Boundaries and moving towards what we want

“Normally, he liked boundaries. Boundaries were the safety net. Boundaries kept people on the right path. But right now, he felt like rules were made to be broken and consequences were miles and miles away.”

Heather Burch, Halflings

On boundaries

Sometimes we disconnect with our feelings, needs and desires or other times we do not respect or facilitate the space for other people to connect with their feelings, needs and desires. This can lead to inability to set our boundaries which can result in hurt, miscommunication, breakdown of relationships, and burn out. 

Boundaries are the limits or rules we set to define what feels safe and acceptable way that we want to interact with others. Our boundaries develop when we reflect upon what we like and what we do not like. Boundaries are set for the safety and well-being of our physical, psychological, social and spiritual worlds. 

Examples on how we can end up having difficulties with asserting our boundaries:

Boundaries are created based on our values and beliefs, our past experiences, and what we have learned to be acceptable boundaries from our culture, society and family we grew up in. 

Our past experiences and early childhood experiences can play a crucial role in our capacity to set boundaries. Here I will explain briefly some emotional patterns that can develop early in childhood and could create difficulties in setting boundaries that feel good. 

Some of us find it very difficult to assert our boundaries because we grew up in families that saw boundary setting as creating a separation between us and them and they could not bear that separation. For example, some of us had mothers who always told us how we should feel and think, and therefore did not allow us space to figure this out for ourselves. This may have an underlying  fear of loss or fear of abandonment. The parents could have had intense experiences on loss or abandonment when they were children and therefore found it difficult to accept that their child can be separated from them, even by making their own decisions. 

Some others of us have had experienced aggression or negligence from our parents when we grew up and our way of dealing with it could have been to also be aggressive towards other people. On the top of being traumatised by the aggression we experienced as children we were then also traumatised by being criticised for our aggression and being seen as 'bad'. This could have led us in finding setting boundaries very difficult because we developed a black or white belief that there are only two options, we are either aggressive or passive. This belief may have been developed to protect us from harming others or being harmed but it may be now blocking us from connecting with our feelings and communicating that with others. This can lead to a life with a constant underlying feeling of numbness and boredom.

Some others of us have experienced parents with very high expectations from us that we felt we needed to fulfil to keep them happy so that they can keep loving us and taking care for us. The problem with this is that by doing that we lost touch with our internal guidance system and ability to set our own aspirations and boundaries. The risk from this pattern is that we could have ended up in endless circles of following other people's expectations from us and then rebelling against them to find ourselves. This pattern may create difficulties in relating with others and in being at ease with ourselves. 

There are many more ways of how our past experiences and our family dynamics may have influenced our capacity to set boundaries. Recognising our own patterns is crucial for being able to develop our very own boundaries that work for us. To understand further our subjective experience of boundaries and how to set boundaries  that feel good, we need to explore them in relation to our own life. 

Accepting other people's boundaries

When we feel that we need to protect ourselves from the world and we feel fearful and insecure we can get defensive and not only assert our boundaries but also go a bit further and try to impose our boundaries on others, we then feel they 'should' have the same boundaries that we have. 

Setting boundaries to assert ourselves is different to judging, critiquing or manipulating other people to conform to our boundaries. If a friend of us wants to have open relationships but we prefer to engage in monogamous relationships we do not need to change their boundaries to validate ours. We could have a discussion with our friend where we both understand which are our values and desires and even where they are coming from. We can both keep our own boundaries and realise why we have them without having to criticise each other or make the other conform to our boundaries. It is important to be aware that our fears, insecurities, desires and needs that lead us to create our boundaries in the first place may be triggered from someone else who does not share the same boundaries to us. 

Accepting each others boundaries can become a bit more  complicated if our boundaries become conflicting. For example if we are in a relationship and the one person wants to have children but the other person does not want to, then we need to explore our desires and needs, and then see if we can shift or conform our desires or if we need to leave the relationship. Discussing what to do about this and finding the best solution for both parties does not mean ignoring our boundaries. In some cases separation can be the way forward in order to avoid burn out or/and long term un-fulfilment.  

Boundaries versus blockages (following our love instead of our fear)

The main difference between boundaries and blockages is that a boundary is created to facilitate space and safety so that we can move towards what we want and what we love. On the other hand a blockage is a boundary that is focused on what we are afraid could happen and is all about protecting us from negative outcomes and danger. Safety is the common denomination, when someone is threatening to hit us we put our boundaries to protect ourselves from physical harm. In boxing when the opponent is about to hit us we want to protect our body and deflect the punches. When someone is a threat to our emotional health we also put our boundaries. This makes sense in terms of our well-being and survival, but sometimes we are getting overly focused on what can go wrong and what we are afraid that we put so many and strict boundaries that make it difficult for us to move forward or to do what we want. For example, a boxer who cannot hit with his fist because he is afraid of an injury and an actress that cannot play a role because of the fear of how she is going to be perceived by the audience, both created boundaries that turned into blockages as they got fuelled by intense fear. 

Boundaries and moving towards what we want

'Healthy' boundaries 

Setting clear boundaries of what we want and do not want is very important for our movement towards creating the life that we want and satisfying our wants and needs. Saying no to what we do not want can also be like saying yes to what we want. In addition, by expressing our desires and needs we can invite people who can meet them to stay in our lives and people who cannot meet our needs stay in our lives in different roles or gravitate away from us. Ultimately setting boundaries with the intention of moving to the direction of what we want can increase our well-being, health, sense of fulfilment and happiness. 

Taking care of ourselves can help us feel strong and be able to assert our boundaries physically, energetically, psychologically, and socially. Asserting our boundaries can make us feel stronger too. By setting our own boundaries we are giving the message that we are standing by ourselves, our values and our beliefs, we have integrity, and we care for ourselves. Examples of this can be: cutting the cord from what no longer serves us, we are taking breaks instead of burning out, we lose attachments to people and situations that drain us, we are taking time of to regain our strength and focus where we need to, we are saying no when we cannot or do not want to do something, and we prioritise our needs and wants above other things.

We can do this by listening to ourselves, listening to our feelings, to our truth, to our intuitive inner knowingness voice. Questions that can help us identify our boundaries could be: how does this decision feel to me? Does this feel good to me? Do I feel calm and satisfied with a situation or does it make me feel anxious? Does my decision to say yes to something make me happy, satisfied or fulfilled or does it make me feel distressed, resentful or angry?

Sometimes it has been years of detracting from listening to our feelings and it can take time to reconnect with them and express them.  

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London, SW4 9JX
Written by Konstandina Polychronopoulou
London, SW4 9JX

Konstandina Polychronopoulou is Counsellor, Psychotherapist, Psychologist, Coach and Mindfulness Facilitator. She is committed to healing, well-being, happiness, and balance. Konstandina is passionate about assisting her clients in creating their desired life. Konstandina specialises in relationship issues, anxiety, depression and addiction.

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