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I am sure you have heard a lot about boundaries. One only needs to turn the clock back a few years to hear your mother or father’s voice, “this is where I draw the line, going out until twelve o’ clock ends here”, or “that cupboard in the kitchen is for asking, not for taking!!!” Let us take joy/or remorse in our own boundaries that were part of our family of origin. Also think about your boundaries now. The same, different, how, what?

A story…

“When I became an adult, I walked out into the “real” world looking and sounding fine. But I had no concept of the “other” and no boundaries whatsoever; to my underdeveloped sense of self, people around me were extensions of me. I hated and abused myself, so I hated and abused them. Since I didn’t know where I ended and the world began, the world was me and I was the world. When I tried to have normal relationships, other people’s boundaries were my worst enemy, people with boundaries could say “no”, and that meant certain death to me, the fastest way to get a rise out of me was to deny me anything for any reason. People with healthy boundaries in place left me feeling too defective, too out of control, and too vulnerable. People saw me as demanding, unendingly chaotic, grabbing, controlling, manipulative, but it was really the cry of an insatiable, terrorized, wounded little girl, still struggling to grow up, and to survive and to find her boundaries”  (Mason:1998).


People with weak or non-existent boundaries can have difficulty distinguishing between their own beliefs and feelings and those belonging to others. They also tend to confuse their problems and responsibilities with those of other people with well-developed limits. On the other hand, appropriately distinguishing themselves from other people, they can identify and take responsibility for their own feelings, beliefs and values and with healthy limits they have respect for other people’s beliefs and feelings – even if they are different from their own. They understand that another person’s values and beliefs are equally important in defining who they are. Difficult people tend to change the rules, act impulsively and demand attention on their schedule, not on that of others. Limits can help you deal with these behaviours so that you don’t feel like a puppet on a string. People who don’t set limits are always at the mercy of others. They feel helpless when others act upon them. The opposite, people with limits realize that they have a choice. Sometimes people become so enmeshed because one partner intimidates the other into giving up their own opinion, perspective and preference. In other cases a partner takes on someone else’s view voluntarily because they’re so eager to feel close to someone. Denying part of them is preferable to being alone. But the problem with sacrificing parts of yourself to please someone else is that it doesn’t work in the long run. It might take many years, but eventually you realize that while you may have gained a relationship, you’ve lost yourself.





“In order to share yourself, you need enough of a sense of your own individuality to have something to present to the other, even if you have a good sense of who you are, intimacy takes time, openness, a non-judgemental attitude, listening and acceptance”.

Write a few pages on this from your own life. This can also be an “assignment” for a couple/family that is struggling with setting limits.

Unfortunately many adults grew up with damaged, trampled, or non-existent boundaries. In many cases parents routinely violated their children’s boundaries and rights or forced them into inappropriate roles. Different kinds of boundary violations cause different kinds of problems for children when they become adults. If parents or other caregivers encourage a child to be dependent on them, as an adult they may believe that they need someone else to make them whole. Children of distant or abandoning parents may have a hard time connecting emotionally to others. Controlling parents teach their children that others have no rights and over-involved parents can make it difficult for their children to develop their own identities. Sexual and physical abuse severely damage personal boundaries and leave gaping holes where the violations occurred. Abused children feel confused about what to let others do to them physically, how to let others treat them emotionally, and how to interact with others in socially appropriate ways. Adults who were abused as children may protect themselves by building strong walls between themselves and others, or they may withdraw physically or emotionally, rarely sharing their emotions. Others do the opposite, becoming too open, they may involve themselves in sexual relationships with people who don’t really care about them. Children who experience abuse also learn to deny pain and chaos or accept them as normal and proper – they focus on immediate survival – on not getting abused – and miss out on important developmental stages – they have problems developing their own identities. When people don’t have healthy limits, they need defences such as control, withdrawal, blaming, rationalizing, intellectualization, perfectionism, black-and-white thinking, threats, fighting, and excessive concern for the other – all defences that damage intimacy. Children don’t see that abusive or overly critical treatment is something that is being done to them. Instead they see it as something they have caused by their own failings – failures?. When these children reach adulthood, they continue to believe that they got the treatment they deserved.

Let us look at one way to build boundaries in a dysfunctional relationship. This is a combination of a list a client in therapy once made up and taken from- Susan Forward’s book: Men who hate women, the women who love them.

I want to be…..

I want to be allowed to express myself.

I want to be heard.

I want to be treated with respect.

I want understanding.

I want the right to have my own beliefs and opinions.

I want respect for the work I do.

I want more help with the children.

Things I will not permit anymore……………….

I won’t permit him to yell at me.

I won’t permit him to insult me.

I won’t permit him to humiliate me.

Defining what I want…………………….

I want respect.

I want to be allowed to express myself.

I want to be heard.

I want to be taken seriously.

I want kindness.

I want the right to have my own beliefs and opinions.



  1. Wow that was odd. I just wrote an very long comment but after I clicked submit
    my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyway, just wanted to say fantastic blog!

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