Healthy boundaries is a hot topic these days — many people are finally learning the importance of setting limits in the workplace, communicating their needs in relationships, and taking corrective action when their boundaries are not respected.
However, having healthy boundaries isn’t only about strengthening boundaries that are weak. It also means knowing how to recognize when a boundary has become too rigid, and what to do about it. Here are some questions to reflect on if you’ve been wondering if your boundaries have gotten too rigid.
Did you set your boundary impulsively?
When you set a boundary in the heat of an emotional moment, it may be stricter than is truly warranted. For example, say your seven year old nephew breaks something valuable in your apartment by accident, and out of frustration you tell your brother that you’ll no longer be allowing children to visit your home.
If you had taken the time to think through this boundary more calmly, you may have recognized that although the incident with the broken valuable was disappointing, it’s an inevitable, but not necessarily frequent, occurrence with small children around. A more carefully considered boundary might be to set certain rooms as off limits to little ones.
Does your boundary shelter you from accountability?
Generally speaking, boundaries protect us from discomfort, but it’s not fair to use a boundary to hold at arm’s length discomfort that is actually warranted. Imagine as an example that you have ADHD and struggle to get places on time, so you inform your friends that you won’t allow them to complain or criticize you when you show up late.
While the difficulties executive functioning and time management that come along with ADHD are very real challenges, it’s unreasonable to expect others to have no reaction to arriving at an important event an hour late, or for your most Type A friend to never struggle with being patient as you chronically run fifteen minutes behind schedule.
Requesting that your friends be mindful about your ADHD and compassionate if they ever need to address timeliness issues with you would be a boundary that gives you grace, but also keeps you accountable.
Does your boundary take into account good faith efforts?
People in your life may wish to adhere to your expectations and respect your communicated boundaries. However, in many instances, mistakes are bound to happen at some point. Does your boundary have the capacity to accept a small, occasional error or are you treating it as a zero tolerance policy?
Let’s say you take your spouse’s last name when you get married, with great relief, because you have painful feelings about your last name connected to your family of origin. After knowing you by your family of origin last name for many years, you ask your workplace colleagues to call you by your married name, making it clear that you won’t answer to the previous name any longer.
By all means, correct any colleague who slips up and uses your old name — but recognize that a confrontation is not in order if it’s a one off mistake and not a pattern.
Has your boundary removed important people from your life?
Too many or too firm boundaries will start to distance you from people around you. You only socialize on Wednesday nights and Sunday afternoons, no exceptions. You won’t go to Brooklyn. You never answer texts before 3 pm. Talking about work is off limits. Talking about family is double off limits. You’re only open to a heart-to-heart conversation if it wraps up in the next twelve minutes, it’s almost your bedtime and you’re strict about keeping it.
Little by little (or in some cases, very quickly), people will get tired of trying to arrange meet ups with you, feel hurt by what may be perceived as a lack of generosity, and grow distant from you due to knowing less and less about you and what’s going on in your life.
It’s not always a bad thing when your friend circle shrinks — false friends have to go. But if you’re noticing that people you care about or thought would always be a constant are starting to slip away, it’s worth asking yourself why and whether you’re willing to reconsider opening up.
Does your boundary help you let the world in, or shut the world out?
Ultimately, the question to ask yourself about boundaries is whether they are helping you be in the world and relate with other people in a healthy way, or distance yourself from people and from living.
A healthy boundary is like a container, setting limits within which you can explore relationships and experiences confidently, knowing that certain terrain will not be crossed.
A boundary that is too rigid is more like a wall, preventing you from interacting with others meaningfully and keeping out broad ranges of experiences without distinction.
Creating healthy boundaries
If you’re struggling with loosening up some of your boundaries, therapy can really help you explore why that is and troubleshoot how to move forward. I’d be happy to tell you more in a free phone consultation — click the button below, and we can book a time to speak for as soon as possible.