Psychology for Living
As we grow towards wholeness, the concept of personal boundaries tends to come up sooner or later.
In co-dependent relationships, we allow our feelings and actions to be influenced or even determined by the wishes or opinions of others. This means we are not living our lives authentically, that is, in harmony with who we are. This is not healthy because we are not honouring ourselves, and sooner or later we feel resentful.
Having clear personal boundaries means being aware of what we want and need, and not allowing others to violate our wishes, or try to control us. On the simplest level, this could be saying no to a social invitation because you’d rather relax at home.
It could be saying no to sex because you’re not ready, or not feeling intimately connected to the other person. It might be telling a neighbor to call first, instead of just dropping in, or telling the kids that you love the grandchildren, but do not want to babysit so much.
Each time we do something that we really don’t want to be doing, we are, in a sense, violating ourselves. We may get angry inside, and blame the other person, but we can’t expect them to know how we feel if we don’t tell them.
Sometimes we are afraid they’ll be angry or hurt if we speak our truth, or even that we’ll lose their love or friendship. Consequently, we feel guilty for wanting to take care of ourselves, and guiltier if the other person is hurt or offended by the stand we are taking.
Many of my female clients feel that if they assert their needs, that they will seem “bitchy.” If men assert their boundaries, women often take it personally, and so he tries to fix her pain instead of looking after himself. It’s easy to become so enmeshed in the process of taking care of other’s emotional needs and feeling guilty about our own, and this process is at the core of codependency.
Healthy boundaries are about taking responsibility for our own emotional needs and honoring the needs of others. You tell me what you need, and I’ll tell you what I need, and then we’ll figure out the best way to try to meet both of our needs. No one is wrong for feeling how they feel, that’s just the way it is in that moment.
If we can see ourselves as equals, each with wants and needs, and each deserving of happiness, and create a safe space for expressing these, then we are well on the way towards establishing healthy boundaries. And you can’t have a healthy relationship without them.
Gwen Randall-Young is an author and award-winning psychologist. For permission to reprint this article, or to obtain books, CDs or MP3s, visit www.gwen.ca. Follow Gwen on Facebook for inspiration.