Boundaries - Setting Boundaries

Relationships | Boundaries | Setting Boundaries

Boundaries And Relationship

Sanam Naran, a Counselling Psychologist, gives profound guidance on boundaries and relationships, how to identifying boundaries and properly applying them in relationships and day to day life.


What Is A Boundary?

A boundary is what belongs to you and what you are responsible for. It is the line around the stuff inside you that makes you uniquely you (such as personal feelings and emotions, hopes and dreams, opinions and preferences, personal time, your physical body, values, morals) and marks it off as private property. Boundary lines help us to not cross into another person’s business uninvited, and to recognize when someone is inappropriately crossing into ours.

But Why Me?

Because of low self-esteem! The reason for this inability is that with low self-esteem comes a variety of irrational thoughts, emotions and actions that leads people to lose themselves in relationships with others. People with low self-esteem have a weakened “internal locus of control” and become dependent on a “strong external locus of control”. They become victims to being controlled by how others think, feel about and act towards them. People with low self-esteem are dependent on others’ approval and recognition and are therefore fearful of rejection by and conflict with others.

Boundaries & Relationships

In unhealthy boundaries, there is a fear of saying ‘no’ because it would result in loss of relationship—the love goes away. You can only say ‘yes’ if you want to stay connected. If you say ‘no’ the connection is threatened or taken away. Boundaries are the “skin” of how you relate. Skin allows us to go out into the world or into the open air and be active there because the vital organs are protected by the skin, because of the skin, toxic contaminates are not allowed in to access your internal organs. Boundaries do the same job relationally. This is how we manage to stay in relationships and work on them.

What’s The Purpose?

Boundaries serve the purpose of protecting love and caring in relationships, freeing the person to express love, to serve someone, to give to someone without being taken advantage of or abused. Boundaries structure the relationship, setting up healthy and appropriate ‘rules’ (the guidelines and limits that keep balance in the relationship). Boundaries provide protection for the individual through safety in the relationship.

What Are The Risks?

Why do we avoid healthy boundaries? It is usually because we have learned that others will punish us if we try to have healthy boundaries. This creates fears:

(1) Fear of loss of relationship. Being abandoned when the other person withdraws, pulls away, disengages.

(2) Fear of being controlled by an angry person. Being exposed to someone else’s out-of-control anger or rage.

(3) Fear of guilt. Feeling responsible for someone else’s feelings to the point of being controlled by or “held hostage” by them emotionally.

Characteristics Of A Healthy Relationship

  • Calm, centered and focused.
  • Safe, supportive, respectful, non-punitive and peaceful.
  • Taken care of, wanted, unconditionally accepted You feel part of something & not alone.
  • Forgiving and being forgiven with little revenge.
  • Free to be who you are Free from “paralysis of analysis”.
  • A sense of directedness with plan and order.
  • Supports individuality.

Lack of Individual Identity

Maybe you are hooked by the irrational belief that: “I am a nobody without a somebody in my life.” If you are, you maintain no boundaries with your relationship partners because you are very dependent in getting your identity from being with your partners. You are willing to do whatever it takes to make the relationships happen, even if you have to give your health, money, security, identity, intelligence, spiritual beliefs, family, etc.

Scarcity Principle

Rather the devil you know = Settling for 2nd best “because the current status of our relationship is better than anything we have ever had before”. This is a common problem for people recovering from low self-esteem who have faced trials and challenges in relationships in the past. The problem is that the current status of your relationships might be better than what you have experienced in the past, but they might not really be as healthy and intimate as the intimate relationship described earlier.


Control issues – reflection on you. Maybe you are hooked by irrational guilt that you must think, feel and act in certain ways to ensure that your relationships are preserved, secured and nurtured no matter what personal expense it takes out of you. You have a problem of feeling over responsible for the welfare of your partners and cannot allow your partners to accept personal responsibility, to make choices and live with the consequences of their choices. This irrational guilt is a driving motivation to keep you tearing down your boundaries so that you will always be available to your relationship partners at any time, in any place, for whatever reason your partners “need” you.

Inability to Differentiate Love from Sympathy

Maybe you are hooked by the inability to differentiate between love and sympathy or compassion for your relationship partner. You find yourself feeling sorry for your relationship partners and the warm feelings, which this generates makes you think that you are in love with them. The bigger the problems your relationship partners have, the bigger the “love” seems to you. Because the problems can get bigger and more complex, they succeed in hooking you to lower your boundaries so that you begin to give more and more of yourself to your “pitiable” partner out of the “love” you feel

Helplessness and Neediness of Relationship Partners

Maybe you get hooked by the neediness and helplessness of your partner. You find yourself hooked when your partner gets into self-pity, “poor me” and “how tough life has been”. You find yourself weak when your relationship partners demonstrate an inability to solve personal problems. You find yourself wanting to teach and instruct, when your partner demonstrates or admits ignorance of how to solve problems. These sad, weak, distraught, lost, confused and befuddled waifs are so needy that you lose all concepts of space and time as you begin to give and give and give. It feels so good.

Time will Make It Better

Maybe you get hooked by the belief that “If I give it enough time things will change to be the way I want them to be”. You have waited a long time to have healthy intimate relationships, you rationalize: “Don’t give up on them too soon”. You find yourself giving more and more of yourself and waiting longer and longer for something good to happen and yet things never get better. What keeps hooking you are those fleeting moments when the relationship approximates what you would like it to be. These fleeting moments feel like centuries and they are sufficient to keep you holding on.

It Must All Be My Fault

Maybe you get hooked by the belief that: “If I change myself more things will change to become more like I want them to be in my relationships”. You rationalize that maybe the reason things are not getting healthier and more intimate is because you need to change more to be the person your partner wants you to be. You feel blamed and pointed out by your partner as the reason why things are not healthier in the relationship. You find yourself needing to change the ways you think, feel, act, dress, talk, look, eat, work, cook, entertain, have fun, socialize, etc. before you will be “good enough” for your relationship to work.

Fear of Negative Outcomes of Relationship Partners

Maybe you are hooked by the fear of the possible negative future outcome if you are not deeply involved in taking care of and fixing your relationship partners. You may be aware of the hooks that keep you boundary-less with your partners, yet you are afraid to LET GO of the control you have with your partners for fear something very negative might happen to them. You are being emotionally blackmailed and may even have heard threats of suicide if you say you want to change or get out of the relationships the way they are.

Idealism or Fantasy Thinking

Maybe you are hooked by the fantasy or ideal about how it is supposed to be. You have an ideal, dream or image in your mind of how relationships are supposed to be or how they should be and you have a difficult time accepting them the way they really are. You work hard at making your relationships approximate your idealized fantasy. You put a great deal of time, energy and resources into making them become a reality.

Practical Rules for Boundaries:

  1. Take Ownership- Take responsibility for behaviors and their consequences. Result, it builds an internal sense of control (as opposed to feeling out-of-control).
  2. Ownership of Feelings- “I’m not in charge of or responsible for your feelings.” I am responsible for my feelings in an adult to adult manor.
  3. Personal Power- I only have power over myself. I can’t change someone else.
  4. Self-Respect- Self-respect teaches me to respect others’ boundaries.
  5. Discomfort- Not all pain is bad pain. (Sometimes healthy boundaries come with some pain).
  6. Consistency- Reactive phases are normal when resetting boundaries but don’t get stuck there.
  7. Anger- Boundaries reduce anger. Lack of boundaries builds resentments.
  8. Be Assertive- Assertive boundaries aren’t secret, they are expressed and practiced.



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