The definition of a boundary is subject to multiple interpretations. In psychology, a boundary is an emotional distance or mindset, a restriction that people place on others, and, they are present in all relationships. Setting boundaries tells people, how they can treat us. Boundaries are personal, emotional spaces that people learn to impose on others; to preserve the value of self love. To create an emotional space or place a boundary, is like setting an emotional psychological dividing line between the self and another person.
Personal boundaries are like the physical boundaries that are present between countries. One example of a boundary is the saying “Don’t Cross this line” in hopes that the other person will honor and respect the request. Well, we all know sometimes this does not happen. This article will be discussing how self love and boundaries mix.
What is Self Love?
If people have self-love, they respect their thoughts, feelings and beliefs and experience a deep sense of pride; a strut like feeling that says they have the right to have ideas, speak them, and expect others to be respectful. People that love themselves acknowledge and accept the fact that they have some faults and, for the most part excuse themselves. They learn from the mistakes made in life. Learning how to love ones self originates in childhood through nurturing from parents who modeled the benefits of being kind, caring and honest, and accepted the child’s minor imperfections. In other words, people learn the art of emotional self protection, and learn how to love, through parental modeling.
What are Boundaries?
Internal, personal boundaries protect people from getting emotionally upset just as external boundaries protect the country from invasion. The goals of both are to keep people out. Internal personal boundaries are something like an emotional “bubble wrap” which stretches a bit during conversations. Internal boundaries are different from the fixed and rigid external boundaries that countries establish. For example, the walls of China were so to speak constructed of stone.
The ability to execute an internal boundary depends on how people value their sense of self, their thoughts, ideas, and beliefs and is dependent on one’s ability to have self love. In general, people define relationships by how much they care for another, and by how much they want to maintain the sense of self. Once again this emotional “plastic wrap” is present in all relationships: family, friends, coworkers and everyone in the world. Accepting the boundaries that others impose, will guide the relationship on a path that leads to mutual respect!
People who feel emotionally vulnerable or those who desperately want to seek approval from others are most susceptible to losing their sense of self because the protection, the “bubble wrap”, their emotional boundary was not noticed, properly set, or communicated. Be cautious about making too many compromises, as the “bubble wrap” can expand to the point of breaking, and may cause people to question their own thoughts, feelings and identity. This questioning leaves a hole in peoples self esteem. Emotional boundaries are indeed flexible however can break under stress, or when making too many compromises, much easier than the rigid concrete walls of China.
How Self Love and Boundaries Affect the Abused Child
Adults who grew up neglected or abused have to contend with two emotionally opposing forces. To accept a life in the only too satisfy other manner (co-dependent), or the opposite direction, accept the fact, that they are going to be the manipulators who struggle to get their own needs met, often at the expense of another’s self esteem. People who do not respect or accept boundaries are the energy zappers of the world and can emotionally wear people down. If those protective boundaries are worn down enough, people will start to feel and be victims of emotional abuse, just as they were when they as a child. Sometimes anger and resentment follows, and at other times, depression and anxiety symptoms develop. Those in this stage are hurt and abused who also tend to weaken and injure people. The fortunate ones are able to process the hurt, get into therapy and work through the pain with a kind caring therapist and bounce back with their identity, self-worth and self-acceptance restored.
A Few Tips on Setting Boundaries
Tip 1: Setting Boundaries is the First Step to Regaining Control of Life.
If relationships are abusive and you find yourself being submissive accept a portion of this as being your responsibility. As adults, we have a choice. Ask if it is truly worth the pain and suffering to be with someone who is abusive, someone who is not respecting your self worth.
It might seem like learning how to walk again, because this is indeed a new learning experience and change can be scary. It takes courage to face fears, but maybe some of these fears are of the imagination. For the first time in life, you might notice that there is another option. That choice is to find a compassionate therapist who can help and assist you on the journey towards learning self love.
Tip 2: Learning to Set Limits will affect your Partner.
This setting of boundaries is new and your partner is not adjusted to you setting these limits, therefore it is also a significant change in their mindset. Honesty with care is the best policy, but as quoted “to thine own self be true.”
Tip 3: Direct Communication is the Key
Misinterpretation or lack of communication turns molehills into mountains. Using clear, simple language in a direct, respectful fashion will make you feel proud, simply because you spoke your peace. If your partner raises an eyebrow, try not to assume you understand what they mean, because honestly you do not know what they are thinking. Even though we all might wish we had these remarkable mind reading abilities. Make your partner do some work, and make them verbally communicate their thoughts directly to you, in other words ask them what they mean by that raised eyebrow.
Tip 4: Reflections in the Mirror
Accept yourself and take responsibility for mistakes, we all make them at times in life. No one is perfect! We might not have set out to control, but sometimes it happens. This is not about being right or wrong with anyone, it is just learning how to effectively communicate. Forgive yourself, apologize and you seriously might get that joyful feeling of not only accepting yourself with making a mistake, you also might notice that warm, fuzzy feeling of inner joy when someone else forgives you for making that mistake! This takes real strength and courage.
Step 5: Be Happy
When we surrender, and allow others the opportunity to attack our boundaries, we say to them it is their responsibility, and let them take control over making the situation better. People absolve themselves of all responsibility, and this sets the scene for abuse. When in fact, there is another choice, strive towards making yourself happy.
In conclusion, if people had a healthy, nurturing childhood, they probably grew up feeling grounded, and learned how to protect their sense of self love, self-worth and have a sense of feeling internally proud. They learned how to set emotional boundaries, and learned how to say no, because they felt loved as a child. In their childhood experiences, there was no need to scavenge for affection, or try desperately to please, just to gain attention and love. They sensed love for their thoughts, beliefs and feelings, just for being in the world, even when they made mistakes. Thank your parents for their modeling, and giving this love to you, and I thank you for having the ability to model this behavior to the people in your life. It just makes the world a better place. This is how self love and boundaries mix. Health Psychology for Everyday Life, the book.
© Dr. Cheryl MacDonald
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Cover Image: canstockphoto|Azalia
Means, Patrick. The Boundaries Book. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2005.