Boundaries Tools of Respect

Written by Phillip S. Mitchell, M.A., MFT (CA), MAC

One of the commonalities of codependent behaviors is the lack of healthy personal boundaries. When there is a dysfunction within our families of origin, there was often a lack of respect shown in personal interactions. Implicit in this is the message to the recipient is abusable, worthless, and certainly unworthy of having personal boundaries respected.

Examples of a lack of boundaries include:

A poor sense or disregard of personal space—not sensing or knowing how physically close you should be in relation to another

Disregarding your personal values in order to please others

knowing how physically close you should be in relation to another

Ignoring another person’s display of poor boundaries or invasion of your boundaries

Sharing too much personal information with someone you don’t know well

Accepting food, gifts, touch, or sex that you don’t want

Falling in love with a new acquaintance

Excessive giving or taking

Obsessive thinking about another person

Letting others describe you or your reality

Acting on the first sexual impulse

Expecting others to anticipate and fulfill your needs

Being sexual for your partner and not yourself

Manipulative behaviors, abusive behaviors, etc.

One of the effects of a lack of boundaries is the impaired ability to discern the difference in identity between self and another.This may express as enmeshment with another, where you may adopt thoughts and feelings of another person and any semblance of boundaries is blurred, if not altogether lost.

Restoring Boundaries

Even the closest or healthiest relationships require that clear, verbal boundaries be expressed from time to time. Leaving boundaries simply to assumption in a relationship is not always sufficient. Sometimes a boundary can be as simple as saying “no”. At other times, some elaboration is needed.
It is important to note that a boundary is not a threat. Threats are antiquated, fear-motivated behaviors directed toward changing or ‘fixing’ another person. Such behaviors usually only backfire in unpleasant or hurtful ways for both parties. A clean, healthy boundary is a way to inform others as to how you wish to be treated, respected, and loved.

Verbal Boundary Format

The following verbal boundary format is often recomended, taught and practiced:

“If you (behavior), I’ll share my feelings with you. If you continue, I’ll (action) to take care of myself.”

The first sentence in this format is the assertion of your right or healthy decision to confront unacceptable behaviors in another. Failure to confront such behaviors may be seen as “enabling,” or giving another person tacit approval to disrespect or abuse you.

Enabling behaviors are driven by the fear of rejection, in some form. A clean confrontation to address unacceptable behavior would be:

“When you (behavior), like the time (example), I felt (core feelings).”

Notice that this is based simply upon reporting your perception of another’s behavior, and your core feelings associated with it. Then, a big period follows, keeping the communication free of judgment, opinion, shoulds, over-explaining, or lecturing.

It is important to note that the feelings should be preceded by

“I felt…” not “You made me feel…”

the latter having highly codependent implications.

As with boundaries, the spirit of such a confrontation is to “let the chips fall where they may” versus being invested in a certain outcome pertaining to the other’s behavior. The expectation of a certain outcome is likely to be a form of manipulation—another mutually destructive, codependent behavior.

The second sentence of the boundary format is intended to inform (not to punish or threaten) the other of your intended response to their unacceptable behavior if it continues. Whichever action you choose, be sure that it will be sufficient in taking care of yourself in such a situation and that it’s an action you are willing to commit to, so that your words have meaning.

It is also important to select a “minimum muscle” approach to the action statement of a boundary, as, once again, it is not intended as a threat. The phrase “to take care of myself” is included to make the entire communication very explicit as to its purpose. Example:

“If you don't raise your voice angrily on the telephone with me, I’ll share my feelings with you. If you do, I’ll hang up and not wish to speak with you for two days, to take care of myself.”

Notice that a timeframe is included in the second sentence—two days in this case. Two days might be adequate for taking care of yourself in such an instance, and the other person is unlikely to get the message that the relationship has ended. If the person repeats the behavior, you may wish to repeat the boundary once or twice, raising the ante of the action each time to help them understand, not to punish.

Phillip S. Mitchell, M.A., MFT (CA), MAC is a Unit Therapist, lecturer & trainer at Sierra Tucson, where he has served for over 14 years. Printed with permission.

Archived Articles Not On Main Website: Sexual Addiction: When the Sex is Too Important Boundaries Tools of Respect. Leaving A Partner with Borderline Personality How to Forgive an Abusive Parent The Perceptions of the Loved-one and the BPD are Very Different. Is Your Partner Serious About BPD Therapy. Now That You Are Separated. Becoming Dependent on an Abusive Partner. Stockholm Syndrome in a Romantic Relationship

Updated: 06/03/14