Spotting Bad Boundaries
First, what is a boundary? Essentially, a boundary is a limit placed on your behavior or the behavior of another person that is created to respect your mutual needs and encourage healthy interactions. Boundaries are vital to helping us feel safe and comfortable in our relationships to ourselves and others and without them, we often feel anxious, neglected, and sometimes angry or confused. You can read all about them in my guide to healthy boundaries.
Since boundaries are learned, it’s possible that you may not have experienced what it feels like to have healthy boundaries or how to go about exploring them in your relationships. Here are some common signs that you might be practicing bad boundaries
1. You feel like you must put other people’s needs and feelings before your own at all times.
This is the number one indicator that you are likely not practicing healthy boundaries. There are of course moments of extreme crisis when you must set yourself aside but in general, YOUR needs and feelings are the most important. No one else is going to figure out your needs and feelings for you, as cool as that would be. Conversely, you are NOT responsible for the needs and feelings of those around you and the feeling that you are is a sign that you need to evaluate your boundaries.
2. You believe that if you do establish a boundary, it will damage your relationships
You might be scared that if you tell people what you really need or want from them, they may not like you anymore. They might be upset with you or you might be abandoned. This comes from the unrealistic belief that your needs don’t matter to the people in your life and that they likely won’t be met if they are expressed anyway. If you are feeling fearful that telling people your boundaries might push them away, this is likely a sign that you have not established a healthy boundary in the first place.
3. You feel like you don’t the the right to your boundaries
Many people feel this way if they have not experienced relationships with healthy boundaries before. However, EVERYONE has their own personal needs and boundaries and is entitled to having people respect them in their relationships. It is impossible for someone to go through life simply meeting the needs of others, no matter how altruistic or well intentioned. Everyone has the right to their own preferences and boundaries that keep them healthy.
4. You feel like you don’t understand your boundaries well enough to state them
This is also quite common if you have not had the chance to learn about healthy boundaries before. It’s hard to know what you need if you have no frame of reference! The signs of this are feeling confused, empty, anxious or inexplicably angry in your relationships. Often times when we don’t know how we feel, we can withdraw or focus obsessively on the other person’s emotions in order to distract us from our feelings of discomfort.
Do any of these things resonate for you? They should, unless you’ve lived a conflict free life of confidence and perfect boundaries (where are you, idealized healthy boundary person? tell me your secrets!) It’s common to feel all of these things in our relationships and it’s absolutely not a sign of failure. Discomfort is a great indicator that we need to put extra care and attention into a certain area of our life so if you are feeling any of these emotions of guilt, fear, or confusion around boundaries, it’s a sign that you need to dedicate extra attention to boundaries and explore what they mean to you.
Want to learn more about boundaries? Check out my full guide to healthy boundaries. Have questions about how to improve yours? Get in touch in the comments or drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.