We know boundaries are important. They’re what protects our mental, emotional, and physical energy so that we’re not running ourselves ragged, engaging intimately with others without intention, or compromising our values.
Firm boundaries matter. Taking time to reflect on your limits is healthy, and learning how to communicate them to others is wonderful! And it’s important to be able to reinforce them when they’re violated; usually by letting the person know how they’ve crossed a boundary with you, how it made you feel, and how you’d like them to respect the boundary in the future. If it happens repeatedly without any change to behavior, firmer limits may be set with the person, perhaps even deciding it’s best not to spend time with them at all.
But what if your boundaries are a little too firm?
While they may sound restrictive in nature, boundaries are actually supposed to enrich our lives. They help us be intentional about where, when, and with whom we spend the most time, energy, and have the deepest emotional connections with. Setting boundaries by nature does require setting some limits, but those limits should help reserve your energy and emotional capacity to engage more fully in other areas, rather than limiting your engagement altogether.
If your boundaries aren’t functioning to help you engage more fully in your life, they may be too firm.
Setting boundaries is tricky, and it requires practice, so if you’re realizing your boundaries are hindering rather than supporting you, it’s okay. The wonderful thing about boundaries is that they are set by you, and they’re always free to be changed or adjusted as your life, circumstances, and needs change. Everyone makes mistakes when setting boundaries sometimes, it’s part of the process. Take some time to appreciate how much you’ve grown to be able to recognize that something isn’t working for you. That’s a win! Use that information to help recraft the boundary to better fit your life.
What are some signs that your boundaries are too firm?
There’s no conflict in your life–because you cut people out at the first sign of it:
While sometimes it may be necessary to decide that someone is no longer a healthy presence in your life, the first violation of a boundary often isn’t the time to do this. Again, it can depend on circumstances and the severity of the violation, but boundaries aren’t a blanket way to avoid conflict or having to have difficult, messy discussions with people about how you can both feel safe and happy in your relationship.
If you stop talking to people when they do something that crosses or pushes a boundary instead of trying to have a conversation with them about what that boundary is, how you were affected by it being crossed, and how you’d like to protect that boundary in the future–while also making space for them to communicate their experience as well–your boundaries are too rigid. Boundaries are meant as a tool to enhance comfort and safety in relationships, not a list of rules for others to follow in order to gain access to you.
You get offended at the idea of compromising:
The boundaries we set are important and it’s important not to abandon your safety or values, but life is not always as simple as we want it to be and compromise in relationships is often necessary. If there’s a boundary that is more about comfort than safety, can you allow yourself to sit with a little discomfort now and then, to make a relationship work? Or are you unwilling to meet someone in the middle once you’ve set a boundary?
Your friendships are short lasting and surface level:
This can often be a symptom of being unable to address conflict within relationships, so if a boundary is violated or pushed, people are cut out without an attempt to do any healing work within the relationship. Because humans are imperfect, and forming relationships is a constant learning process, it can be easier than we would like to admit to cross or push a loved ones boundary. If you have a constantly rotating cast of friends or loved ones coming and going, with no deep emotional connection or longevity, you may be using boundaries as a way to end relationships without being too vulnerable.
Your boundaries are a strategy to avoid discomfort:
It is important to feel safe in your relationships, but many of us conflate comfort with safety, so when we experience discomfort it can feel threatening. But it’s not actually dangerous to be uncomfortable. Yes, you may not enjoy it, but you also will likely learn something about yourself from sitting through that discomfort. If your boundaries keep you from ever experiencing any sort of discomfort in your life or relationships, they’re definitely too rigid.
Boundaries also require patience–both with yourself and with others.
You’re going to need to take time to really think about why you’re setting the boundaries you’re setting. How are they helping you? How are they supporting you and protecting your energy? How are they limiting you? What are they asking of other people? What is your plan for when a boundary needs to be reinforced? These questions aren’t one and done; remember to make time regularly to check in on how your boundaries are helping you! Your life changes constantly, and the support and protections you need to stay safe and healthy will change with you.
If you need help learning how to set boundaries with the people in your life, our counselors can help guide you.