**Trigger warning** We wanted to do a podcast on what boundaries were, why some people have bad boundaries and how you can learn to improve them. We believe that boundaries are essential for happy and successful sobriety. A brief discussion of sexual abuse and how this betrayal of trust affects boundaries.
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“Boundaries are what keeps us safe.” – Veronica Valli
If you grew up in a family or a situation where your boundaries were invaded, you grew up not knowing what boundaries are, why they’re important, and how they protect you.
As an only child with a single mother, I grew up feeling like my mother’s possession. I wasn’t allowed to have any personal boundaries and I had to do and be what my mother wanted me to be.
In Chip’s case, the boundaries placed on him in his home and at boarding school were incredibly strict and unhealthy. While receiving the message that children should do as they are told, his personal boundaries were being horrifically invaded and he had no one to turn to. It was a very confusing situation for him, especially as a young child.
Though that was our experience, the problem doesn’t stem only from overly strict boundaries. Some of the most troubled clients we’ve worked with were brought up in homes where there were no boundaries at all.
The problem is the lack of healthy boundaries, and the fact that growing up, neither Chip nor I understood what healthy boundaries were.
So, like many people without good boundaries, we became chronic people pleasers.
“Because I felt so unloved and out of place at home, when I started having contact with other people, I did everything in my power to get them to like me.” – Chip Somers
I can remember being in the pub scene, wanting so badly to be a part of the regular group that I went out of my way to do nice things for people, including those I intensely disliked.
Even drunk, it was a horrible feeling knowing that what I was presenting to the world was so false and vastly different from how I actually felt on the inside.
“Emotional congruence means that your insides match your outsides.” – Veronica Valli
When I started my training to become a therapist, one of the first things we learned was about emotional congruence.
The concept was mind-blowing for me.
At that point, my whole life was about keeping my inside world completely hidden from everybody, then presenting a completely artificial exterior world.
When I learned that emotional congruence meant sometimes saying difficult and uncomfortable things to people… I could hardly process the thought!
Learning to be assertive and say what you want and need in a way that isn’t demeaning or disrespectful to the other person is an art and a skill.
That’s something we all have to learn to have any kind of happiness or success in life.
“You are responsible for your own feelings, not anybody else’s.” – Veronica Valli
One of the biggest beliefs that people with unhealthy boundaries have is that they have to fix things with other people and make other people happy.
That makes it incredibly difficult to do right for yourself because it stems from the belief that your feelings are not important, so other people’s feelings should be put first.
Parenting is one of the areas where we have to work especially hard to not transfer our own experiences but instead role model healthy boundaries.
So how can you change that and start building healthy boundaries for yourself and with your children?
First, we have to accept that there will be a lot of trial and error.
We have to get to know ourselves on a deeper level, understanding our history and getting comfortable with our emotions so that we are as aware of our own emotional responses as we possibly can be.
“The more we know ourselves emotionally – which is a long and slow process – the better our emotional base and the better our chances of interacting with other people in a productive way.” – Chip Somers
When you create your boundaries, be prepared to reinforce them time and time again.
Calmly saying, “I’m sorry, I can’t do that” is enough. People will eventually hear you and understand that you’re serious.
Remember that learning to have healthy boundaries is a process. If you can get help and support with it then that’s a fantastic option.
And if you get it wrong? That’s okay. It’s incredibly helpful to role model that process of recognizing your mistakes and repairing the relationship.
“Boundaries are what keeps you safe and they allow you to be the person that you’re meant to be.” – Veronica Valli
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