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  • Writer's pictureFamily Counseling Service

Setting Healthy Boundaries

Lack of emotional boundaries can cause a lifetime of heartache, damaged relationships and low self-worth. Without proper boundaries, we are vulnerable to the emotional manipulations of others. As parents, you are an essential key in helping your child establish healthy boundaries that support their self-worth and confidence. This will lead them to make healthier choices in all areas of life and to become happier and more fulfilled adults.

To accomplish this, parents must model this in their own lives. You have to allow your children to see you manage your own emotions wisely and show them that emotions do not have to dictate behaviors.

Equating our self-worth with the happiness of those around us. When we lack healthy emotional boundaries, we have a difficult time distinguishing those responsibilities and emotions that belong to us and those that belong to someone else. When this happens, we develop a tendency to absorb others emotions and to feel guilty when they are hurt, disappointed or frustrated.

As a result, we may blame ourselves when those around us are unhappy, even when their situation has nothing to do with us or when we have done nothing wrong. In essence, we equate our self-worth and value as a person with how happy the people around us are. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy and insecurity, which make us apt to be easily manipulated by others who really do want someone to blame for their own ills in life or the bad choices they have made. This is a common relationship dynamic, which is very dysfunctional and painful for the one being used this way.

Rescuing others from their own choices and behaviors. When we equate our value as a person with others’ happiness, we tend to be desperate to rescue them from their own choices and bad behaviors. Rather than seeing them as responsible for those decisions, we often believe that we “have to” drop everything that’s important in our life in order to save them from the consequences of their own choices, or just life difficulties, in general.

We may even do this to the detriment of our own personal relationships, our own finances, and our own mental health. When we allow such a person to drain our resources, we no longer have the mental, physical and emotional energy to meet our own needs, or to support those other important relationships in our life.

How do we set healthy boundaries? Refuse to give into your emotions, especially your guilt, when you know the choice that will temporarily relieve the guilt, is actually going to damage yourself or undermine your other priorities in life. You will always struggle with this until you resolve to no longer have your behaviors dictated by your emotions. It’s okay to help someone when they need it, but it should not consistently be at the cost of sacrificing those people and priorities that mean the most to you.

Sometimes when you make the right choice, you will still feel guilty. You can choose to accept those guilt feelings, but make the right choice anyway. When you give yourself permission to be okay with feeling guilty, it releases you from the anxiety and fear you generate in your own mind when you experience it. Once you see it as a normal emotion and one not to be feared or subservient to, then it can become much more manageable. This will free you to make choices that reflect your personal values, rather than someone else’s.

Things we believe about ourselves. Once you stop using your guilt as the measure of your self-worth, you can begin to see your strengths in new ways. One of those strengths is, now, your ability to make decisions that are good for you, even when they are uncomfortable. You can learn to rely on your own values to determine what you choose, rather than what someone else is pleased or displeased by. When you come around to this way of thinking, you find that you are more empowered to feel more confident and in control of your life. And, as you stop allowing an unhealthy relationship to keep you feeling drained, exhausted and defeated, you will find that you are more energized to take care of yourself and the other people in your life that reflect the kind of person you want to be.

Your child will learn much more from the behavior you model than the words you say. When you demonstrate these healthy boundaries in your life, you will be a model for them to follow. You will teach them emotional self-management, helping them handle their emotions in a healthy way, enhancing their decision-making skills, end helping them to base their future relationships on healthy priorities and values. Plus, you will be instilling in them the confidence to walk away from manipulative, abusive relationships that drain away their satisfaction in life.

Larry Deavers is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker & Executive Director of Family Counseling Service of West Alabama.

Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash

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