Boundaries are drawn all around us.  Physical boundaries are drawn for us: earth’s atmosphere, shorelines, national borders, state and county lines, city limitsproperty lines.  Regulated by government and mapped out in detail, they show the extent of ownership and who’s responsible for maintaining that which is owned.

However, in relationships, we share the task of drawing the lines of relational boundaries for ourselves.  Neighbors, coworkers, friends, and acquaintances operate in a changing cloud of expectations, assumptions, personal commitments, and beliefs. While HOA covenants or office protocol may be predetermined, other boundaries in these relationships are best set via direct communication and negotiation. Those who have faced burnout, compassion fatigue, abuse, or rejection have all encountered boundary violations since both parties in a relationship share both ownership and responsibility for the health of that relationship.  

From birth to death, boundaries help us learn where we are, define areas of safety, illustrate our freedom to explore, limit our ownership, and remind us of responsibility.  In addition, they provide a context for learning who we are as individuals.  This is especially true within the intimate relationships of partnerships, extended family, marriage, and parenting.  As adults, we each carry the responsibility for determining and declaring our own personal boundaries.  The edges of identity are formed gradually, piece by piece, from conception to death.  

Besides genetic information that shapes our bodies and determines mental strength or weakness, our parents also provide the nurturing that either activates healthy growth in all the areas of our lives – or not.  What we believe about ourselves and how we interact with the natural world and the people in it comfrom the personal boundaries learned from our parents.  During our lifetimeswe learn and define, over-reach and shrink our personal boundaries.  

If we were denied the opportunity to learn and the permission to choose healthy boundaries as children, we may develop default settings that mirror our parents’ survival skills, rather than finding the boundaries congruent with who we really are.  Some problems do come at us from the outside and are not anyone’s fault.  Other problems are definitely our fault or someone else’s.  When we choose to assign blame for every problem, however, our default settings and personalities can lead us toward internalizing(It’s my fault — I’m the only one who can fix it”)or externalizing (“It’s their fault – and someone else has to fix it”).  

Life inevitably hands us pain, discomfort, and disconnection in the relationships we most care about.  The resulting anger, sadness, and loneliness resulting from such a disconnect require us to identify which boundaries have been violated.  Only then can we may an informed choice.

1. Will we accept the fact that this problem resulted from living in a broken world?  
2. Will we forgive the one at fault, whether or not the relationship continues?  
3. Will we forgive ourselves for stepping outside our own boundaries, or over another’s boundaries?   

Discerning where we are in this process can seem complicated, painful, and even impossible when we attempt it alone.  Finding a counselor to work with through the process can make all the difference.  Gather your courage and start looking for someone today!

For more information on this, please read Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents

-Karen Bridges