Recognizing & Establishing Boundaries

Written by: Christina Di Nola, B.A., Addictions, and Mental Health Graduate Certificate Program (C), The Gatehouse Practicum Student

Boundaries help us remember where we end, and another person begins. Boundaries are made up of physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual dimensions that are influenced by internal and external forces (The Gatehouse, 2020). They help protect us. What is okay? What is not okay? What do you want? Your body, your feelings, your emotions, and your boundaries belong to you and make you, you.  

Childhood sexual abuse can leave scars that can last a lifetime. It can affect your ability to trust, your self-esteem, and the way you understand and implement your own boundaries. It affects how we interact with the world and the people around us. If you are a survivor or have experienced any trauma, you may be less likely to defend yourself and your boundaries (Concepcion, 2017). Survivors often have a hard time saying “no” and try to please and appease others, even if it makes them uncomfortable or it’s outside of their personal boundaries. 

There are positive and negative boundaries (The Gatehouse, 2020). For example, a negative boundary is going against personal values or rights to please others. A positive boundary would be ensuring that your values are non-negotiable in your relationship(s). Another negative boundary is being overwhelmed by or preoccupied with a person. A positive boundary is acknowledging your ability to compartmentalize other areas of your life and functioning within them. 

At The Gatehouse, we discuss three types of boundaries in the Phase 1 Peer Support program. With positive boundaries in place, there is an easily identifiable line between partners. They are connected and have an impact on each other’s life, yet independent. Boundaries are flexible in that they grow and change. Both intimacy and safety are promoted within a healthy relationship. Compared to positive boundaries, it is difficult to distinguish between partners in a relationship with collapsed boundaries. Also known as enmeshment, partners seek to lose themselves in the other or expect their partner to become lost in them. Enmeshment can lead to infringement of boundaries, violation, and abuse. Rigid boundaries tend to be like walls that prevent true intimacy within a relationship. There is little emotional connection – an emotionally detached relationship.  

 Setting boundaries gives us freedom and choices. We are taking responsibility when we set positive boundaries. It is about discipline, not punishment for us or others (The Gatehouse, 2020). Here are some tips for setting healthy boundaries from The Gatehouse Phase 1 Peer Support manual: 

Identify and respect our needs, feelings, opinions, and rights. We need to identify these to define ourselves in relation to others. 

Overcome self-esteem and passivity and assertively take care of ourselves in relationships. Learning to establish clear and positive boundaries must be an important goal on your healing journey and in your personal growth. 

Develop a support system of people who respect you and your right to set boundaries – eliminate toxic people from your life. 

References 

Concepcion, M. (2017). Interpersonal boundaries: How trauma keeps us silent. Retrieved from  

https://www.lifeworkspsychotherapy.com/interpersonal-boundaries-trauma-keeps-us-silent/  

The Gatehouse. (2020). Phase 1 peer support group program participant manual.