Healthy boundaries allow us to maintain our individualism while sharing our lives with others. Maintaining healthy boundaries is crucial to our ability to feel empowered and experience the world fully in a healthy way.
This means being open enough to others without fear of victimization, and confident enough to embrace new experiences and be all that we can be without overstepping others’ boundaries. Unhealthy boundaries keep us feeling frustrated and/or alienated and they can create conflict in our lives.
Confusing emotions about love that surrounded us growing up spawn unhealthy boundaries. They create neediness and/or defense mechanisms. Even though our boundaries are created in childhood, learning to trust or distrust is also influenced by our innate characters, as well as our souls’ journeys.
This is why within families, children can all respond differently to the atmosphere that surrounded them—whether it was filled with love and warmth or conflict and detachment.
When children do not learn how to get their physical and/or emotional needs met in healthy ways, their boundaries about love, intimacy, sharing of feelings, ideas and dreams, and about people’s intentions become confused. This affects adult life, because our natural need for love, affection, and intimacy will be skewed and predispose us to enter into situations or relationships where our boundaries are wide open or closed shut.
As well as from our childhood experiences, our boundaries can also be affected by life circumstances. We may tighten or close them to avoid being hurt again, or throw them wide open seeking emotional stability from others. Continual disappointments from someone we trusted we may cause us to close our boundaries.
Disapproval from another may cause us to tighten our boundaries thereby closing us off to others who may be supportive of us. Profound emotional pain, such as the loss of a loved one, may cause us to close ourselves off to others in an attempt to protect our heart. Or, it may cause us to lean on others too much or for too long, creating a dependent relationship that is hard to pull away from and that prolongs our ability to create emotional stability within ourselves.
When our boundaries are wide open, we either give too much of ourselves or fall into situations where we are not appreciated. We have not developed the ability to turn away from others who don’t show us respect, understanding, kindness, or reciprocity, or from people or situations that tax us emotionally or physically.
As well as wide open boundaries causing us to be too dependent on others, they may also cause us to become codependent whereby our happiness is wrapped up in another’s and we are emotionally drawn into making them happy. These unhealthy responses all create pull-and-push scenarios, causing heightened emotions. Conflict often ensues. We often feel hurt, that life is not fair, and blame others or the situations for our frustrations.
When our boundaries are too closed off, we shut people and new experiences out. Instead of allowing people into our lives to help us, support us, and offer us companionship, we keep them at a safe distance. We fear emotional connections. We are not open to what others have to offer us because we fear being hurt, criticized, disappointed, or rejected.
We are closed to all that life might have to offer us, because we are afraid of failure and the criticism that might come with it or to open ourselves up to new ideas or experiences whereby we might have to stretch our boundaries.
Keeping our boundaries healthy helps us feel empowered, maintain a balanced life, and have stable relationships. Unhealthy boundaries create pulls-and-pushes within ourselves and with others. They also cause us to give conflicting message to those around us. I will discuss Conflicting Messages next post (see below).
I will leave you with a metaphor I once heard regarding our boundaries:
We should let others into our sphere like windows that we can open and shut—not have wide-open doorways that lets everyone in or walls that shut everyone out.
– Rosemary McCarthy©, January 2018
This article/blog post is an expanded excerpt from my book Your Journey to Peace Bridging the Gap Between Religion, Spirituality, Psychology, and Science. Book Synopsis is found here.
Related article Conditional Love / Conflicting Messages can be accessed on my blog
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