What Are Emotional Boundaries?
Emotional boundaries are internal barriers that allow us to separate our own thoughts, feelings, and emotions from others. Setting healthy emotional boundaries is important because without them, we tend to allow the “stuff” that other people may be dealing with, cross over into our own lives.
For example, our imaginary friend, Julie, is a person with poor emotional boundaries. She allows the relationship struggles of a co-worker to completely control her thoughts and keep her up at night worrying. Although the relationship problems are not her own, Julie is fixated on and worried about her co-worker. She finds herself greatly impacted. She has trouble separating her emotions from those of her co-worker’s.
A person with strong emotional boundaries might be confused by how affected Julie is. After all, Julie can be empathetic and compassionate toward her co-worker without taking on her co-worker’s troubles.
For people without established emotional boundaries, there is a very blurred line between where their inner identity and emotions end and the identities and emotions of others begin.
What Causes Poor Emotional Boundaries?
Poor emotional boundaries often go back to childhood. If a person was raised in a household with parents who had a distorted sense of boundaries, they are likely to experience the same as adults.
Parents with poor emotional boundaries have difficulty separating their internal world from that of their child’s. They want their child to be just like them, with the same likes and dislikes, values, thoughts and feelings.
If a child in this situation thinks or behaves differently from how their parents believe they should, the child is likely to experience rejection from those they most seek approval.
Carrying this fear of rejection into adulthood is often what leads to poor emotional boundaries.
What Do Healthy Emotional Boundaries Look Like?
Setting healthy emotional boundaries is crucial to having a healthy sense of self. People with unhealthy emotional boundaries often make decisions based upon what is in the best interest of others. Those with healthy emotional boundaries, while exploring how their decision will impact others, consider what’s in their own best interest. They don’t fear rejection for their decision. Some view this as selfish. Experts in psychology view this as healthy.
Let’s go back to the example of Julie with poor emotional boundaries worrying about her co-worker’s relationship problems. In this situation, Julie is allowing her co-worker’s struggles to invade her own internal mental and emotional space.
By setting a healthy emotional boundary, Julie can maintain her inner balance without sacrificing her sense of compassion for her co-worker. Julie, with healthy emotional boundaries, can say to herself “I can empathize with my co-worker’s problems for a moment. I’m here for her if she needs me. But, her struggles are not my responsibility.”
How Can You Develop Healthy Emotional Boundaries?
The most important thing in developing healthy emotional boundaries is to get in touch with your inner thoughts and emotions. In order to set healthy boundaries, you must first know who you are and what you value. An easy way to figure this out is to journal about your thoughts, feelings, and stance about important aspects of your life. Ask yourself, “What are my top 10 values in life? What are my genuine likes and dislikes when it comes to ________________?”
Also, you may find it helpful to meet with a trained counselor or therapist to discuss setting healthy emotional boundaries. Either way, the goal is to understand who you are as an individual, without being heavily influenced by external forces.
Once you have a greater understanding of your own inner workings, you’ll be better able to tell when your own emotional boundaries are being crossed and take action to avert the intrusion.