Why Are Boundaries so Hard For Me?

Many people I work with have a hard time understanding and implementing boundaries. Boundaries are a learned skill. It takes time, commitment, and some emotional risks to realize the world won’t swallow you whole when you say no, set limits, or choose to you take care of yourself. The resistance of implementing boundaries is typically rooted in messages we’ve internalized throughout our life. If you struggle with boundaries, see if you identify with the boundary hurdles below.

#1 Boundary Hurdle – Enmeshed Families

Members of enmeshed families have a hard time differentiating themselves from their family members. Typically these children are well trained to notice and care for the feelings & needs of members that take up the most space in the family. So if mom has big feelings, the family members learn to tip toe around or cater to mom’s needs and expressions. A child may become attuned to their mom’s emotional temperament and needs, but ignore their own feelings or needs. Likewise, mom may expect that family members feel the same way they do. Learning healthy boundaries requires healthy individuation, which means accepting you will have feelings and experiences that are different from your family’s, and that’s okay.

#2 Boundary Hurdle – Detached Families

The same result can stem from detached families. In this context, emotions and needs are not recognized in the home. This can come from a myriad of dynamics, like cultural expectations, authoritarian parenting styles, abuse, addiction, or parents that weren’t taught how to appropriately express feelings themselves. Children then learn to bottle or ignore their emotions rather than express them in a healthy way. It may not be safe to express emotional needs or emotional needs may be ignored. Eventually, children in this environment learn to cut off or mute those feelings & needs. Our feelings act as thermometer or alarm system, alerting us to what’s going on internally. Without connection to that internal world, it’s very challenging to discern you have a need at all, much less implement boundaries.

#3 Boundary Hurdle – Messages from Church

Faith communities are notorious for modeling very poor boundaries. Burnout and unhealthy relationships are masked in a martyr-like attitude “for the sake of the ministry”. People are praised for saying yes, while boundaries may be implicitly or explicitly treated as selfish or unnecessary. Overcoming these deeply ingrained faith messages can be challenging. There are plenty of scriptural concepts in alignment with boundaries. I assure you, if God rested, so can we.

#4 Boundary Hurdle – Myths & Misconceptions

There are plenty of myths & misconceptions about boundaries. Namely that they are selfish, mean, punishing or controlling. If the myths feel compelling, people have a hard time believing boundaries are worthwhile or healthy.  

Any of these messages sound familiar? Identifying the distorted message is the first step in adopting a healthy sense of boundaries.