Many ADHD adults struggle to set healthy boundaries with friends and family. It’s not your fault. Most people are never taught about boundaries, nor practice how to set and maintain them. Therefore, endeavoring to understand personal boundaries can leave one confused and overwhelmed. But, in order to set healthy boundaries, we need to first build awareness. Because living without strong personal boundaries, may lead to chronic burnout, destroy our sense of self, and strain our relationships.
Attempting to set boundaries can be hard because we feel guilty. If you’ve grown up in enmeshed family dynamics, you may not even recognize where your family members’ needs end and where yours begin. However, not setting boundaries puts you at the risk of entering into toxic relationships, dangerous situations, and burnout. Setting boundaries is an important way to make our relationships feel safe and help us lead more balanced lives. There are many different types of boundaries, such as physical, time, emotional, and intellectual. It is essential to understand the difference between fixed, enmeshed, and healthy boundaries in order to help us set and maintain healthy boundaries, and lead happier and healthier lives.
WHY BOUNDARIES WORK
Boundaries are essential to maintain healthy relationships and to improve our mental health. If you find yourself often over-functioning or overgiving, it might be a sign that you need to set more healthy boundaries.
According to WebMD.com, establishing boundaries is good for you and the people around you. When you’re clear about your boundaries, people will understand your limits and know what you are and aren’t OK with, and they’ll adjust their behavior. The people who don’t respect your boundaries are the ones you may not want in your life.
Boundaries are our own rules of engagement, they are not a way to control other people’s behaviors. The language of boundaries can sometimes be coerced to be used for manipulative or controlling behavior. It is important to keep in mind that boundaries are not a way to control other people but rather a way to protect our limits and enforce our right to physical, emotional, and mental safety.
Below are some ways to identify if you’re setting up fixed or enmeshed boundaries, and some tips on how to create healthy boundaries.
FIXED OR RIGID BOUNDARIES
Fixed or rigid boundaries are those that keep people at a distance. They are inflexible and often do not consider the needs of others. They are enforced in an aggressive manner that can lead to alienation in relationships. You may be setting up fixed boundaries if you:
- Have difficulty trusting others
- Are inflexible and feel the need to be in control
- Avoid difficult conversations
- Feel misunderstood and alienated
- Have surface-level relationships
Having boundaries that are too fixed or rigid can hurt your relationships with your family and friends, as it keeps your relationships surface-level and makes you feel alienated in your relationships.
Enmeshed boundaries often develop in codependent family systems, where people within the family are unable to individuate. These dynamics are characterized by nonexistent or poorly defined boundaries. They occur when families are dependent on each other for their sense of self. You may have enmeshed boundaries if you find yourself:
- People-pleasing, often catering to others’ needs rather than your own
- Not having a strong sense of self
- Having a fear of rejection and abandonment
- Finding it difficult to say no, and being overly flexible to other people’s needs
- Dependent on other people for validation
People in enmeshed dynamics are often afraid of setting boundaries. In this dynamic, we fear what others might think or feel about our boundaries. We are often brought up wanting to avoid conflict, where having no strong opinions is optimal to maintain the peace. It is important to remind ourselves that we are not responsible for other people’s feelings or actions. This reminder will help us make peace with our boundary-setting.
To set healthy boundaries you need to have a strong sense of self. In other words, you know who you are, have a strong sense of your needs, can emotionally regulate by earned coping skills, and can demonstrate communication to express your needs when necessary. For example, if someone asks you to do something that you do not want to, you’re able to say something like ‘No thank you, I don’t have the bandwidth for that right now.’ When you are able to feel your needs and state what you will and won’t do with ease, you’re setting your own healthy boundaries.
- Clearly distinguishing between others’ needs and your own
- Having a strong sense of self, or a knowing of what you like and do not like
- Putting your needs in play when discerning between choices
- Being firm with your needs, while flexible if another’s needs must be met first
When we are clear about our boundaries decisions are easier. Seeking to understand your thoughts and feelings more acutely will help you know when boundaries are breached. Sometimes people who struggle with boundaries are missing the communication skills necessary to help themselves. The following can be ways to address this gap and in turn set healthier boundaries. Practicing these skills and strategies will help you feel more at ease and eventual comfort when setting your boundaries.
FIVE WAYS TO SET HEALTHY BOUNDARIES
1. Develop your sense of self-based on what you value
The first step to establishing healthy boundaries is self-awareness. Understanding our core values and needs allows us to know what is most important to us. With many competing priorities, it is important to define your non-negotiables. Mindfulness can help us keep our awareness present to pick up on unhealthy patterns. Mindfulness can also help us determine when we feel tension that may indicate missing boundaries we need to set.
2. Directly ask for what you want
How you express your boundaries is key to your success. Improving communication skills will help you identify and set healthy boundaries with others. Knowing your needs, and your ability to clearly and directly state them, will help you practice. It is important to be assertive when setting a boundary, rather than aggressive. Being assertive helps you stand up for yourself and show that your needs matter just as much as anyone else’s needs. When you practice directly asking for what you need, you will build this skill.
3. Say no without feeling guilty
It is natural to feel guilty when starting to set boundaries. Psychotherapist and author Terri Cole defines boundaries as their own language, a language that most of us are not fluent in. According to Terri:
Boundaries are our own rules of engagement surrounding our preferences, desires, limits, and deal breakers. They are the limits and rules we set for ourselves in our lives.
Boundaries are a language that most of us are not fluent in. It takes practice! You have the right to say “no” without feeling guilty. You practice setting healthy boundaries every time you state your needs to someone. By starting small and keeping it simple, you’ll get more comfortable, and it will get easier. Therefore, communicating boundaries will be just like practicing any other language.
4. Accept other people’s boundaries
To maintain healthy relationships, we need to recognize and respect other people’s boundaries. We can learn to set better boundaries for ourselves by acknowledging and respecting other people’s boundaries. Setting boundaries that are firm but flexible helps us respect other people’s boundaries while safeguarding our own.
5. Stick to your boundaries
Once we have set the boundaries that we need, it is important to maintain them. Boundary-setting is an ongoing practice. Be patient with yourself as you learn to speak this new language. We can write down our boundaries if we need a reminder to help us maintain them. We should keep in mind that “no” is a complete sentence. Boundary setting can be uncomfortable and anxiety-producing- and that’s ok! We can accept that we cannot control other people’s emotions or actions. The more we practice, the better we will get at it!
Having enmeshed or rigid boundaries can negatively affect our overall well-being and the strength of the relationships we are in. Most people can identify all types – enmeshed, rigid, and healthy boundaries when looking at their lives. And, while it is important to be able to name boundary breaches, the real payoff will come when you can address them as they come up. Once you recognize your own patterns of behavior that lead to blurred boundaries, you can work on establishing healthier boundaries in your life. Holding healthy boundaries will help you lead a more grounded, healthier, happier life. This in turn will positively impact your relationships with your friends and family. If you’re an ADHD adult who struggles with people-pleasing, work on your boundaries. When you do, you’ll reduce burnout and resentment. For more tips on how ADHD adults can set healthy boundaries, check out my previous blog post!