Healthy Boundaries – Part 2: What do Healthy Boundaries Look Like?

One of the treatment manuals we use when working with Substance Abuse & PTSD titled: Seeking Safety by Lisa M. Najavits gives a more in depth picture of what healthy boundaries look like:

  1. Boundary problems are a misdirected attempt to be loved. By “giving all” to people, you are trying to win them over; instead, you teach them to exploit you. By isolating from others, you may be trying to protect yourself, but then don’t obtain the support you need. 
  2. Healthy boundaries can keep you safe. Learning to say “no” can…keep you from getting AIDS (saying “no” to unsafe sex); keep you from using substances (saying “no” to substances); prevent exploitation (saying “no” to unfair demands); protect you from abusive relationships and domestic violence. Learning to say “yes” can…allow you to rely on others; let yourself be known to others; help you feel supported; get you through tough times. 
  3. Setting good boundaries prevents extremes in relationships. By setting boundaries, you can avoid painful extremes: too close versus too distant, giving too much versus too little, idealizing versus devaluing others. Neither extreme is healthy; balance is crucial. 
  4. It is important to set boundaries with yourself as well as with others. You may have difficulty saying “no” to yourself. For example, you promise yourself you won’t smoke pot, but then you do. You may overindulge in food, sex, or other addictions. You may say you won’t go back to an abusive partner, but then you do. You may have difficulty saying “yes” to yourself. For example, you may deprive yourself too much by not eating enough, working too hard, not taking time for yourself, or not allowing yourself pleasure. 
  5. People with difficulty setting boundaries may violate other people’s boundaries as well. This may appear as setting up “tests” for other people, intruding on other people’s business, trying to control others, or being verbally or physically abusive. 
  6. If you physically hurt yourself or others, you need immediate help with boundaries. Hurting yourself or others is an extreme form of boundary violation. It means that you act out your emotional pain through physical abuse. Work with your therapist to set a Safety Contract. 

Part 1 of this series can be found here!

Written by: Betty Gebhardt