.
If you are one of those people who have put walls up to protect yourself from everyone, perhaps there is a better way to stay safe -and- get some connection with the world. Sit down when you have a moment alone and write out everything you are afraid of and everything you are angry about when it comes to love, being vulnerable and such. Acknowledge and thank these feelings and thoughts as your mind and body’s way of trying to keep you safe. Now ask yourself if there is another side of the story. Perhaps evidence that maybe there is something good about letting yourself open up to others who are safe to be open to. Nobody is perfect, including you, and to be part of the world is to be disappointed and hurt sometimes. I guess you have to ask yourself what’s more important-to experience the pain and joy of truly living, or experience the pain of isolation and disconnection. Again, read my article Master Negotiation Skills and learn how to protect yourself and be connected at the same time.
Here are some things to remember…
1) You have a right to physical space from others. No one has the right to invade your sexual space without your permission.
2) You have the right to refuse to follow other people’s thoughts, advice, likes and dislikes.
3) You have a right to choose which line you are unwilling to let people cross with you. You can choose what your deal breakers are.
4) You have the right to be your true self and choose situations where you feel like you can be yourself.
5) You have the right to end relationships or situations that impede your ability to be yourself.
6) You have the right to be treated with respect.
7) You have the right to think and feel the way you do.
8) You have the right and responsibility to take good care of yourself.
You do NOT have the right to…
1) Invade other people’s personal space without their permission (unless you are giving them CPR or the Heimlich maneuver)
2) Fix other people or assume responsibility for their happiness.
3) Treat others with disrespect.
4) Tell other people how to think and feel.
5) Decide another person’s beliefs, career, sexual orientation, or life choices.
The more you can focus on getting in touch with and naming your own thought and feelings, the easier it will be to communicate what you need with others in a healthy and effective way. Remember, this article is meant to be a guide for people who want to try to help themselves. If you feel like you are in over your head and would like to do something about it, it is worth it to work on this issue with a qualified therapist.