Boundaries are always setup with good intentions to protect ourselves. However, your high fence of emotional boundaries might be doing more harm than good. Kim discusses how you can deal with someone who has a Fort Knox style emotional fence. Kim also explains that if you are the one with the high fence, understanding how to communicate those reasons could be half the battle.
Boundaries: What is Your Fence Keeping Inside?
By: Kim Openo, LAPC, NCC
We build fences in our neighborhoods so we can contain our family and pets within our property. Farmers put up fences to keep cattle from roaming into the corn fields of another farmer. These fences keep pets and cattle within the control of the owners.
As a therapist, I discuss boundaries with my clients quite a bit in my Little Five Points office. Personal boundaries are actually not that different from a physical fence because they help control and contain what a person will tolerate or be exposed to. A good example of a realistic boundary is when a co-worker talks rudely to you. You might be unable to control this rudeness, but you can control your reaction to that co-worker. If the person begins to yell, you can tell them, “When you stop yelling and act professionally, please come get me from my office so we can continue our discussion”, and walk away. This is not running away or ignoring, but rather telling the co-worker that you will not tolerate being treated in an unprofessional manner.
An unhealthy boundary can also include emotional distance. When a person has never experienced a safe relationship where they could be themselves without consequences, they build an elaborate emotional fence for protection. This person can be cold and numb to emotional feeling, or it is the person who just starts becoming close with you then suddenly pulls back feelings leaving you confused. Sometimes it just takes patience and love to help the person with a significant boundary so they feel safe in the relationship. Often the first safe & healthy relationship that some are able to have is with their therapist. This authentic connection gives a person a great place to practice vulnerable emotions and slowly begin using them in the outside world. Slowly the person’s emotional boundary is not as impenetrable and true feelings are shown.
When a person is terrified of being abandoned, there is usually a LACK of a boundary and others become extensions of that person. This is typical when someone has never had a relationship where it is safe to reveal true feelings and the person relies on the other person to meet emotional needs because they don’t trust themselves to meet the needs on their own. If a lover tells a person with no boundaries, “I feel like we are not spending enough time together”, then he hears “You are not doing a good enough job paying attention to me, so I might leave”. The person in a relationship with no boundaries tends to make the other person’s moods & behaviors an extension of their own emotions. Instead of assuming what “not spending enough time together means”, he could ask a few questions to start a dialogue about expectations in the relationship. Again, a therapeutic healthy relationship is often the first step to learning how to begin these types of conversations & the realization that friends and family are not in charge of your emotions.
Typically learning how to set healthy boundaries is difficult for each and every one of us, but with the help of a mental health professional, the journey is much less challenging. Whether it is an unhealthy boundary of severe emotional distance or no boundary at all, it is something that needs to change to achieve the joyful life that a person deserves.