4 Signs You Have Unhealthy Boundaries

Healthy relationships begin with healthy boundaries

Nick Wignall
Apr 3 · 7 min read
Photo by Pressmaster from Pexels

Everybody thinks communication is the key to healthy relationships. But I’m not so sure…

Obviously, communication is important in any relationship. But here’s the thing many people don’t realize:

Poor communication is often a result of relationship problems, but rarely the cause.

Over the years working as a psychologist and seeing just about every shape and size of relationships problem, there’s something much more fundamental that causes relationships to fall apart: Unhealthy boundaries

Unhealthy boundaries mean there’s an imbalance in the mixture of intimacy and independence in a given relationship.

For example:

If you want healthy relationships, you need healthy boundaries.

In the rest of this article, I’m going to walk through 4 signs that your boundaries might be unhealthy and the quality of your relationships at risk.

If you have any kind of relationship struggle — big or small, work or home — creating better boundaries is one of the best investments you can make for happier, healthier, and more effective relationships.

1. You Set Boundaries but Don’t Enforce Them

Let’s be honest: Setting boundaries isn’t that hard…

While it may be a little uncomfortable being assertive and asking for what you want, that’s nothing compared to how difficult it is to actually enforce those boundaries when they’re violated or disrespected:

Here’s the problem:

When you set boundaries without reinforcing them, you get increasingly resentful and they get increasingly disrespectful.

Think about it… When you set a boundary but don’t reinforce it, you’re training other people to not take you and your requests seriously. And worse, you’re eroding your own self-worth because you’re not willing to stand up for what’s important to you.

So before you start setting more boundaries with people in your life, remember that for every boundary you set, you need to have a workable plan for enforcing that boundary as well. Otherwise, you’re going to end up worse off than if you set no boundaries in the first place.

Remember:

Never set a boundary you’re not willing to enforce.

2. You Compromise on Your Boundaries Constantly

Given how challenging it can be to set healthy boundaries — much less enforce them — it’s understandable that many people fall into a pattern of setting compromised boundaries.

Think of a compromised boundary as a watered-down boundary.

For example:

Here’s the thing:

Compromised boundaries make you feel better in the moment, but usually, the effect is the same as not setting a boundary at all.

At the end of the day, you’re still not standing up for yourself. And you’re still training other people to think that you’re not really serious about your boundaries.

Of course, sometimes compromise is necessary. But if you’re in the habit of constantly compromising on your values, that suggests that it’s less about finding an optimal solution and more about you trying to avoid the consequences of either not setting a boundary at all or setting and enforcing one when it’s uncomfortable.

If you struggle a lot with compromising your values, try practicing setting small boundaries in more minor situations but sticking with them. Then, as you get more confident and skilled, you can set them in bigger, more emotionally tense situations.

For example:

If setting firm boundaries with your boss feels too anxiety-producing, practice setting small but firm boundaries with your coworkers. When a coworker asks you if you can cover for them for something tomorrow that really inconveniences you, try setting a firm boundary by saying “I’m really sorry, Jeff. I wish I could but I have a prior commitment.”

If you constantly compromise on your boundaries, it’s not a character flaw or personality deficit. It just means you need more practice and confidence.

And like building any kind of skill, the trick is to start small and slowly work your way up.

Remember:

Better to set small boundaries you can enforce than big ones you can’t.

3. You Try to Set Boundaries You Don’t Believe In

The whole point of setting boundaries is to help you engage in relationships in a way that aligns with your values.

For example:

Boundaries exist to protect your values.

So it’s ironic that many of us end up setting boundaries that are in conflict with our own personal values.

Here’s an example of what it looks like to set a boundary that’s in conflict with your values:

It’s difficult to sustain a boundary that doesn’t line up with your personal values and preferences. And what’s worse, these values-dissonant boundaries usually end up backfiring eventually, anyway.

So, remember:

A boundary set for the wrong reasons can be as unhealthy as no boundary set at all.

4. You Don’t Respect Your Boundaries with Yourself

So far, we’ve talked about setting boundaries with other people. But it’s worth remembering that you can and should set boundaries with yourself.

And the reason is pretty simple…

Just like healthy relationships with others depends on good boundaries, a healthy relationship with yourself depends on setting good boundaries with yourself.

Here are a few examples:

Obviously, there are all sorts of benefits that come from setting good boundaries with yourself: From getting good grades and staying in shape to having enough money for retirement and being a good listener, many of the most important things in life depend on our ability to set (and enforce) boundaries with ourselves.

But there’s one more crucial reason why healthy boundaries with yourself are so important:

How can you expect other people to respect your boundaries for them if you don’t respect your boundaries for yourself?

It’s a pretty fundamental fact of human nature that we tend to have more respect for people who seem to respect themselves:

Similarly, I think that on a less-than-conscious level, we tend to disrespect the boundaries of people who don’t seem very good at enforcing their own boundaries.

Of course, I’m not saying that’s good or okay. I just think it is the way it is.

If you feel like other people never respect your boundaries, it’s worth reflecting on your own relationship with your internal boundaries.

In nothing else, the confidence that comes from setting and enforcing your own healthy boundaries with yourself is likely to give you more confidence setting and enforcing healthy boundaries with others.

Remember:

You can’t control if other people respect your boundaries, but you can always control whether you respect your own.

All You Need to Know

You can improve the quality of just about any relationship in your life — including your relationship with yourself — by creating better boundaries.

And if you can avoid these 4 common boundary mistakes, you’ll be well on your way:

  1. Setting boundaries without enforcing them
  2. Compromising too much on your boundaries
  3. Setting boundaries you don’t really believe in
  4. Not respecting your own boundaries

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Nick Wignall

Written by

Psychologist and blogger. I help people use psychology for meaningful personal growth: https://nickwignall.com

Personal Growth

Sharing our ideas and experiences.

Nick Wignall

Written by

Psychologist and blogger. I help people use psychology for meaningful personal growth: https://nickwignall.com

Personal Growth

Sharing our ideas and experiences.

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