Are Your Relationships Out of Whack? How to Set Healthy Boundaries

Advice from a clinical psychologist
relationship problems

Have you ever felt the lines blur between you and another person in an unhealthy way?

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Sometimes, we can’t quite put into words that something is wrong in our relationships or that boundaries between ourselves and others are not healthy. These relationships can exist in many spheres, whether with a significant other, neighbor, friend, coworker or boss.

“One warning sign of unhealthy boundaries might be the inability to say ‘no’ when you mean ‘no,’” says clinical psychologist Scott Bea, PsyD.

Other signs? He says watch out for feelings of anger in response to the sense that the relationship is imbalanced, that you’re giving too much, or not being listened to in a reciprocal manner.

“You may have the sense that you are a rescuer or savior. You may have this sense that your needs don’t count.  Finally, you may feel that you have sacrificed your identity as part of the relationship,” he says.

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Why we all need healthy boundaries

“Interpersonal boundaries are important in helping you manage the responsibility of having your needs met,” Dr. Bea says.

Healthy boundaries allow us to:

  • Retain our identity.
  • Prevent others from taking advantage of or manipulating us.
  • Promote healthy relationships.
  • Allow us to be appropriately assertive. 

“They also allow for your individual identity so that you can strive for personal goals, while expressing an appropriate level of interest in helping others,” he adds.

How to push through the fear

Setting good boundaries takes some courage. People may push back against newly established boundary-setting.

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To do this, Dr. Bea makes these suggestions:

  • Educate yourself on topics such as codependency or enmeshed relationships. This can help guide you toward healthy boundary setting.
  • Reach out for social support as you set new boundaries. This can help us get through some of the difficult conversations that may arise when you first form more reasonable boundaries.

“Keep in mind that others may stimulate feelings of guilt that may stem from your childhood experiences in order to overstep your boundaries,” Dr. Bea says.

“Being educated and leaning on others can help you through it. Once you practice holding your ground, it gets easier.”

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