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Boundary Issues

January 20, 2012

I have come to the realization that many people are afflicted with boundary issues.  In fact, boundary issues underlie many, if not most, of the difficulties that people have being happy and making their way in life.  Once I realized this, I decided to become an expert on the subject.

There are two kinds of boundary issues: issues with your own boundaries, and issues with other people’s.

Your own boundaries can be either too flexible (or collapsed) or too rigid.  People with rigid boundaries are usually afraid that they will be vulnerable if they let their boundaries down.  They tend to be unadaptable, and either overly sensitive (because everything other people do is a violation of their boundaries) or emotionally numb (because they won’t let anyone get past their boundaries).  Either way, the result is usually isolation from other people.  Common signs of rigid boundaries are taking everything personally and not being able to entertain alternative points of view.

People with collapsed boundaries tend to be unassertive.  They are usually afraid that if they put up boundaries they will be isolated, or their self esteem is so low that they do not believe they are worthy of having their needs met.  Both tend to result in unhealthy attachment and dependence.  Common signs of collapsed personal boundaries are:

  • agreeing to things that make you uncomfortable in order to please other people and then expressing resentment after the fact
  • expecting other people to not have boundaries with you because you don’t have any boundaries with them (also known as codependence)
  • not being certain of or not being able to express your own feelings and needs in a given situation
  • recognizing that your feelings have been hurt but not being able to identify the cause

Issues with other people’s boundaries include not recognizing or not abiding by them.  People who violate other people’s boundaries may be unconscious, and simply not recognize that other people’s boundaries exist.  People with collapsed boundaries often do not recognize or abide by other people’s (see sign #2 above).  They may also recognize but refuse to abide by other people’s boundaries because they interpret them as signs of abandonment or rejection, and thus feel threatened by them.  People may also violate others’ boundaries for less innocent reasons, such as a need to exert dominance or narcissistic vanity (i.e. they do not recognize another person as a separate being but rather as an extension of themselves).  Common signs of not recognizing or respecting other people’s boundaries include:

  • doing something that involves another person that they have asked you not to do
  • doing something that is against another person’s wishes because it is “for their own good”
  • believing that you know what is in another person’s best interest better than they do
  • believing that another person’s perception of their own feelings and needs is mistaken or irrelevant
  • attempting to force people to listen to unsolicited advice
  • not recognizing when other people are physically or emotionally uncomfortable, or not recognizing why
  • not taking responsibility for the emotions you trigger in other people
  • meeting your needs at the expense of other people’s

Since people establish boundaries to preserve the integrity of their physical and psychic space, boundaries serve a protective purpose, and the primary emotions that are triggerred when a person’s boundaries are infringed upon are anger, sadness, and fear, as well as all of their variations: frustration, irritation, resentment, despondency, helplessness, and so on.

People with boundary issues tend to become involved in relationships with other people who have boundary issues.  This characterizes many different types of dysfunctional relationships.  Someone who has collapsed boundaries is likely to become codependent with another person with collapsed boundaries.  A person who is used to having their boundaries violated may become involved with a person who is used to ignoring or violating other people’s boundaries.  A person with low self esteem, for example, is likely to become involved with an abusive person, or another person with equally low self esteem.  In fact, one indication that you have boundary issues is a pattern of becoming involved with people who have boundary issues.

The way to deal with boundary issues is to clearly establish your boundaries and maintain them unconditionally, and meticulously observe and respect those of other people.

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