Because the emotional boundaries (rules, expectations, protocol) that set the stage for our relationships are initially formed when we are very young children, typically between the ages of 3-4, whichever boundaries are naturally formed become the reality within which we operate, at least until we mature enough to question it. This usually doesn’t happen until our late 20’s or early 30’s if it happens at all.
What are emotional boundaries?
Like physical boundaries, emotional boundaries define separateness. Your emotional boundaries are the property lines that separate your thoughts and feelings from those of other people. If you are confused as to where to draw the line, you cannot avoid emotional and relational troubles. It is like living in a crowded neighborhood with a lot of communal property and some private property, with residents having no idea how to distinguish one type of property from the other. Chaos ensues that has no end until the right lines are drawn, rules set and order established.
Signs and symptoms of weak emotional boundaries.
Diagnosing weak boundaries is not a physical or intellectual matter. It is a matter of knowing the inevitable signs and understanding why they occur. Like gravity, you cannot see an emotional boundary or lack thereof, but you can see and experience the results. You may live with weak emotional boundaries if:
You’re easily overwhelmed emotionally.
This can happen if you don’t instinctively know where to draw the lines of emotional responsibility between self and other. You may be carrying the burden of others’ emotions for which you aren’t responsible. For the most part, if you are clear about where to take responsibility and where your emotional responsibility ends, you can usually manage your emotions without getting overwhelmed.
You are socially anxious.
It is natural for someone with weak emotional boundaries to walk into a room and believe everyone notices or cares. You may even think you know what they are thinking about you, what judgments they cast and so forth. This leads to terrible self-consciousness and social anxiety. Responding as if you know what is in the minds and hearts of other people is a fundamental boundary confusion issue.
You seek approval.
Unable to distinguish your emotions (that you can control) from the emotions of others (that you cannot control) you seek to win over others by pleasing them or casting yourself in a favorable light. Craving approval can run your life.
It comes from not having the experience that you have no idea what others may be thinking and that it is not your responsibility regardless. Unable to separate your self-worth from what you believe others are thinking about you, you are highly motivated to impress.
Both the seeking approval and the socially anxious boundary issues are self-sabotaging behaviors that are derived from a rejection attachment. A rejection attachment gets triggered when we unwittingly seek out rejection from others.
When we are determine, through social anxiety, to feel others are rejecting us right from the start we are, in term, rejecting ourselves. When we seek to over-please people because we fear being rejected, we are inviting rejection from them.
We aren’t consciously aware this is what we are doing, yet the result proves this attachment to rejection because the result is ultimately ending in rejection. Understanding this self-sabotage allows us to make other choices on how to behave where we are no longer seeking rejection but getting what we consciously want to receive, acceptance. Learn more about attachments here.
If you are not clear where you end and others begin, then you may suffer from narcissism. Narcissists cannot sense their impact of their behaviors on other people because they do not understand that others’ emotions are real to them, as there is no boundary in place that distinguishes self from other.
Without this understanding, you can’t imagine what other people may be experiencing and a fundamentally narcissistic point of view is the only one available to you.
Boundaries may be the deepest, most confusing psychological issue we face. They influence every interaction. Recognizing boundaries and respecting them is the basis of any health relationship. Boundaries can become clearer when we understand we have confused them.
We have found boundaries issues have their root in psychological attachments. These attachments show themselves in self-sabotaging behaviors such as the ones explained above.
To learn more about attachments and how understanding them can help you or others become clear on where you end and others begin, watch a free video that explains them. You will find this is the key to eliminating this self-sabotaging behavior and helping others become aware as well.