What are boundaries?
The issue of boundaries comes up a lot in my work with women and girls.
If you haven’t heard this term before, think of boundaries as an invisible force field we put up around ourselves.
Boundaries are reflected in our relationships with people and our environment.
We create them through our actions, behaviors and choices; how we speak to others and in our tolerance for other's behaviors.
We learn about boundaries all through our lives, with our families of origin being the greatest influence.
Many women sacrifice their own desires and well being in order to be the woman they believe they should be, learning to ignore boundaries.
Self esteem suffers, as does decision making.
Many women feel stuck.
They stay too long in abusive relationships.
They make decisions based on what should make them happy, rather than what really does.
They have trouble knowing what they want and what motivates them to get out of bed in the morning.
To help illustrate this in therapy, I often start with this simple drawing. Don’t laugh at my drawing skills. This usually gets erased!
You’ll notice that this lovely person is surrounded by a thick impenetrable boundary.
Meet Rapunzel in the tower surrounded by a thicket of thorns (her hair is pulled up).
Nothing is getting in.
She experienced abuse or trauma and is distrustful of the world.
For good cause, she protected herself by putting up a fortress.
Ok, I realize I'm taking some liberties with the story, please stick with me.
Now she doesn’t date or make new friends.
The arrows are attempts by others to come in. They are denied entry.
Survival is key.
Our human instincts are to keep ourselves safe emotionally and physically.
Sometimes strategies we learned worked really well at a certain point in our lives; but now they are detrimental to our happiness.
The result: Rapunzel gets depressed!
Closed boundaries often result from abuse, trauma, grief and loss and are accompanied by depression and anxiety.
This is the YES! Woman.
Rapunzel escaped her tower and she's gone wild.
Her boundaries are very loose, almost non-existent.
She will take care of friends, family members, her partner, no matter the toll it takes on her.
She will take on too much professionally and feel she has to work non-stop.
Or she might find she is resentful of choices she's made.
She tolerates abusive behavior, turns a blind eye to infidelity or her partner's destructive behavior.
She may be put herself in unsafe situations, such as having sex with strangers.
Often clients recovering from abusive relationships were forced to have open boundaries and are trying to learn how to form healthy ones.
It is also typical of relationships where one partner has a problem with substance abuse or addiction.
Rapunzel cannot survive long like this.
She will burn out or get sick because she's not taking care of herself.
Hooray! This woman has healthy boundaries.
Rapunzel found a good balance between closed and open boundaries.
She has a nice cozy place to live in the village.
Her boundaries are clearly defined.
Positive external influences can enter while harmful ones are blocked.
She says no to abuse.
She will say no to taking on more than she can handle.
She is willing to try new relationships and work to mend distant ones.
She says yes to having fun and balance in her life.
She accepts help and support from others.
Learning healthy boundaries is a fundamental part of recovery from abuse and codependent relationships.
Keeping healthy boundaries requires attention and effort.
Under stress, it’s hard to maintain healthy boundaries even when we usually practice them.
If you'd like to explore this with me in therapy, please don't hesitate to contact me.
Here's an exercise you can do on your own. Think of a time recently when you felt guilty or remorseful about something. Draw yourself and your boundaries and think of how they worked in that situation. Do you need to strengthen your boundaries in a different way? Notice how they worked effectively for you as well.