Depressed people often describe themselves as feeling helpless and hopeless. They say their lives are not what they had hoped for, and many times they point to others as the source of their unhappiness. "If only he or she would stop doing this or start doing that, my life would be so much better." What they don't realize is that they can't make other people change. The only person you can change is yourself! Here is where an understanding of boundaries is essential. Think of a boundary as a line which you do not allow others to cross. It is the point at which you say, "No!"
Do you know who you are? People with weak boundaries think of themselves in term of others--John's wife, Mary's husband, Keith's girlfriend, Janie's mother, Lou's daughter--and have little sense of who they are when they are alone. They see themselves as obliged to do the will of others and don't feel comfortable being or doing things by themselves. Sometimes they don't even know what to do when they're alone! In other words, they are needy, but they don't realize it. They see themselves as "being nice, sacrificing for others, and keeping the peace." They feel responsible for everyone else's happiness, and their lives are often full of drama. At the same time, they're miserable because their own needs aren't being fulfilled. They're too busy taking care of everyone else.
How do our boundaries form? We learn to make them, or not. Parents with healthy boundaries usually produce children with healthy ones. Children learn there are limits on their own behavior, and they learn to place limits on the behavior of others.
Parents with weak boundaries may never teach their children to pick up after themselves, to be responsible for their homework to take care of their possessions, to get a job or manage money. When the children become adults, their parents will still be bailing them out of trouble, giving them money, even housing them because they feel it's their job to make their children happy. What they have really done is to infantilize their children and turn them into helpless adults who aren't prepared to solve their own problems. At the same time, the parents resent their children for being leeches. Nobody wins!
Parents with overly strong boundaries may come across as cold and "having walls," producing children who constantly hope for approval, feeling they are never quite good enough. Conversely, sometimes the children interpret their parents' behavior as "not caring." Both attitudes have consequences for them as adults.
The worst case is that of abuse. Children who are abused often can't form boundaries. They become ready to do anything to prevent further abuse and never feel they have the right to say, "No!"
Healthy boundaries put you in control of your own life. This doesn't mean you never sacrifice for someone else; it simply means you get to choose when and how much you will do for others. You will not allow them to take advantage of you or manipulate you into doing things you don't want to do.
In my next blog, I'll discuss how to learn to set boundaries without feeling guilty.
Stephanie Kay Bendel is the author of EXIT THE LABYRINTH: A Memoir of Early Childhood Depression – Its Onset and Aftermath, MAKING CRIME PAY: A Practical Guide to Mystery Writing, and A SCREAM AWAY, a romantic thriller published under the house name, Andrea Harris. She has also written numerous short stories and articles on writing.