The desire to connect and form an intimate bond with another person is natural, but so is the desire to protect yourself (both physically and emotionally). Psychologically speaking, both desires are equally important, and healthy people strike a balance between their need for connection and their need for protection. They walk the middle ground of allowing themselves to be vulnerable in ways that facilitate intimacy while simultaneously keeping their guard up in ways that prevent their being taken advantage of. In other words, they have good boundaries.
But how do you know if your boundaries are healthy and effective? How do you know if you’re putting yourself in jeopardy? And how do you know if you’re pushing away people who you should be trusting and connecting with?
Here are four warning signs that you might need to rethink your boundaries:
1. You feel used or taken advantage of by the people in your life.
If you want to know if your boundaries are less than ideal, the easiest test is to ask yourself, "How does my significant other make me feel, and how do my friends and family make me feel?" If you feel like they walk all over you and don’t appreciate you, then you might want to examine your boundaries with them (and everyone else in your life).
2. Your life is an open book, to everyone, all the time.
Some people share way too much, way too quickly, about themselves and their lives, and they do this with just about everyone they meet. Usually, this indicates a desperate desire for true emotional connection—often stemming from a childhood in which they felt unloved, unwanted, defective, unworthy, etc.
Unfortunately, this tendency to vomit every aspect of one’s life into the lap of anyone and everyone in the vicinity tends to repel rather than attract healthy individuals. Often, it is only users and manipulators who are willing to step in and fill the emotional void and only so they can take, take, take from an emotionally vulnerable person.
3. You are closed off, with everyone, always.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, some people are so afraid of being used, manipulated, and otherwise taken advantage of—usually because they have a childhood history filled with emotional, psychological, physical, and/or sexual abuse—that they close themselves off almost completely.
They seem to think, "If I never show any emotional vulnerability, then I can’t ever be hurt again." Unfortunately, they also can’t find the emotional intimacy that all humans naturally need. Sometimes they will invite people in because they want to connect, but when the other person starts to get close, they push them away. This push-pull process frustrates everyone involved.
4. You are depressed and/or anxious.
There are many causes of depression and anxiety, one of which is relationship stress. And poor boundaries are a primary cause of relationship stress. One person consistently feels used and not heard (or consistently uses and doesn’t hear the other), and the relationship naturally and very obviously feels "off." And it feels this way because one or both (usually both) people in the relationship have poor boundaries. Once again, this typically stems from various forms of early-life family dysfunction.
As you may have noticed, there is a definite connection between early-life trauma and abuse and later-life issues with boundaries. Typically, both issues must be addressed before a person is able to fully implement and maintain healthy boundaries on a long-term basis. Therapeutic assistance, especially therapy focused on trauma, is nearly always helpful in this regard.
Want more insights on how to level up your life? Check out your love horoscope, then find out why holding on to past relationships is the worst thing you can do for yourself.
This article was generated based on research conducted while writing the recently published book Out of the Doghouse: A Step-by-Step Relationship-Saving Guide for Men Caught Cheating, and the forthcoming (spring/summer 2018) book, Prodependence: A Guidebook for Spouses and Others Who Care for and Love an Addict.