Healing Your Boundaries

"You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep others warm." ~ Unknown

Struggling to set and maintain boundaries goes by different names and can be addressed in different ways. One of the most common descriptors is “codependency”. Before reading on, it is absolutely critical to remember that dependency itself is not the enemy. In fact, it’s just as important as our independence. But they both require boundaries.

 

Codependency was originally used to describe the enabling patterns of family members and partners of those with alcohol use disorders. However, we have come to understand that it can also occur in friendships, workplaces, and most other relationships.

As we’ve grown in our understanding of how humans relate, we see the complexity of factors that can predispose someone to lose themselves in their relationships - such as emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, chronic illness, resource scarcity, or grief. When we’re in traumatic environments, we naturally find ways to self soothe or make life survivable. Sometimes this looks like people pleasing to prevent more arguing/violence, minimizing personal needs & feelings to keep others from weaponizing your vulnerability, or attempting to exert control other people’s behaviors in effort to minimize chaos.

There is a great deal of nuance and gray area in the discussion of boundaries and dependency. Be mindful that context is important, and that “healthy boundaries” may not look the same across cultures, families. generations, or religions.

Relationships with clearly enmeshed boundaries involve one party losing their sense of self/independence, and instead prioritizes the needs of others. This caring for others goes beyond what is considered healthy. Below are some specific traits and patterns of poor boundaries as described by Co-Dependents Anonymous.

 

Denial Patterns:

  • Having difficulty identifying what you are feeling

  • Minimizing, altering, or denying how you truly feel

  • Believing you are completely unselfish (citing your focus on caring for others)

Low Self-Worth Patterns:

  • Judging what you think, say, feel, and do very harshly, or as never good enough

  • Struggling to identify or ask for what you need and want from others

  • Valuing others’ approval of your thinking, feeling, & behavior over your own

Compliance Patterns

  • Remaining loyal to a fault, staying in abusive or harmful situations too long

  • Being afraid to express differing viewpoints or feelings, or putting your own interests aside in favor of others’ interests

  • Difficulty differentiating between your feelings and others’ feelings, often identifying with others’ & neglecting your own

Control Patterns

  • Attempting to change the way others feel, think, or behave because you’re “trying to help”, then becoming resentful when others decline help

  • Lavishing others with favors and gifts to receive love

  • Needing to feel needed in order to feel closeness in relationships

Avoidance Patterns:

  • Avoiding emotional, physical, or sexual intimacy to avoid feeling vulnerable

  • Behaving in ways that invite others to reject, shame, or become angry with you…to reduce future rejection or shame.

  • Allowing addiction to people, places, and things to distract you from intimacy in relationships

 

So how do I know if it’s codependency or interdependence?

Good question! A certain amount of dependence is important in relationships. In interdependence, both partners depend on each other. Each of you prioritizes & takes responsibility for meeting your own needs, but also leans on one another for support when needed.

 

Interdependency may include…

  • being able to state your own needs/desires

  • feeling safe to express your feelings and thoughts

  • being able to tell others when they ask too much without assuming they will abandon you

  • being able to ASK for help when you need it rather than suffering in silence

Healing your boundaries with a therapist may involve…

  • Learning about where your boundaries are lacking and practicing awareness

  • Learning to let go of people-pleasing tendencies, and practicing asking for support

  • Reconnecting with your true self (enmeshed boundaries involve abandonment of the self - recovery involves healing this rupture)

  • Addressing mental health symptoms worsened by poor boundaries such as anxiety, shame, depression, burnout

  • Learn and practice healthy assertive communication skills

 

One of the hardest parts of healing enmeshed boundaries is believing this: when the relationship within you changes, the relationships outside of you change - for the better.

 

You deserve to live your life for yourself.

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