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  • Writer's pictureSusan Stubbings


Updated: Jun 14, 2018

What are boundaries?

Boundaries are borders which have edges separating something from something else for example our garden fence separates us from the street and our neighbours’ property, our front door separates us from the outside world, our bathroom door once shut allows a private space.

Boundaries can be personal, professional, organisational, community, regional, National or International.

Boundaries are limits, restrictions, rules, frontiers, partitions, dividing lines or a mark which denotes an area, fences, borderlines, periphery, circuit, outer and inner limits, locks, bolts, imagined, concrete or territorial.

Personal boundaries are Internal and External, Spiritual, Sexual, Physical, Emotional, Relational, Psychological, Feelings, Space, Time, Material for example it is your choice to let someone lend your car, clothes or books others do not have the right to just come and take what belongs to you without your permission.

Why are boundaries important?

  • Boundaries are put in place for protection.

  • For a psychological sense of and actual personal security.

  • Boundaries structure and provide order, ethics and principles

  • Boundaries define and let everyone know what will and won't be tolerated.

  • They let everyone know what behaviour is acceptable and therefore what’s not acceptable.

  • Boundaries define who we are as individuals, a family, a team member or a member of an organisation, county, country, Union, Nation.

  • They assist us to decide how we will be treated by others.

  • Boundaries empower us to be clear on who we are in respect of other individuals, families, community, country, nation and gives us as individuals a sense of who we are in relation to others who we are close with and those from other cultures, creeds, nationalities, ethnic origin etc.

  • Boundaries have survival value and are very important for this fact alone.

The focus of this post

Is personal boundaries how we get them and how we may define what our boundaries are. As a Human Being we are all born equal but we don’t all have equality of opportunity, we all live our lives from the foundation of our ‘taught’ family values and the counties values we are born into, this is natural and normal.

Not one of us choose which parents we are born to or which country we are born into.

Our boundaries are taught in our family of origin, in school, social clubs we belong to, peer groups and society as a whole and reinforced by most people we come into contact within our ‘social intercourse’ in our community these are the societal mores customs and traditions etc.

How do our personal boundaries get built?

Our boundaries start building from the moment we are born for example some babies are woken up to be fed and some babies are left to wake themselves and then fed! ‘You can play after you’ve had your bath’, or eat all your dinner before you have your pudding’ most often than not the child is to full once they’ve eaten all their main meal. ‘It’s time to sit quiet now’, or ‘fun time lets go to the park’. These are boundaries decided by our parents and caregivers who have the overall say on what we will do and what we won’t do in the beginning of our lives and indeed we follow them as children because without our parents or caregivers we as human beings would not survive long and we would die. If our parents have been brought up in a family who had strict boundaries, then chances are you will either have the same strict parenting your parents had or the opposite and parents may have loose boundaries because they knew how it felt to have strict parents. Some parents were bought up without any boundaries in place and you may have no boundaries in place or sketchy boundaries which are not well defined. Some may have been raised somewhere in between the two positions or had inconstant boundaries, sometimes loose and sometimes strict and boundaries may be altogether confusing. We learn our boundaries by the way we were treated as we grew up and if we don’t ever look at our personal boundaries again this is how we will subconsciously live our lives.

In healthy families

Children are helped to build their self-worth, self-esteem and self-confidence and in this day and age children learn what body safety is in school from a young age. These children grow into a healthy unique individual with a strong sense of self which is separate from others. Whilst at the same time able to fit in comfortably with others able to connect, offer their personal views and opinions be heard knowing they will be respected for having them. Whilst others may not agree with what they say or believe they can have their own beliefs, values and worth and allow others to have their beliefs, values, worth and views. Without feeling diminished themselves or have strong emotions evoked due to someone else’s outlook. It’s OK to disagree, it’s OK to agree and it’s OK to agree to disagree to and all are happy with who they are.

