How do I keep getting into these situations?

Boundaries is a term that refers to the limits of our sense of self. It’s a way of speaking and interacting with others that keeps us safe and feeling comfortable with ourselves and others.

Boundaries is not about physical space around us though that can be a part of it. It is really our ability to establish, in our verbal and non-verbal communication our needs and limits to protect and keep our sense of self intact. We set boundaries always relative to how we feel about ourselves; how we see ourselves and the concept we hold of ourselves. Discovering our sense of self, how we see ourselves and the impression we give to others is interrelated to setting boundaries. In other words the better you know yourself, the more clear your boundaries are going to be.

Discovering what is the, “sense of self” is a whole other topic for another blog.

Boundaries can be tricky to understand since it involves knowing how you operate in relationships. We often go on automatic in relationships and don’t associate how we do conflict with how we set boundaries. Setting boundaries with others often involves some level of conflict because it can mean having to take a stand on what makes you feel safe.

Though there are many books on this subject, there are roughly 3 boundary styles I can briefly describe here:

  • No boundaries – the need for merging and a feeling of acceptance. This type of person often has a hard time saying no and tends to be a bit of a pushover. If you feel like you can set boundaries with someone until they argue back or begin raising their voice and then you back down; or if you can be easily steamrolled then you fall into this category. This type of person often chooses merging with someone and trying to please them hoping that in the long term they will get their needs met.   These types of people tend have a more codependent style and having difficulty with setting limits. They often find themselves agreeing to things they don’t really want to do or be involved with. They often have a hard time also identifying what they really feel and need and believe that the other persons needs are more important than there own.
  • The castle; rigid defended boundaries. This is a type of person who lives with a lot of anxiety and has great difficulty trusting anyone. This person lives their life like it’s a chess game constantly trying to assess others and 2nd guess what’s going to happen in relationships in order to keep themselves from getting hurt. As a castle type I feel the need to test people who are close to me constantly to see if they are really going to hang in there. If I am a castle person I might like to warn the people who I am with that Im hard to be with so watch out. Castle people tend to be very controlling in relationships or appear very stand-offish. They sometimes like to tell you how much pain they can put us through because they don’t trust anyone.  This is often a Love avoidant style.
  • Inconsistent boundaries: As this kind of person I am just the definition of this. I have a hard time saying what I mean and Meaning what I say. I have a hard time with follow through. I might be able to set some boundaries but close friends and partners often feel that I’m not dependable. I vacillate between feeling very clear (controlling) and not very clear. I’m often controlling to over compensate for the times I have set no boundaries at all. Friends often perceive this person as being entitled or making themselves an exception to the rules. This is a do as I say not as I do kind of person.

Some other strong examples of how boundaries play out is flirting. How we flirt tells others about our boundaries. How ready we are or are not ready to have sex with someone tells them about our boundaries. How much information we share about ourselves in 1st conversations tells someone about how easy it is to get to know us. And its not that there are a lot of hard and fast  rules for this but think about this: If the 1st time you start talking to someone in a coffee house, they start to easily tell you all about themselves including about the time they were molested as a kid and about psychological traumas. If your just there for a social conversation doesn’t that seem like a bit too much information for that setting? So that person has very loose boundaries and may have a hard time telling when trust has been established and when it feels right to share heavy information. Are they considering the look on your face or the setting they are in? Sadly, defenses that served you very well as a child to ensure your survival can actually cripple you with fear, dishonesty, and self-sabotage when carried into adulthood. With persistence and courage, however, any psychological defense can be overcome.

How we do conflict tells others a lot about how we set boundaries, and in fact having conflict is related to setting boundaries because often times people do not want to respect our boundaries and we have to stand up for them. So if a lack of boundaries has gotten you into trouble in the past, take heart, for the problem can be remedied.

Of course different cultures and subcultures also can have different boundaries or unspoken rules about how to behave with one another. But generally, we are constantly telling people our boundaries by the way we communicate what we need. Its really that simple.

It is often in intimate relationships where we learn that our boundaries are problematic and need some work. It is at this juncture that working with a counselor can be helpful as it is very hard for us to see our blindspots. It is always a good idea for us to have someone in our lives who can be a mirror for us. Who can help us to reflect and to see ourselves not as we fantasize ourselves to be but as we really are. Without this we are psychologically asleep. It is often very hard for us to see ourselves and to change without a guide. Up until the present American culture, which is obsessed with individuality, all ancient cultures had this kind of mentoring or feedback.

“Rene Descartes was very very smart, but as it turned out, he was wrong.” ~Lorimer Moseley