Are there situations in your life that could be a lot healthier, easier, happier, less stressful if you could say “no” or otherwise hold a clear boundary? Boundaries are essential to maintaining our autonomy and dignity in relationships. Boundaries create and maintain the emotional safety that allows us to feel relaxed and trusting in our closest relationships. Do you find yourself agreeing to do, give or accept certain responsibilities, burdens or behaviours when you really don’t want to? Does this result in a lot of inner conflict?
Most parents grew up in families where there wasn’t a lot of healthy modelling of both expressing boundaries respectfully or honouring each other’s boundaries. When a person is unable to express and maintain healthy boundaries, they tend to use all sorts of unhealthy defence mechanisms in attempts to meet their needs. Those defence mechanisms can include additions that mask the inner conflict and distress that the lack of healthy boundaries creates. Unhealthy defence mechanisms can include withholding, distancing, lying, hiding secrets or behaviours or stonewalling. Unhealthy defence mechanisms can include hostility and aggression.
Do you find it easy or difficult to;
(a) identify your need to assert a boundary? Listening to your gut and identifying “I need to say no here”
(b) respect your own boundaries? Affirming “It’s ok that I want to say no”
(c) assert your boundaries? This means expressing your no as a clear boundary as opposed to hoping the other will pick up on it or agree to it”)?
(d) be assertive without being aggressive or feeling guilty?
If asserting boundaries is mostly difficult and stressful for you …
then you may tend to either submit and allow yourself to be overpowered by others, including your children, or fight back more aggressively than necessary resulting in a break down of the connection with the other person, including your children. Or you may see-saw from one reaction to the other. You may waste a lot of time and energy avoiding situations with your child or others that may lead to you needing to say no, set a limit “it’s time to leave now” or assert a personal boundary “it hurts me when you push your trike into me”.
When you were a child, you needed support, empathy, reassurance and to feel heard when conflicts arose in your family
Were these needs met? Did you feel that you had a voice? Were conflicts generally worked through to the end where a satisfactory solution of some kind was arrived at? Were you given the message that you had the right to say “no”, negotiate or resist?
Many if not most adults didn’t receive the respect and support that they needed at times when they expressed a boundary to their parent “I don’t want to do ….” or towards a sibling “stop doing that to me”. For many, the expression of boundaries “I don’t want to ..”, “I don’t like it when …”, “why do I have to ..?”, “what’s my sister being asked to do?” tended to lead to painful conflicts and the break down of feeling connected to those you loved and needed.
Consequently, most adults have difficulties around their expression of boundaries
(from self or other). It takes a lot of skill to manage the constant negotiating and balancing of wants and needs in the family, which takes a lot of patience. Unresolved frustrations around issues of boundaries from the past can invade the present in similar situations and can make it hard to listen clearly, express clearly and remain relatively patient and calm during such negotiations and can lead to a lot of conflicts in parenting!
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For those whose boundaries were not respected as a child;
when they said no, when they negotiated, when they resisted, when they needed their individuality respected; these people generally grow up to experience a lot of anxiety, confusion and self-conflict around expressing boundaries. If this relates to you, it may take a lot of courage to know and express your limits, but there’s so much freedom, confidence and more enjoyment to be gained from relationships when you can better care for your needs.
Those who struggle with boundaries often feel a lot of anger when their boundaries are not respected or when others put up a boundary. If this sounds familiar, know that it’s normal to carry anger relating to all situations where your boundaries were not respected, and that much of that backlog can start to clear when you become stronger in asserting your boundaries.
If parents forget to consider their own internal state and take into consideration only the needs and desires of their child, it can leave the parent feeling angry and exhausted and the child feeling insecure from a lack of boundaries. ~Daniel Siegel MD
When others push or pull us.
When we experience a battle of wills, unless we are very solid and clear with our boundaries, it provokes our anger. In these instances, your anger is a normal and healthy communication to yourself that you are out of balance. It signals that you need to correct the situation by meeting an important need to speak up, maybe to move away or otherwise respect your own needs.
It’s normal and understandable to have the urge to direct your anger at the person who you feel pushed or pulled by, yet the responsibility to express your boundaries clearly is your own. The more clearly you can express your boundary, the higher the possibility that your boundary will be respected by others. It’s our responsibility to protect ourselves from repeated situations of experiencing an invasion of our boundaries. The more skilled we are at honouring and respecting our own boundaries, the more skilled we’re likely to be at respecting our child’s boundaries. This includes protecting our child by expressing their needs in situations where they are not old or skilled enough to protect themselves.
Respecting your child’s boundaries
Adults often think more about whether or not their children are respecting their boundaries, their limits, than they do about the extent that they are themselves respecting their child’s boundaries. Children are often picked up without warning, often forced to do something they don’t want to do, forced to eat something they don’t want to eat, forced to give granny a kiss when they don’t want to, forced to listen to their parent when the parent interrogates them aggressively, the list goes on. Regardless of what the parent believes the outcome needs to be (but my child has to go to school/ eat their veg), the child needs and deserves for their boundaries to be acknowledged with respect and sensitivity. For children, there is often painful feelings behind their resistance that needs and deserves to be respected sensitively. Generally, rather than control or force, what a child needs is a good listening to!
Feeling confident in saying “NO” is essential self-care for children and parents!
Anger is an energy that can be used constructively or destructively. Sometimes, when you feel angry, when you feel stirred up on a particular issue, you gain the energy to make those necessary changes in life with more courage and power. It takes a lot of discipline to direct that energy positively. Your anger is often screaming out “NO!!” to those who you have felt repressed, dismissed or invalidated by. And there are times when that NO needs to be seen, felt, honoured and expressed by you. To harness the power of your anger and move this energy towards positive change and the healthy mature non-violent expression of boundaries, it can really help to see your need for boundaries as an energy of “YES!!” for yourself, for the meeting of some important needs. This perspective can help you to not direct it harmfully at others, because doing so is always a boomerang.
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