Do I Know What My Boundaries Are? How to Tell if You’re Boundaries Need Shoring Up

Boundaries are another area I spend a lot of time on in this blog. Reason being, if you were raised in an environment where your boundaries were constantly being violated as I have, then it can be difficult to know what is and is not acceptable in regards to boundaries. I didn’t even know what a boundary was! And even worse, I confused a lack of boundaries for affection in some cases. This was not ideal.

What are My Boundaries

Luckily, I’ve learned a lot about what healthy boundaries are and what they are not. But it took a lot of putting myself in some pretty shady situations. Lessons that I could have probably learned in a much healthier fashion. In this post I’ll be talking about how to establish your boundaries and also how to tell when they’re being encroached on. These are difficult waters to navigate when you have no bearings in the way of role models. But there are ways of finding your bearings. It’s not impossible, but it can be difficult. And in difficult times I like to remember the phrase, “we were built for this”. Let’s find some healthy boundaries together. : )

Where Are My Boundaries?

As I said above, boundaries can be tricky to establish. If you’ve been immersed in an environment where a lack of boundaries was the norm, than knowing where yours end and another’s begins isn’t clear. Or maybe your boundaries were too rigid, too defined. This can be just as frustrating as having no boundaries. Either way, if you’ve been left in one of these boats, you’re gonna need to find another vessel. Luckily there are places to find out what a healthy mix of boundaries looks like. Let’s take a look at being raised with no boundaries first. These can be, I feel, the most confusing.

No Boundaries

Being raised with no boundaries can be very confusing when trying to navigate your young, chaotic world. For me, no boundaries meant being mean to others with callous disregard for their emotions. Eating anything and everything I felt like when I felt like it. Picking up vices like smoking and drinking at an early age (14) and using them to excess. Also using others and confusing a lack of boundaries for affection.

Living without boundaries was due to a lack of healthy role models showing me appropriate boundaries. I was mostly looking to feel loved by my neglectful caregivers, by acting the ways that I watched them behave. My caregivers were mean and rancorous. So I was mean spirited and rancorous. It’s what I thought it meant to be grown up, mature. Later, when I realized that my role models were acting like Jim Morrison, I knew I had been mislead.

Trying to Fit in by Copying What was Shown to Me

Being raised with no boundaries came with a feeling of desperation because of the lack of connection I felt. My thoughts were consumed with what I could do to feel a sense of love and belonging. I thought I could feel connected by doing the things that my family was doing. But these things were clearly disregarding my best interests.

For example I stopped going to school at around age 15 and was drinking quite a bit as well. Also in my teen years, I never exercised and my diet wasn’t stellar either. And I did this all because I was looking for some way to belong. To anything that would give me a sense of comfort and security. Who at the time were my family and the people I was friends with who resembled my family. Not realizing all the while how far I was straying from the ways I could have cultivated, to create a sense of security and comfort for myself.

Confusing a Lack of Boundaries for Affection

And the worst part of having no boundaries was, I confused a lack of boundaries for affection. I assumed that any chance for contact was good because I was so desperate for it. This was because I didn’t have a tight bond with my caregivers. I figured, if I let them do whatever they wanted to me, the greater chance I would have of being loved by them. For me that meant they could say whatever they wanted to me. Or go through my personal belongings whenever they felt. Invade my personal space on a whim and treat me as though I weren’t a person with basic needs and rights.

However, this set me up for my relationships with the women to fail. I would often times feel as though I were never enough. As though I needed someone to treat me poorly in a relationship, because I felt I wasn’t worthy enough to be in a healthy one. This left me feeling uneasy in my relationships. Also, lucky that a woman would even consider being with me. This perpetuated the cycles of poor boundaries and low self esteem. So I acted in arrogant ways to cover over my feelings of inadequacy.

Result? Burnt Bridges

The end result was a lot of burned bridges and a staggering amount of unhealthy habits. I had no career prospects. I had ended the most stable relationship I had been in for eight years, almost on a whim. And I had no idea what my future was going to hold or felt like I had the ability to change it. For all intents and purposes, I was one unfortunate event away from being homeless. Completely without resources. I had made a life’s time worth of poor decisions and many of them could be traced back to being raised with no boundaries or very rigid boundaries.

Rigid Boundaries

Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the spectrum, my other caregivers had very rigid boundaries. There was no physical touch (not that there was much with the other side of my family.) We never talked about how we felt either. There were never conversations about who we were as people. Preferences, likes and dislikes weren’t discussed. We seldom had any conversations that went deeper than the state of the weather. We also barely saw each other as well. Any chance we had to build a relationship was frozen by the oppressive frigidity of the nature of our relationship.

These types of boundaries left me feeling as though I wasn’t good enough to be around. As though there was something wrong with me. Though nothing was ever explicitly said, there was an uncomfortable air of feeling deeply wrong. Looking back, I can recognize that if my family didn’t want to touch, talk to or get to know their own son, there must be something wrong with me. Again, a sense of desperation set in as I tried to figure out why I was being rejected. Only this time the rules had changed. I felt empty and as though I wasn’t good enough. But there was also a lack of trust on my caregivers part as well.

Trusting Others is Difficult with Rigid Boundaries

I had no idea that the lack of trust didn’t stem from me. Only that the rigidity, the stiffness of the boundaries made me feel as though, if I wasn’t behaving properly, or wasn’t as stoic or serious as my caregiver were, than I wasn’t good enough.

