How Did I Get This Way? Separation or Boundaries

This is the third of a five part series on development and how its shapes our adult relationships. The first article gives an overview of the entire series and if you have not read the first one you might want to go back and start there.

Boundaries separate us from other. It helps us define who we are and who we are not, what we like and what we do not, and what we feel and what we do not. Many times individuals struggle with being able to set boundaries for themselves. They may let others walk all over them, or they may feel they have to comply with the wishes of others in order for them to be liked. But setting boundaries helps us determine who we want to be in relation to others. In short, boundaries give us our sense of personal identity.

Self Separate From Other. One of the first things we learn when we are young is to say “no.” This is more than a child being obstinate; it is an opportunity to learn to how we are different from our parents. It is an opportunity to define ourselves; our wants and needs, separate from others. When a person learns to separate themselves from others, they are comfortable with who they are.  They can feel like themselves even if they are different.

If a person has not developed a healthy sense of boundaries, they struggle making meaningful connections to others for fear that their boundaries will collapse and they will lose their sense of self or identity. They may not be able to say “no” to anyone’s request, or they may distance themselves from others as a defense against feeling like they are being dominated or taken over by others.

Set and Respect Limits with Others. When a toddler ways “no” to its parents, not only it is defining its wants and needs, it is also setting limits for itself and others. As adults, we have to learn to set limits as well. When this developmental perspective is achieved we are able to say “no” without feelings of guilt or shame. Furthermore, we can maintain a flexibility of not having too rigid boundaries, or too flexible boundaries. We are able to be more adaptable, knowing that sometimes we have to loosen our limits or tighten them depending on the situation.

When setting and respecting limits is not learned, then we struggle to be flexible in our approach with others. We may have too rigid boundaries, so much so that we are unable to be flexible with others; unable to comply with the smallest of quests. Or we may have to loose boundaries and comply with so many requests that we lose ourselves and become overwhelmed. This can lead to someone being resentful when complying with the wishes of others, and saying yes, when they really want to say no.

Use Emotions as Signal for Protection. Once an individual has learned that they are separate from others, and that they can set and limits for themselves, then they can use their emotions to caution them when they feel their boundaries being invaded. By using our emotions, we can learn what they are communicating to us about our boundaries. When the “alarm” goes off, this can be a signal to reinforce or relax our boundaries, depending on the situation.

However, when we struggle to understand what our emotions are signaling to us, then we cannot make decisions that help us interpersonally. Some people struggle to make sense of their emotions because they have never had good practice at using their emotions as signals. Other, try really hard to avoid their emotions and may try to minimize, discount, or deny what they are feeling. Sometimes these people come across as overly cognitive and act like they are made of stone because they never use their feelings to help guide them, nor are they capable of having empathy for others.

The capability to see ourselves as separate from others, set and respect limits for ourselves and others, and use our emotions as a signal for protection plays a vital role in our adult relationships. In our marriages, there is not a day that goes by without utilizing one of these three abilities. If you or your spouse is struggling in one of these three areas, you may need to call a Tulsa Licensed professional counseling to help. To take the first step toward a healthier relationship call us at 918-398-7678 or request a counseling appointment online.

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