Keeping personal boundaries is essential for our mental wellbeing. They’re an innate defense mechanism that keeps us out of harm’s way from individuals keen on exploiting our lack of boundaries, attempting to twist our essence into ways that are often manipulative and sometimes extremely abusive.
Not having boundaries can frequently leave us exposed, allowing individuals to take advantage of us. Yet, we manage to come up with apparently valid reasons not to stop others from breaking our boundaries.
We’re afraid of hurting their feelings or we worry about being indulgent or selfish. However, with no boundaries to shield us from the outer world, we leave ourselves exposed to the harsh winds of society and relationships without so much as a shabby shelter. While lulling ourselves into a false sense of happiness, we’re actually exposing ourselves to a host of worsening problems down the road.
What Does It Mean To Lack Boundaries?
Healthy boundaries work as limits, letting others know how we want to be treated. We set them to shield ourselves from overload and maintain our values and individuality. However, while it can be difficult to distinguish what healthy boundaries are, it’s not as hard to realize we lack them. When we don’t set the limits, we tend to:
- Struggle with letting others know how we feel due to fear of ridicule and rejection.
- Constantly try to make everyone happy with how we perform at home, in school, at work, etc.
- Feel overwhelmed by how other people perceive us due to the desire to please others.
- Stay in negative relationships because we fear not being able to find someone else to love.
Identifying whether we have little or no boundaries means listening to ourselves and seeing if we’re feeling manipulated, overwhelmed, or trapped in our relationships. While these feelings alone don’t pinpoint lack of boundaries, they’re indicative of it and can help you start detecting and, later, addressing the issues in your life and relationships.
What Causes Lack Of Boundaries?
Causes for lack of boundaries typically stem all the way back to our childhood. We’re not born with this kind of protective mechanism since we’re highly dependent on others to survive in the earliest moments of our lives. However, as we grow, we need to learn to adapt and ensure our needs are met. Experiencing any form of trauma throughout this period can lead to boundary issues later in life.
When it feels difficult to prevent others from invading our personal physical and mental space, or you’re not sure what to do if someone ignores your boundaries, it’s normally because we learned, through trauma, to fear shame, guilt, or getting hurt. Fear prevents us from clearly perceiving where to direct our energy and attention, making us become hesitant and overcautious.
The trauma we’ve experienced at some point in our childhood isn’t necessarily a big or isolated event. It can be relational, such as growing up having to normalize being emotionally neglected, listening to our parents constantly arguing, or being pressured to perform well at school. It can be any point, situation or process that made us feel scared, hurt, overwhelmed, or inundated.
How Do You Know If You Lack Boundaries?
It’s essential to recognize and identify situations or behavioral patterns that indicate you may need to adjust your boundaries in communication and relations with others, both on a professional and personal level. Here are some common signs:
- Passive-aggressive behavior. This form of behavior is identified through indirect resistance to varied types of requests in work or social settings. For instance, if you’re pressured to serve on a committee, you may accept yet passively resist by procrastinating, forgetting appointments, or misplacing essential materials. You did not have the courage to set a proper boundary by just saying “no”. The same translates to your behavior towards your partner, where you might accept a proposition only to later find yourself trying to revert your decision.
- Panic. When we believe we have no control over what happens to us, we panic. We feel we have to do what anyone wants us to, which can lead to experiencing sudden and overpowering fright.
- Codependency. This is a pattern of behaviors, attitudes, and feelings where we seriously neglect our own well-being and health for the aspirations of others. We tend to put the needs of other people first, typically to our own detriment.
- Resentment. Since we do things under compulsion or reluctantly, we tend to resent them.
- Difficulty being alone. Sometimes we fear being alone since lack of boundaries prevents us from being able to have a self separated from others. We lack the internal structure to contain the love we feel from and for others.
- Victim mentality. We perceive ourselves as victims of other people or circumstances and typically don’t take responsibility for ourselves and believe we have no choices.
- Guilt and over-responsibility. We tend to feel responsible for what we’re not supposed to be, such as other people’s actions, disappointments, or feelings. We feel guilty for not doing what others want us to and not being what others want us to be.
- Isolation. When we experience distorted thinking, lack of freedom, and boundary confusion, we tend to avoid relationships because it gives us a sense of having boundaries. Getting close to someone frightens us and by choosing to be alone we avoid being controlled or invaded.
- Lack of direction and disorganization. When we don’t have a clear definition of who we are, we tend to lack purpose and direction. We’re unable to choose our own likes, dislikes, and goals and feel scattered by what other people say.
- Procrastination. Putting off tasks can come from the lack of boundaries. We don’t feel like we’re actually choosing. We can’t say “no” and therefore express it by not following through.
How Do I Regain My Boundaries?
What are boundaries in a relationship? They help you detect acceptable and unacceptable behaviors and keep you safe from toxic and harmful situations. Here are the steps you can take to rebuild them and start feeling good about preventing others from violating them:
Focus On Relationship With Your Own Self
Take your time to create a list of things that are unacceptable for you and that you need and want from a relationship. Look back on your past experiences to help you draw conclusions and don’t rush yourself or put yourself under too much pressure. Go step by step and allow yourself to really feel every single point of your checklist.
Share The Boundaries With Others
Try letting other people know about what you do or do not accept. If your partner, co-worker, or any other individual doesn’t agree with you for any reason, it can be a sign that they aren’t ready to respect other people’s boundaries and aren’t quite a fit for you. By reaching out to people who are capable of clearly communicating and discussing both their and your needs, you’ll be able to start building healthy bonds.
Steer Clear Of Violators
Violators are people with strong personalities and it’s not easy for them to compromise. However, it’s perfectly fine to disagree with them. While they tend to be forceful and react negatively if challenged, you can take your power back by detaching from this form of behavior by:
- Walking away if they start blaming you.
- Allowing them their opinion while not changing yours.
- Telling yourself you’re not responsible for their actions.
- Embracing your truth rather than adopting theirs.
While practicing this takes time, being aware of what is and isn’t your responsibility makes the whole process easier.
The Broken Record Method
You can create a clear statement that demonstrates your boundary firmly and clearly and repeat it when the others challenge you. It can be a short and direct sentence such as:
- That’s not going to work for me.
- I appreciated that you asked, but I’ll need to decline.
- I can see this conversation isn’t going well, so let’s switch to something else.
While you may need to repeat your statement several times, it’s important to remain persistent. The aim is to hold your ground and get them to see your truth and understand your boundaries.
Keep Working On It
Starting a healthy relationship with another individual doesn’t mean all your traumas from past experiences are gone. Building any kind of relationship requires that both people involved work hard, learn together, and create mutual trust.
Learn To Stop Others From Breaking Your Boundaries With PIVOT
Whether you’re looking to restore relationships or learn to set clear boundaries, feel free to rely on PIVOT’s reliable coaching for individuals. What’s more, our amazing Glass House retreats allow you to experience immediate results through an individualized process in an intimate setting.
We’re here to support you on your journey of growth and self-exploration and guide you through difficult times in your life. Our certified professionals take an attachment-oriented, relational approach to help you develop relational and emotional intelligence and experience the benefits of it. Reach out to us today and enjoy your way towards a healthier life!