Boundaries in Relationships

Boundaries in Relationships

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What are boundaries?

Boundaries are the ‘space’ between ourselves and the other person. This can be emotional, mental or a physical space. It can also be explained as “the line where I end and someone else begins”, stated by clinical psychologist Ryan Howes. Another way to think of boundaries is imagining state borders throughout the country. We all have an emotional/mental/physical border that keeps us comfortable and safe. These borders indicate to people what is okay and what is not okay.

Have you ever been in a situation where a friend leans in too close to you, and you want to immediately lean away? Your physical boundary has been crossed. Have you ever been part of a conversation and the other person shares too many details? That’s an emotional/mental boundary that is being crossed. Boundaries are applicable to all relationships. Whether it’s between friendships, family members or coworkers.

What’s an unhealthy boundary? Unhealthy boundaries include oversharing, being uncomfortably close to others, feeling extremely incomplete without your partner and being controlled by another. This can be observed in codependent relationships.

What does healthy boundaries look like? Healthy boundaries include keeping private information private, being considerate about your presence and not impeding on another’s personal space, taking responsibility for your own happiness and being open and honest with others.

How are boundaries formed?

Boundaries are formed primarily throughout childhood. If a child’s needs are met, they are able to develop a healthy sense of personal boundaries. However, if a child suddenly has to take care of a parent with an addiction/mental illness, there can be confusion as to what a healthy boundary is. Children who suffer verbal, physical or sexual abuse can also struggle with developing healthy personal boundaries.

Why are boundaries useful?

Healthy boundaries are useful as it helps to sustain our relationships, by giving it structure. We are able to communicate open and honestly, share our feelings and thoughts without impeding on other’s mental health. It helps to establish our own identity. It’s also good for stabilising our mental and emotional states.

If we don’t have boundaries set for ourselves, it may lead people to disrespect our time, our effort or our space. Unhealthy boundaries can even impede on our happiness.
For example, I used to keep my notification sounds on for my emails. Throughout the night, the “pinging” sound of my phone would wake me up. I started waking up annoyed because of the sounds. I’ve disabled the notification settings now. This is what setting a boundary looks like – although it is simple, it is effective and relevant for more serious situations. I respect my sleep and time-out from technology, so I took the necessary step to ensure this is respected.

How can we apply it to our lives?

1. Communicate!
First, communicate! Sometimes we may not be aware of our boundaries until it happens. That’s okay! Just make sure you communicate that with the other person so they know. Encourage them to also do the same with you.

2. Be honest!
This can also fall under communication. Be honest and clear about what is okay and what is not okay. You’re not just protecting yourself but also the other person from resentment, constant fighting or silent treatments.

3. Find support outside of the relationship.
Seek a professional that you trust to work through boundary issues. Sometimes it’s easier to navigate our feelings if there is a professional outside of the relationship, supporting us. Even a trusted friend or family member can help us through this.

4. Learn to say no.
If it is not in your best interest, say no. As humans, we generally have the innate ability to notice when we’re in a toxic relationship. It’s okay to walk away. It is within your ability and right, to say no and walk away. Don’t worry about what other people think!

5. Be aware of your needs.
In my previous post, I spoke about what ‘needs‘ are. If you prefer to be alone sometimes to recharge – don’t sacrifice that time. Prioritise space and distance to look after yourself.

6. Do your best to stay consistent.
Don’t look outward for self-esteem, search within yourself. The key to self-love is setting healthy boundaries. Always remember your own strength.

Remember, you cannot pour from an empty cup. In order to help others, we must first help ourselves. Think of ways you can start to make those positive changes. Is it by communicating with others? Or by writing down boundaries to work on? Maybe you can encourage someone who is struggling with this today. Life is all about learning and growing!

 

If you found this post helpful, please like, share or comment down below!
Love and light x

Image by Priscilla Du Preez.

 

 

How art has helped me: the teen years.

