The practice of good boundaries is second only to self-care as an essential Survival Strategy for Partners of Sex Addicts. Ideally, we learned healthy boundaries growing up in our families. Sadly, most of us didn’t.
- Create clear communication
- Create safety by protecting you and others emotionally, physically and sexually
- Help you make important improvements in your life as you set limits on your own behaviors that you would like to change
- Help define and clarify relationships
- Help you avoid violating others’ boundaries
- Help determine whether a relationship is salvageable or not
- Create authentic personal power versus “power over” others
- Help you define who are you and express your authentic self
Before you can create good boundaries, you need to know how they work. In my post creating your haven of safety, I identified and defined the 4 major boundary systems – physical, sexual, talking and listening. When boundaries aren’t functional, they operate at the extremes. At the extremes of the boundaries continuum, you are either boundary-less or walled off.
Without boundaries, you will allow others to cross various lines with you even when you want to say no, or you don’t respect others’ boundaries. On the other end of the continuum, when you’re walled off or too boundaried, you don’t allow others to get close to you either emotionally, intellectually, physically or sexually. You may not share your thoughts or opinions with friends, family members or even your partner.
When boundaries are in balance, you are generally able to be vulnerable with others while at the same time feeling protected and being accountable about the impact of your behavior on others.
There is no perfection here. What we’re aiming for is avoiding the extremes of being boundary-less or walled off.
Most of us aren’t completely boundary-less or walled off, but tend to lean toward one end of the continuum or the other with regard to physical, sexual, talking and listening boundaries. However, it’s possible to be boundary-less around one boundary and walled off around another.
For example, you may allow others to touch you or your personal belongings even when you don’t want them to (boundary-less/unprotected) while at the same time never asking or seeking physical touch from others (walled off).
When boundaries are weak or non-existent:
- You feel unsafe in situations that are not inherently unsafe
- You are vulnerable to boundary violations by others
- Your communication is unclear or ineffective
- You lose confidence and trust in our ability to protect ourselves
- Your life may be chaotic and unmanageable
- You don’t get our needs met
- You offend others due to violating their boundaries or being unaware of the impact of your behavior on others
- You may feel as though we’re being taken advantage of
The good news is that regardless of your past history with setting boundaries, boundary work is a skill that can be learned and implemented right away.
You can begin today by noticing how you feel about the people and situations in your life. This is the first step in identifying where boundaries may be needed.
Pay particular attention to the emotion of anger. One of the gifts of anger is that it’s often a signal that a boundary of some kind needs to be set. Begin noticing the emotion of anger when it arises and ask yourself whether there may be a need for a boundary of some kind.
In future posts, I will present a step-by-step process for identifying how to recognize when you need to set a boundary, how to set boundaries, and what to do when boundaries are violated.
(Boundary concepts adapted from the work of Pia Mellody)
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© Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW (2014)