I was being rejected again, but I had no idea what I was or wasn’t doing. However I did know that some attention was better than none. So for me, a lack of boundaries was more “nourishing” than being completely rigid.

Making the Choice

So I chose to emulate my caregivers that resembled Jim Morrison. And live the destructive lifestyle that came with it. I would later make the switch to becoming rigid in my boundaries. Basing my values on how much I could sacrifice, while thinking in black and white terms. But no matter which path I chose, I still didn’t feel belonging. This was where I came to realize just how unhealthy my boundaries and relationships truly were. This is something I’m still coming to terms with. But I’ve picked up some resources along the way that have helped me to make some sense of my relationships. Let’s take a look at a few of them. Hopefully some will find them useful.

Finding Insperation

I have a few photos on my phone’s wallpaper, that rotate as reminders to me. They are: two photos of dogs I want, a photo of Adriene from yoga with Adriene, a photo of Dana Schultz from The Minimalist Baker, Tom Hanks, a picture of the bedroom I would one day like to build in my future home and a photo of Tupac Shakur. The reason I bring up these photos is because they’ve come to represent a sense of balance in my life. Things that I’m aspiring to and where I’ve come from.

Companionship

The photos of the dogs helps to remind me of the possibility for companionship, unconditionally. I’ve never seen a dog look at a person and say, “I can’t wag my tail at you. You’re too ugly.” They are just little fluffballs of loving energy. This helps to remind me that no matter how rigid boundaries have been in the past, there are always sources of healthy connection and affection. I just need to find them and choose them.

Caring for Myself & My Limits

The photo of Adrienne reminds me that there are people out there doing good work. They don’t have to sacrifice themselves to be liked or accepted. And in fact, are loved and accepted for pursuing something they love to do. Adriene is also a source of positive energy and motivation. As well as helping me to look out for my health.

Yoga has taught me how to care for my physical self without pushing myself beyond what I’m capable of. Taking care of myself on the mat is a way for me to respect my boundaries around how much I feel I should be accomplishing. Especially when I feel my boundaries are too rigid. I.e. pushing myself beyond what I’m capable of achieving. I know that the purpose of my practice isn’t to push myself until I pass out. I’m there to listen to my body. Also respond to its needs with care. Push my limits, while also listening to what my body is telling me.

Nutritional Needs

The same is true of my photo of Dana from Minimalist Baker. She has seen me through some tough times while helping me learn how to cook for and care for my nutritional needs. All the while, not sacrificing the flavors I love. I owe her a great deal and am constantly grateful for what she’s taught me. Dana was the start of me understanding what healthy boundaries looked like in regards to food and nutrition. And I eat a healthier diet thanks to her.

Kindness

Tom Hanks is there mostly for the roles he played in the movies I grew up watching. There was a time where he was the only responsible role model I had. I watched as he showed care for the people he was acting with. And cared for them in a stable and responsible way. He was never abusive, mild in temperament and shared freely his emotional world. These traits showed me that it wasn’t ridiculous to have a reasonable expectation of a person. That it was normal and healthy to have healthy boundaries.

And growing up in a void of healthy role modeling meant that there was nobody to talk to. The T.V. was my closest family member. This made for a very lonely upbringing. I was never really sure of what I was feeling. And the lack of connection and neglect was, looking back on it, abusive. I’m surprised that I’ve made it as far as I have. And relatively unscathed.

Levity

Which brings me to Tupac. Tupac is on my phone to remind me of where I came from. As the man said, “everybody and their lady got a little bit of thug in ’em”. Me included. Which is funny, because I was and still am, mostly a hippie. : ) But Tupac reminds me that when I feel those rigid boundaries begin to creep in, the ones that tell me I have to be as good as humanly possible, or else, to ease up.

Bringing Balance to Your Boundaries

Everybody has a little rebellious streak in them. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. However, if you let that side take the reigns as I did, life can get out of control quickly. But stifle it too much and you’ll become paralyzed by fear.

So whether you’ve had poorly defined boundaries, or too rigid ones, there are ways to find a new way of being that leaves you feeling as though you are in charge of your life. While also being able to let go a little and relax. But it takes work. Boundaries, unfortunately, don’t build themselves. But with some dedication and a few good role models, it’s possible to create ones that will aid you.

So if you’re looking to shore up your boundaries, start by choosing some healthy role models. Are there people you are drawn to that seem to have a healthy grasp on their life? Start there. What are they doing that you admire? What are drawn to? Do you have behaviors you are unhappy with? Or wish you could change? These areas are worth exploring more. Maybe find someone who has been in your shoes. What are they doing and how have they changed?

I hope this has been helpful to you in some way. It isn’t an easy path. To nurture something like boundaries that have been neglected for such a long time. But it’s worth it in the end. So stay strong! And remember, you were built for this! Thanks for reading : ) peace.

Image Credits: “Blurring Boundaries” by Karthick R is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Updated: 10/25/22

Author: nolabelsliving

Social worker by day, blogger by night. I have a lot of lived experience which is why I started my blog. I was not given any direction when I started out on my journey, but have been blessed with some amazing support and guidance along the way. Just want to give back a little of what I've received : )

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