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*To make the post interactive, hyperlinks have been added. Videos and further information are there for maximum learning. Please note some videos may be triggering, so proceed with caution.*

High school was a place of discovery and I enjoyed the new-found independence. However, there was a power struggle between me and my parents. I admit, I was not the easiest daughter to deal with. At all. Restrictions and deadlines simply encouraged me to rebel, further and further. The more restrictions that came, the more resentment I harboured. I couldn’t understand why I felt the way I felt. I couldn’t figure out why I was losing motivation. Some days I was snappy and other days I thought I might burst from feeling loved. During these few years, I had confided in a teacher that I had lost motivation to do anything (including the psychology assignment due that day). She told me to speak to a counsellor to try and help me get back on track. I’d never seen a counsellor before, and my view of counsellors were people who would only tell my parents whatever I would say. I went once, feeling too vulnerable to have a proper conversation. I didn’t return.

I was part of a couple youth groups and that was a way to socialise, free of stress and expectations. However, every time the meetings were over, leaving was almost derisive; the feeling of impending doom remained. Having trouble trusting adults already, I wasn’t about to seek help from a teacher or counsellor. Guidance was what I needed, but I didn’t know where to look.

As the senior years rolled around, things got worse.

My family life was on unstable hinges and my personal life was slowly deteriorating. Let’s throw in a toxic relationship too, shall we? The cycle of control continued. He told me to stop talking to certain friends and that I shouldn’t be going to friend’s parties. If I tried to hide it to keep the peace, I’d be questioned and judged for doing so. He’d also belittle my feelings; I eventually stopped sharing them. One night, I remember being on the phone, and he realised I was at a friend’s party. He was furious, almost yelling through the phone. I was ready to throw the damn phone away. But, I was young and naive. I wanted someone to be ‘on my side’, even if that person was more controlling than my parents. Toxic relationships in your teenage years can be so taxing on your mind, body and those around you.  During this time, I had thoughts about self-harm and running away to be free from the control and manipulation.

I was away from school more and more, and my grades were slipping. Teachers began to notice. The year-level coordinator eventually coaxed it out of me, and I told him what was going on in my life. He said that abuse is never okay. I didn’t understand what he meant, but I felt like for the first time, an adult understood what I was going through. Still, because I wasn’t willing to seek further help, the coordinator couldn’t do anything more than listen if ever I felt overwhelmed.

I still felt trapped. Since I couldn’t talk about my emotions, I decided I’d draw them. I was already withdrawn from the outside world, so I may as well take advantage of it. Colours I remember using regularly was black, red and brown. I constantly drew squares and triangles, representing anger, barriers, cages and anything else that expressed feeling ‘imprisoned’. Charcoal was my weapon of choice. I enjoyed the ability to express so much, that I did my Research Project on art as therapy. This subject was the highlight of high school because I felt I could pour my soul into the work, without it feeling like effort. The same could be said about my final art project. I finally found a way to communicate. Perhaps it was my inner rebel triumphing again – always finding a way to survive.

Creativity was a permanent device in my tool-box, ever since. If I was feeling stressed, sad or anxious, I knew I could express it through art. Years on, I understand why my parents were over-bearing. They were trying their best to look out for me. Our conversations tell me they had learned not to be too strict on their younger kids, as it would only push them away. The ex on the other hand… well, he’s still an ex.

These days, I have been learning to speak up. Drawing is great, but to get through this world in life and work, it is important to be able to communicate effectively. To ask for what you want. To stand up, when you’re not being treated fairly. And to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.

If you notice a friend is withdrawn, not their usual self, or talks about hardship in a relationship or in their family – support them. They may be experiencing mental health issues or have someone in their life that is emotionally abusive. Even if a friend does not want to share what they’re going through, it is important for them to know that they’re not alone.

Here are some signs you can look out for:

  • Withdrawn from family/friends
  • Constantly unable to make small decisions without checking in with their partner/family member
  • Excessively texting/messaging whereabouts
  • Loss of motivation
  • Loss of confidence
  • Being told they can’t talk to a certain person/group of people for no reason

What I wish I knew: Never be afraid to stand up for yourself. Read books about communication and human development to understand what’s going on in your mind and body. Be aware of signs of manipulation and emotional abuse. If you need help, reach out to a trusted confidant or counsellor. There are people out there that are for you, not against you.

Phone and online counselling service: Kidshelpline (ages 5 to 25).
Video on art therapy.
Image by Jacqueline.