Children raised with healthy boundaries have a sense of what’s right and wrong in their cultural societies, within their families and peer groups; know how to behave in relation with and to others. They see the rights of others as equal to their own and they practice what they believe; they have integrity and behave congruently with their inner and outer values, beliefs and worth they have a sense of community camaraderie and spirit and whilst they don’t take on the woes of the world they have a sense that they can somehow change the world by acting locally and thinking globally. They have strong but flexible boundaries and believe they can change their own boundaries whenever they chose to; can open and close their boundary doors as they choose when they please. In short they have built their own boundaries therefore they and only they can change them once they’ve experience something which they no longer agree with or as they grow and change in their maturation process. Healthy people take responsibility for their own feelings, thoughts, senses, imaginings and know what’s real and what’s not so real and take responsibility for their personal behaviour and change it if they don’t like it.

In dysfunctional families

Children learn they are perhaps of little or no value, they are not listened to or heard and they are not valued ‘children are to be seen and not heard’ perhaps. As such children brought up in this way don’t build a strong sense of self, nor a strong self-esteem or confidence. They don’t learn to speak up and keep their opinion and views to themselves believing they are not going to be heard so eventually they decide subconsciously or consciously there is no point in speaking up. Throw in sexual or physical abuse, caregivers who misuse alcohol or drugs or both, caregivers who don’t actually know how to look after a child so the child is neglected, abandoned or abused or the care given is inconstant and the child doesn’t know safety and feels insecure most of the time.

Many of these children grow up to be dysfunctional adults who overreact to situations life offers, they become angry, fearful and anxiety ridden or depressed when experiencing normal life experiences. They are argumentative, passive aggressive or shy and withdrawn; they perhaps don’t know what is normal, right or wrong, they don’t know how to have fun or relax for example and are hypervigilant to anything which does not smack of security, safety or out of their norm. They are unable to express their true feelings, thoughts or belief in case they appear wrong or get laughed at or criticized, belittled or told to shut up. If they understand what boundaries or choices are in the first place of course since many don’t believe they have a right to choose.

They may not own any supporting boundaries and many drift along life’s high way or get enmeshed meaning boundaries are diffused and intertwined with each other no differentiation where one person begins and one stops. Some become co-dependant which means they enable each others addiction, irresponsibility or immaturity etc; or with other family or community members to survive themselves. In short they haven’t been allowed or had the opportunity to build any personal boundaries therefore they don’t live within a productive or supportive structured system. For example if we are in a team of colleagues we are all working to the same end goal this is usual but when we leave work for the day we return to our families and deploy another set of boundaries some of them will be the same obviously because we will have our own values, belief's opinions and views which we will share within our teams at work and they will be accepted, rejected or tried out! We win some we lose some. But member in a dysfunction family are all in the same circle of mind set and all behave accordingly to keep the equilibrium of the family unit rather than any one individual needs and if that means quitting a job because the work place is not conducive to the family system so be it! They often have ridged boundaries or no boundaries in some situations; which they follow and never change ‘it’s what I/we do’, ‘it’s what we’ve/I’ve always done’. There is no flexibility, there is little or no change as they physically grow, psychologically there is little or skewed change in their maturation process.

All the above paints a picture-perfect family up-bringing or a turbulent picture where the child is on the edge or an inch of drowning most if not all of the time. Of course no one has experienced the perfect up-bringing most families have turbulence and most parents become impaired due to illness, operations, job losses or family bereavement for example. In healthy families the impairment doesn’t last very long once an adjustment phase has been experienced and lived through then it’s business as usual hopefully with added wisdom for the experience.

Life is full of events which need to be handled and learnt from. In this way our self-worth, esteem and confidence in who we are as a independent and autonomous person is strengthened, we know what to do, what we can do personally, we know our strength and weaknesses and when to go it alone because we'll be fine it may be hard but we know we will be OK eventually and we know when to ask for help and support. We do what is needed when its needed. These are the traits of an adult who was brought-up in a healthy family where emotional management and intelligence was known about, projected and taught to the children or an adult who decided to change and learnt a different way of being then their dysfunctional upbringing.

