How Emotional Boundaries are Established
We all have our own set of reactions and feelings that are distinctly ours. We respond to our surroundings based on a combination of our histories, values, perceptions, goals and concerns. The importance of having emotional boundaries is so we are able to accurately tell if something is bothering us, what we need in relationships, and when we’ve been emotional violated (or validated). They ultimately keep us safe.
Emotional boundaries are that subtle check in your heart that says, “Hey, that wasn’t right.” “That was inappropriate.” “That did not feel good.” “That hurt my feelings.” “What she said to me wasn’t ok.” “I need to get out of this situation.” “I should not be treated like this.” Or more positively speaking, “This person makes me feel safe and appreciated.” “I feel respected.” “It’s such a relief to be able to trust this person.” Emotional boundaries tell you how it feels for you to be treated in certain ways, what’s ok and not ok.
For some of us, our emotional boundaries are developed naturally throughout childhood. When children are given emotional feedback and validation, taught to identify and express emotions, learn to read non-verbal language and facial expressions, it helps their identity grow hand-in-hand with their emotional boundaries. Feedback from our parents and others in our lives echo back to us day-by-day moment-by-moment creating our sense of emotional boundaries. If fills the gap between who we are and who we aren’t.
What happens, however, if as children our boundaries were not given the chance to develop? For those of us who were neglected as children, we did not receive enough feedback on how to have healthy relationships, how to be treated, or how to interact with others. If we experienced boundary violations such as verbal, physical or sexual abuse, being mocked, threatened, or ridiculed, we are left with a confused since of emotional boundaries. An uncertainty of how to be treated, what’s truly ok, how to recognize the right to say no or the freedom to say yes. Underdeveloped emotional boundaries can sometimes unfortunately lead to a decreased ability to deduce warning signs in others’ behavior or leave us on hyper-alert mode, not knowing who to trust.
Fortunately this is not a lost cause. We learn a countless number of skills throughout our lives. Some of us had childhoods where we got the opportunity to form healthy emotional boundaries, and some of us will take a more intentional approach in adulthood to learn them.
Here are just a few ways to start establishing emotional boundaries. If you have a background of abuse or boundary violations, some of these statements might seem out-of-the-box, totally foreign, or frankly unrealistic. But they are. Time for some mind-shifting.
-You can set boundaries by choosing how you let people treat you. This requires a mind-shift from “things happen to me” to “I let (or don’t let) things happen.”
-You can decide how much personal information you’ll reveal. How people treat you after you reveal parts of yourself will give you more information about them to determine if they are trustworthy. Trust is built layer-upon-layer over time.
-You can decide what relationships you’ll continue to develop and who you’ll back away from because you can’t trust them.
-You can choose how you let people treat you, what comments you’re willing to accept, what people can say to you.
-You can change your mind. If you let someone say something hurtful to you or treat you a certain way, that does not mean that you have to let them continue doing that. You can discover that you don’t like something someone said, reset a boundary, and set new standards of behavior.
For more information on boundaries, I highly recommend reading “Boundaries: Where You End and I Begin” by Anne Katherine, MA. It’s a fairly short, powerful read on how to recognize and set healthy boundaries. It addresses all sorts of boundaries and has a great chapter on boundaries with your children.