how do you know when you have Unhealthy Boundaries?

by Madeline Laughs

I think it’s important that you know what an unhealthy boundary is before you start thinking about making some healthy ones. So, exactly what is an unhealthy boundary?

Do you ever make your own decisions? Whether it’s about where to work or how much milk to buy, do you always feel like you should check in with someone before making that call? Are you constantly linked to someone, whether through  your phone, computer, Blackberry or in person, when it comes to something as simple as making a grocery list? Is there ever a moment when you are completely on your own and making the small to the large decisions without any help or input from someone else?

If not, then you just discovered your first unhealthy boundary.  

I was having dinner with one of my girlfriends one night when she said something that made me pause to think. She’s an independent woman and has an awesome marriage, so when she piped up with her observation it made me think about how women put their whole lives on hold once they get a boyfriend, or they get married. She said “One thing I will never understand is a woman that can’t go anywhere or do anything, without her husband. It annoys the crap out of me to ask one of my girlfriends to dinner and she either asks if he can come too, or she tells me she has to check with him first to see if it was okay for her to go. I’d understand if there were kids and babysitters involved, but there aren’t. What the hell is wrong with this woman? Is she attached at the hip to this guy? Did she give up her brain and her decision making abilities when she started getting sex on a regular basis?”

Not only did I agree with her, I understood exactly what she was saying. It’s not about checking with a loved one to coordinate scheduling…it’s about asking permission to have dinner with a friend. When is that ever okay? A woman whose life revolves around her man to this extreme, has very unhealthy boundaries.

Do you overshare? I’m not talking about kidding around about farting in church, I’m talking about intimate details of your life told to someone you barely know. Do you blab on and on sharing one shocking and intimate detail after another and then wonder why the person looks like they can’t wait to get away from you? Or maybe you’re someone that never says anything about what you feel or what you need. You just clam up and sit there, never contributing a single word worth remembering?

Either end of that seesaw, you have just discovered an unhealthy boundary.

Sharing in an effort to get to know someone is a give and take situation. I was speaking on the phone one day with a colleague that I had just started working with  about suffering from a sinus infection and having a prescription filled so I could go home and rest. I was letting her know that I wouldn’t be working that day and she should call the office if she needed assistance. That was all I shared. Suddenly she pipes up with “Oh my word! I can’t believe they gave you that medicine to take! That crap always gives me the worst yeast infection. I mean real stinky cheese crotch rot!” I had no idea how to respond and my skin prickled with discomfort so I ended the call with a “Um, okay then.” I could never look at her again without remembering that confession. It truly grossed me out.

On the other side of that coin are friends that never tell you anything. There is a give and take that happens in friendships and when you are with someone that never shares their thoughts with you, then you may as well be talking to a cardboard box. You’d get the same comfort.

Do you ever feel like you have to make someone cheer up, or bust? Do you get anxious when one of your friends is depressed or angry? Will you bend over backwards to ensure they get what they need or what they want and feel that if you don’t then they won’t like you anymore? Has a friend ever asked you “You want me to have that, don’t you? Well, I can’t have that unless you loan me the money for it and I’m not sure if I can ever pay you back.” and you loaned them the money, or bought it for them?

Then you just discovered an unhealthy boundary.

If at any time you feel anxious or threatened into providing for your friend, so they will remain your friend…then they are not your friend. In fact, you aren’t being a very good friend either because you’re being an enabler. An enabler allows someone exhibiting destructive and unhealthy behaviors, to continue with these behaviors by providing them with the means to do so. It’s like buying an alcoholic a bottle of booze.

Do you base your self worth on what other people say about you, think about you, or tell you who they think you are? Does a compliment swell your head with pride for days while an insult plunges you into a dark and deep depression that makes you want to slit your wrists?

Guess what…that’s an unhealthy boundary.

When you base your own sense of yourself on what other people think, whether it’s good or it’s bad, then you set yourself up to be hurt again and again.  Sure, take a compliment, but don’t bet your life on that person feeling the same glowing admiration for you a year from now. That’s just unrealistic. Once you stop caring so much about other people’s opinions you’ll find your mind rests a lot easier. No one truly knows you as well as you know yourself. So base your sense of self on what you think of yourself from now on.

That’s all I have for today on unhealthy boundaries. I know there’s many more examples I could list, but this can get you started on figuring out what your own unhealthy ones are so you can make new and healthier boundaries. I’ll explore some of those examples in my next post, so stay tuned. We’re going to grow up together a little bit here and I don’t know about you, but I’m excited about it!


About Madeline Scribes

A writer with a sense of humor. If anyone can laugh at life, it's me.
This entry was posted in All kinds of Advice, Personal Boundaries Primer and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to how do you know when you have Unhealthy Boundaries?

  1. Regyna Longlank says:

    I definitely resonate with the self worth one. I think it’s been worse lately but it’s always been an issue. If I have a job or project I’ll base it on that. I wish I didn’t need so much external reassurance but haven’t figured out how to do it exactly. Hey, whatever works!


    • I haven’t really figured it out either. I wonder if anybody truly does figure out how to do this, or if they just tell you they do 🙂


      • Regyna Longlank says:

        I think some people do. At the educational conference I went to they were saying you want to praise your child for their process, not the product. That way they internalize the fact that they are good at figuring things out, and can congratulate themselves about it. They don’t need anyone to tell them their drawing of a bear is good because they already know they are good at making drawings. They understand that they know how to see something and translate that into an image on the paper, and then look at it again and make corrections until they look alike. They know how to do it, and they know they know how, it is not a mystery how they came to do that great drawing. They know how they did it, and they know they can do it again.

        We grew up with people praising our drawing, even when it was bad 😀 So we definitely need someone to tell us it’s great because we already know that it isn’t, and anyways if it is we have no idea how it got that way, it was just dumb luck. I’m exaggerating, but you get the idea. It has to do with fostering critical thinking, teaching them how to learn rather than teaching a particular subject. At any rate, I think it relates somewhat.


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