This is not the case in dysfunctional families who remain dysfunctional family members who may seem to go from one crisis to another without really ever learning anything from the experiences and often blame someone 'authority' outside the family. Parents may never learn the skills to handle life conundrums and it is in this way they hurt and damage their children without really knowing what they are doing wrong because they don’t understand there is perhaps another more productive way of doing things. The parents not the children’s needs are at the forefront and children take on responsibilities which are not appropriate for the child and the child learns adult ways far to early to assimilate them to understand. They are not rewarded, affirmed or valued for all their efforts and more often than not the child feels inadequate, guilty, ashamed, abandoned and resentful to be a child with all the responsibility and none of the power or empowerment. They take this into their adult years not knowing anything different themselves.

All this may sound simple and it is of course its all black and white! But life is far from simple it can be complex and complicated for most of us we may have full confidence in some areas of our living and reduced in others or we may feel we will one day have a strong self-concept followed by strong self-esteem and confidence and we will if we want to have and change what, where and how we are here in the present moment.

On the other hand we may also try and escape our 'lot' by self-medicating on drugs, alcohol, food, self-harming, dissociation, we may rationalise, supress or repress our feelings, thoughts and others by controlling behaviours. We may be a workaholic avoiding or denying anything is not quiet working for us but if we keep busy we may forget whatever it is and it might just go away. Or we have a perfectionist or people pleasing attitude we may try to fix or rescue others who we feel or think can do or have better and we may behave like a martyr or saint all helpful and serene on the surface but underneath its all going on and we really feel angry, resentful or depressed.

There are a whole host of coping mechanisms we humans deploy to survive and that's is the 'why' we deployed them when we were a child because they worked for us as a child we survived. These coping strategies may no longer work so well in the adult world of living.

Boundaries may be the place for you to start to bring about a new you, a new way of living and being which is more conscious, aware, enlightened, more manageable and resilient to what life throws at you and as such successful with all you set out to achieve

It is possible - you can do this!

How do we know where we are right here right now? If life is working for you and you feel happy or content 80% of the time and all feels well then perhaps there's little to change or strengthen. On the other hand if its not working well and you feel under par, upset, over-responsible, stressed, full of anxiety, guilty, ashamed depressed or using other means to self-medicate or escape your everyday living for example being controlling of others or being bullied, engaging in unprotected sex or have more than one sexual partner at a time when you are in a committed relationship or using drugs or alcohol excessively or denying how you feel and you have a sense you wish to change.

Than if so you have recognised where you might like to begin a change and that's the first step to bringing about the change you want because overall ALL adults have the right to choose what they want in life and how to BE. Your next step perhaps is to investigate and explore what you can do right here right now to bring any change to fruition.

It may mean stop taking drugs or alcohol and if this is the case you will benefit from seeking a specialised agency to support you whilst you do this. Especially if you have been a long term user it is dangerous to just go cold turkey with drugs or alcohol so please don't do that and enlist professional help before you change your habit.

In Doncaster the number to ring is 01302 303900

Out of Doncaster then please contact your GP who will put you in touch with your nearest specialist provider

Otherwise if you are struggling to create the identify you desire, or to explore what makes you controlling, angry, shy, engage in risky behaviour etc. If you wish to identify your old worn out patterns of relating and replace them with new more conscious, productive and healthy techniques and build lasting skills counselling will support you on your journey please consider making contact to discuss your personal needs and together we will find a way forward which is healthier and best suits your needs.

Warm regards


Fostering Personal & Professional Development by Providing a Confidential & Professional Counselling, Supervision and Consultancy Service with specialisms in Trauma, Bereavement, Anxiety, Abuse, Grief & Loss

Tel: 07867938630 email:

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