Personal Boundaries Build Healthy Relationships

Transcript from November 15, 2012 podcast show on A Fine Time for Healing

Self-Love and Boundaries Build Healthy Relationships

Learning to Love Yourself by Establishing Healthy Boundaries

By Randi Fine, Author of

Close Encounters of the Worst Kind: The Narcissistic Abuse Survivor’s Guide to Healing and Recovery

It is often difficult to see the part we play in the problems we have with others. Today’s show, Self Love and Boundaries Build Healthy Relationships speaks to a very common problem people have. Many of us have trouble differentiating between the concepts of kindness and over-pleasing. Are you someone with a generous nature who loves to give to others but often feels taken for granted? Perhaps you have asked yourself the following questions:

“Why am I so giving to others yet I’m always getting stepped on and/or rejected? Why don’t others ever appreciate what I do for them? Why do I always find myself being taken advantage of?”

If you are always giving and it seems like others are always ungraciously taking, you have probably attributed it to thoughtlessness or rudeness on their part. Maybe you’ve thought about finding new friends, distancing yourself from your family, changing jobs, or relocating.

You have probably wondered if you are doing something wrong, but keep coming back to the belief that generosity is a virtue—that it is a beautiful thing to give of oneself.

Many of us do not know whether the emotional boundaries in our lives are healthy or not. We only know what we know. How we live is how we live. We have no other perspective of life unless we actively seek it. That is why many people suffer lifelong emotional pain and never understand why.

I grew up in a family with poorly defined and ever-changing boundaries. There was total emotional enmeshment.

My individuality and that of my siblings was only as established as our mother would allow. Our feelings only mattered if they aligned with her feelings and needs. Otherwise they were discounted. Our father was also wrapped up in trying to please her so we were left to emotionally fend for ourselves.

As a result of my upbringing I had little self-esteem. I was an approval seeker with little sense of self—for many years I relied on everyone else to tell me who I was. I spent most of my adult life riddled with resentment, pain, and guilt but didn’t know why. I felt responsible for everyone else’s life while putting my own on the back burner. It made me feel crazy most of the time. Still, I thought all families were like mine and I knew of no other way to be.

My adult interpersonal relationships were disastrous. I allowed others way too much access into my thoughts and feelings. I tried to make everyone happy. As a result people trampled all over me and I felt miserable. I just didn’t know why.

The concept of boundaries was entirely foreign to me until I went to a therapist and she explained it to me. With her help and over time I managed to separate the functional from the dysfunctional and define my boundaries. My life worked so much better with that structure. All my relationships improved. The pain also went away.

Having emotional boundaries is the same thing as having self esteem. Boundaries are the limits we set in all our relationships that keep us from being needy, overly empathetic, controlling, or overly pleasing. They protect us from emotional abuse, manipulation, or enmeshment with others.

If you are someone who often feels unappreciated or under-appreciated in your interpersonal relationships it may be time to look inward as I finally did. It is probably time to examine your own behavior and your boundary system to see what part you play in the mistreatment you are getting from others.

Ask yourself this? Are people taking advantage of you because you allow them to? If so, that is a choice you are making.

Do you blame others for letting you down when in actuality you have given your personal power over to them?

That is about self-love and self-respect. You cannot expect others to treat you better than you treat yourself. If you are self-loathing, self-doubting, and negative you will project those self-concepts outwardly. It will negatively influence how others see you and subsequently treat you.

Many people feel guilty when it comes to loving their selves. They think tending to their own needs first is a selfish act. That is not true. To be selfish is to take something away from others and keep it for oneself.

Self-love is completely different. Loving ourselves first does not lessen our ability to love others—it increases it. The more love we have for ourselves the more love we have to give. When our well is full there is water for others to drink. When it is empty there is not. Self-love comes first—everything else follows.

Do you believe that you have the right and responsibility to get your needs met? You cannot set limits with others until you identify, acknowledge, understand, and honor your own needs. To be clear on what treatment you will and will not tolerate from others you must first treat yourself the way you wish to be treated.

People who use you do not always set out to hurt you. In fact your feelings are probably not considered at all. If you don’t matter to you, you probably don’t matter to them either. Most people who take advantage of others are not calculatingly evil—they are just opportunists. They see an in and they take it.

And though it may appear that these people are happy go lucky, that often isn’t the case. They may be remorseless but they are not content. Most often they are very insecure and empty. They do not feel good about their selves and therefore cannot feel good about anyone else. Those with good self-esteem have no need to stoop to the level of a user. It is not very becoming.

And opportunists are not as strong willed as they may appear. If you pay attention to their other relationships you will notice that they do not take advantage of everyone. They are no match for those with clear and enforced boundaries. The only ones they take advantage of are those who allow it. They do it simply because they know they can.

There will always be people who try to take advantage of us. It is our responsibility to show others how to treat us and it is our prerogative to allow or disallow disrespect.

If you are waiting for others to see their ways and change them do not hold your breath. Others may say they will change—they may apologize a thousand times for their rude behavior. If you buy into their excuses they will keep making them. Unless they have a solid reason for altering their behavior they will probably continue doing the same thing.

The only way to stop others from walking all over us is through the establishment and maintenance of healthy boundaries. Once those limits are set we must enforce them in order for them to be effective.

People who use others will only change their ways of interacting with you when their old methods no longer work. That is accomplished by changing the way you interact with them and being consistent in reinforcing your boundaries.

Ultimately the only person you have control over is you. The remedy to this problem is not about forcing others to change. It is about deciding what you will and will not tolerate.

The first step in regaining your power is recognizing that you lack clear boundaries and acknowledging that they are impeding your ability to be happy and/or successful.

Do not feel bad about setting limits. The truth is that you have already set them. The problem is that they are backwards. That is why they don’t feel right. They benefit others instead of benefitting you.

You have determined that you will always be kind and giving to everyone, regardless of how they treat you. That is a limitation you have placed on yourself. You have determined that you will tolerate the maltreatment. That is a limitation you have placed on yourself.

Perhaps you are hung up on the part about living life in a way that benefits you, about loving yourself. If so you probably equate self love with self-worship. But they are two entirely different things. Self-worship is selfish and ugly–it is arrogant, prideful, and egotistical.

Self love, on the other hand, is a beautiful thing. Are you not supposed to be thankful and grateful for the gift of life? Are you not supposed to appreciate the gift you have been given by respecting yourself, taking care of yourself, and protecting yourself?

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