Do you ever feel responsible for the emotions or actions of other people? Maybe it’s your boss, your partner, the person you just started dating, or people in your family. Either way, you may find yourself avoiding difficult conversations, modifying your behavior, or changing your plans for the chance to win their approval, to keep the peace, or to maintain a sense of normalcy.
“You know I can’t talk to mom about losing my job. She’ll just freak out.”
“That extra ticket to the game sounds great but I can’t commit. It’ll just become a big deal with my girlfriend and it’s not worth the hassle.”
“Yes, I know it’s the weekend, but my boss expects me to reply to his emails even when I’m not at work. I don’t have a choice.”
Healthy boundaries, whether it’s saying “no” or having a hard talk, may seem unrealistic, harsh, or wrong to impose. This is especially true for people who might not have grown up with any. Boundaries may even seem selfish. It’s easy to think that creating and enforcing boundaries will cause direct harm to the people you interact with – and doing that will, indirectly, hurt you too. We’re all tempted to think that, but that doesn’t make it true.
These examples of boundary issues are all experienced internally, but they can show up externally as well. You may believe the people in your life are responsible for you; for how you’re feeling or what your experience of life is. Even if this isn’t how you consciously operate, it’s possible you function in such a way that contradicts that. See if any of these reactions or responses seem familiar:
“You don’t know how bad my day has been. I have every right to yell!”
“I know I just got paid, but I really need to borrow some more money from you.”
“You’ve always done my reports for me. I need you to stay late tonight to get these done. That’s not a big deal, is it?”
In all of these examples, the lines between what is and isn’t personal responsibility are blurred. The author Mark Manson defines healthy personal boundaries like this:
“Taking responsibility for your own actions and emotions, while NOT taking responsibility for the actions and emotions of others.” He goes on to say that “people with poor boundaries typically come in two flavors: those who take too much responsibility for the emotions/actions of others and those who expect others to take too much responsibility for their own emotions/actions.”
If some of these examples are resonating – even uncomfortably so – you may be wondering where it all began. Even now, you might be thinking back on past relationships or interactions and remembering ways in which you became someone else – the person you thought they needed you to be. Or maybe you’ve felt like most things were someone else’s fault, and you may blame them for how your life has unfolded. How did you get here? It’s not like anyone chooses to have unhealthy personal boundaries, right?
At some point in our development, we realize not all families are like ours. It may even be safe to say that no other family is exactly like yours. Maybe you began piecing this together at a young age or perhaps it didn’t occur to you until you were in college. When it happens, though, it’s a revelation. Some of what you mistook for normal may have been just the opposite. Although some of us grew up in homes with clear personal boundaries, others experienced guilt, manipulation, and a cycle of approval and disapproval that felt like a rollercoaster. For anyone in the latter group, it would be nearly impossible to not mirror those same unhealthy behaviors in your other relationships – no matter how old you are or how far away from your immediate family you’ve moved.
Identifying your specific issues with personal boundaries is the first step towards repairing them – and they can be repaired. So much of the work we do together in the Social House community is built on spotting and addressing weak personal boundaries. Once we do, we’re able to begin the work of creating new, healthy boundaries. Transformation – from a person who believes they’re responsible for everyone else, or who believes everyone else is in some way responsible for them – is possible. In learning to say no, you learn that you are enough – just as you are. By understanding that you are responsible for your own feelings, you take ownership of your life. This is powerful, life-changing work.
One final word from Mark Manson: “Boundaries in relationships work both ways: they create emotional health and are created by people with emotional health. They are something you can start working on today with the people close to you and you’ll begin to notice a difference in your self-esteem, confidence, emotional stability, and so on.”
If this is the life you’re ready to live, we can help. Click here to contact us now. This is where the work begins.