To make an appointment online, go to TherapyAppointment.com,
then click on "find your therapist"in the upper right corner of the screen
and follow the directions to sign up as a new client, fill out
a biographical information form, and make an appointment.
Picture these three scenarios:
1) You’re at home, and you hear a noise outside. When you investigate, you discover that your
house has no front door, and your intrusive neighbor has just walked in and helped herself to
something from your refrigerator.
2) Someone knocks at your front door. You look through the peephole, and you don’t recognize
the man outside. Instead of going away, he knocks harder and then insists that you let him in.
Even though you don’t want to do so, you find yourself unlocking the door and letting him in.
3) A friend of yours comes over to visit. When she knocks on the door, you try to open it, only
to find that it is locked with a padlock to which you do not have the key.
These scenarios all sound ridiculous, don’t they? If you look at them literally, yes, they do.
They make sense, though, if you look at them as analogies that describe problems with
personal boundaries. These boundary problems are often called codependency.
Do you have problems with personal boundaries (in other words, are you codependent)?
Here’s a quiz to find out (a longer version can be found on the codependency quiz page):
1) Do you find it difficult or impossible to say no to requests, then feel resentful
when you get overwhelmed?
2) Do you have difficulty trusting yourself or others?
3) When you were growing up, did you have a “best friends” relationship with
one of your parents rather than a parent/child relationship?
4) Do you allow yourself to be hurt in relationships and accept behavior from
your partner that you said you would not accept?
5) Do you often feel used?
6) Do you have problems with intimacy (emotional or physical)?
7) Do you tend to take responsibility for other people’s feelings or actions?
8) Do other people often take advantage of your goodwill?
9) Do you have problems identifying feelings or find yourself trying to avoid feelings?
10) Did you grow up with alcoholism or addiction, or did you experience neglect;
abandonment; or physical, emotional, or sexual abuse?
If you answered “yes” to at least two of these questions, you probably have
some difficulties with boundaries.
So what are boundaries, anyway? They are the dividing lines between you and other people.
If you have no boundaries, you have no sense of yourself apart from other people, and you
don’t know how to keep others out (scenario #1). Or you don’t know how to make sure your
needs are met because you are putting everyone else’s needs and demands first, whether
you want to or not (scenario #2). If you have rigid boundaries, you don’t (or can’t)
let anyone in or let yourself out (scenario #3).
Many of us don’t do well at setting and maintaining boundaries. Take, for instance, the
word “No.” How many of us can comfortably say “No” to requests from others? Not many!
Whether intentionally or not, many of us were raised with the belief that we exist for
others more than for ourselves.
Where do problems with boundaries come from? We learn (or fail to learn) about boundaries
from our families. In a healthy family, each person has a right to some privacy and all of the
members of the family respect each others’ needs. Parents are parents and kids are kids;
parents don’t act like children, and children don’t have to act like parents.
All families, of course, fall short of this ideal at times, although some do better than others.
Many of my clients grew up with alcoholic parents. In alcoholic families, the boundaries
between family members are not well defined, and are not respected. There are very rigid
boundaries between the family and the rest of the world, however; family members present
a good face to the world and hide the secret of their family dysfunction. These things are also
true of families in which emotional, physical, or sexual abuse occurs.
So, what does it look like if someone has good boundaries? If we continue with the house
analogy from the beginning of the article, someone who has good boundaries has a front door
which is generally kept locked, but which can be unlocked and opened for friends or other safe
people. Healthy boundaries not only help us to say “no” to what we don’t want; they also help
us to say “yes” to what we do want.
And how do you achieve this? Learn to listen to yourself. Ask yourself what you need or want
and what feels right and safe to you. Then respect yourself enough to allow it. If you place a
reasonable amount of value on yourself, you will make sure that your own needs are met but
will also, when appropriate, help other people to meet their needs. You will learn to recognize
and accept your own feelings and those of others so that you can let people get to know you
better if you choose to do so, but keep them out if you don’t.
Look at the people who are closest to you. Do they respect you and your needs? Do they feel
safe to you? Do they make requests rather than demands, and are they willing to take “no” for
an answer? If they are not willing or able to respect your boundaries, what are your options?
Can you redefine or, if need be, end the relationship?
In the end, the only person who is responsible for maintaining your boundaries is you.
What will you do to make the changes that you need to make?
If you would like to explore these issues further, you can make an appointment online,
call me at (240) 401-8086, or consider joining my "Discovering 'Normal'" counseling group.
645 Baltimore-Annapolis Blvd.
Severna Park, MD 21146