Boundaries define areas of ownership and responsibility, and maintaining healthy boundaries is the key to any successful relationship. We all have boundaries, and we set boundaries all the time. However, oftentimes I see women struggle with setting healthy boundaries, which usually requires saying “no” to someone. There are many myths about boundaries which contribute to our reluctance to set them.
Myths about boundaries fall into two categories: how boundaries affect relationships and how boundaries affect us. For more in-depth information about these myths, I recommend the classic book Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend.
There is a myth that setting boundaries, or limits, in a relationship will harm it.
The parent-child relationship is a great way to disprove this belief. When you set a limit and enforce it, your child will probably act like you have mortally wounded her. But we all know that we aren’t causing harm to our child – we are keeping her safe. Boundaries keep us safe in relationships. In our peer relationships the concern is more about maintaining the friendship. We worry that if we set a limit, we will lose the friendship or romance. We worry that the other person will retaliate against us, or even cut us off. While there may be some conflict over setting boundaries, healthy relationships can weather those troubles.
Many myths are related to the idea that setting boundaries make us bad people.
Other people put guilt trips on us when we set boundaries, telling us we are selfish or disobedient, but that is generally not true. So while we may believe that setting boundaries proves we are selfish people, that’s confusing our actions with what other people think of us. Setting boundaries can also release suppressed anger or cause guilt as we come to terms with prior boundary violations. But those negative feelings are not caused by the boundary setting. They are simply uncovered by it. Every time we enforce a new boundary, it reminds us of the times we were taken advantage of. The anger over those prior boundary violations must be expressed and worked through, but it is not caused by setting boundaries.