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Setting Boundaries (Part 2)

written by: Kosjenka Muk

Fear and guilt

Setting boundaries is equally important in an intimate partnership as in other relationships. Many people burden their partners with high expectations and needs, and therefore do not respect their boundaries. On the other hand, some people may give their partners too much space and avoid expressing their requirements. They may call this love, while acting out of fear and neediness. Then suppressed frustration builds up until it either explodes or slowly erodes trust and intimacy. So why not to stop this process at the beginning?

Such lack of honesty is often due to a fear of abandonment. Many people learned early in their lives that, if they want to be loved, they cannot be who they are, or that love means that the needs of others are more important than their own.

How can we recognize healthy boundaries and when do we disregard them? Pay attention to your subtle emotions and translate them into words as best you can. If you do not listen to your emotions, sooner or later you might get psychosomatic warning signals.

Be aware that your boundaries might not be compatible with other people's. This is normal and there is no need to blame anyone. Through honest negotiations, you can explore what sort of relationship you want in such a case. If some people avoid honest negotiations by criticizing, blaming or giving you silent treatment, reconsider how much time you want to spend with them.

If someone threatens our personal boundaries, it is not a good enough reason to react angrily, with either active or passive aggression. Anger and blame often signal suppressed fear and unresolved guilt, which we must accept and understand in order to deal with them efficiently.

It is important to differentiate between decisiveness and aggression, as well as between permissiveness and compassion. This may be difficult for people who were taught to suppress their needs and feelings. They may react out of guilt mixed with fear and anger, if forced to set boundaries. This often occurs after a period of hiding emotions, repressing anger and accumulating resentment.

Some people defend their personal boundaries decisively, yet also aggressively through blaming or criticizing others, even for the smallest of problems. The more aggression, the more suppressed fear and guilt you can expect. Such people are likely to have been badly insulted or hurt in childhood and decided to fight for themselves, but from a stance of “Do unto others before they do unto you”.

This attitude often comes from fear that they could not protect themselves without attacking or degrading others. Often they had strong role models for such behavior. This is neither self-love nor self-esteem, rather a different way of expressing the same problem.

Assume that people do not act with a conscious intention to insult or hurt you, except when openly aggressive or manipulative. If you understand that most people have not developed their consciousness of values and feelings of others, you need not react with anger (only irritation).

It is usually inappropriate to express desires or requests with anger and accusations. Otherwise, we risk pushing people into defensiveness, damaging potential quality relationships.

React on time

It is crucial to recognize, define and explain your boundaries, needs and desires to others early in relationships. If you avoid this, you may end up accumulating resentment. Most people did not learn to be sufficiently aware of others' nonverbal signals and cannot recognize indirect warnings. In such a case, you might delay expressing your needs until an emotional or even physical crisis occurs.

Notice what stops you from calmly explaining to other people what you want and what is not acceptable to you, without fear, blame and anger. If you avoid making your boundaries clear, you will probably feel uncomfortable and limited in your communications. This may even lead you to push people away - blaming them for your discomfort rather than acknowledging your own emotions.

The more you disrespect yourself and your needs, the more you are likely to disrespect other people and their needs, even if only inside your mind.

Acknowledging our own mistakes

It is good to remember this when questioning your own behavior and demands. It is easier to notice when our own boundaries are threatened; it might be challenging to recognize when we intrude on other people's boundaries. If we do not love ourselves, we may feel inferior when we recognize our faults and inappropriate behavior. Thus, we can be motivated to avoid questioning our motives. The more we accept ourselves, the more we can accept -and correct- our mistakes.

We no longer live in medieval conditions in terms of physical security, but our society is still both verbally and emotionally violent. Even if we do not express hostility, we may desire to. Fear keeps (some) people from being openly rude, rather than appreciating or understanding others. Violence may remain in our thoughts or we may express it behind people's backs. We may accept this as normal, or justify it in similar ways like people in the Middle Ages accepted and justified physical violence. To some extent, we are still in the Middle Ages, even if only mentally. To change something outside of ourselves, we must first recognize it within.

Self-criticism will not help us change how we relate to others. It can worsen the problem, causing inner conflict and suppression. Suppressed parts of ourselves then become stronger and more violent, seeking attention and recognition.

To recognize other people's pain, we must first recognize our own. To understand how we hurt others, we must first become aware of how we hurt ourselves. We hurt ourselves every day, living lives we do not enjoy, remaining in surroundings we do not like, poisoning and neglecting our bodies, searching for something or somebody to save us from ourselves. This cannot change until we stop believing that people or circumstances dictate the choices we make and are hence responsible for us.

"Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate." - C.G. Jung

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