The Importance of Boundaries for Good Mental Health (1)
By: Beth McHugh 2010
The term “having good boundaries” is often used when describing psychological situations or relations between two or more individuals. A boundary is like your own personal fence, and if you have a good set of boundaries, you will largely control what you allow people to say and do to you.
I say largely, because none of us have absolute control over how other people treat us. If we are in a job where we are treated badly by the boss and we need the money desperately, then we must learn to put up with the bad behavior to pay our bills and support ourselves and our families.
However, this situation cannot go on forever, which is why it is advisable to have a plan to get out of any situation where you are being mistreated. Hence in the above case, this person could start looking for another position, or even undertake studies over a period of years, so that they can enter a different field or progress further up the promotion path, thus removing themselves from the person who is psychologically damaging them.
If we were brought up by parents with good boundaries, they will have automatically have taught us good boundaries. We would see our mothers take on the principal who dealt harshly with us when it was someone else who was the culprit. We would have watched our father speak firmly but calmly to the neighbor who continually borrowed tools and never gave them back. Parents with good boundaries would also have respected us and gave us the increasing right to say “no” to things that we felt weren’t right for us.
An example of the latter would be the son who tells his father he doesn’t want to be a baker or a doctor even though his father is one, as was his grandfather, and the expectation is to continue the line. A psychologically intact father might be disappointed that his daughter or son does not want to follow in the family business, but accepts that his child is an individual and wishes him or her well.
An example of a parent with bad boundary problems is Kevin, a dentist. The owner of his own practice, he wanted his son, Marcus, to follow him into what Marcus called the “boring business of dentistry”. Marcus was highly intelligent and, after finishing school, easily achieved the grade necessary for dentistry. Too young and frightened to stand up to his over bearing father face-to-face, he enrolled in the course. He failed first year. He then completed his plan by failing first year a second time. Forced to leave the university, Marcus got his own way, albeit in the only way he could. He is now perfectly happy working as a craftsman making exquisite furniture. His father, thirty years down the track, is still seething with resentment at his son.
Clearly those who crash through other people’s boundaries in
the way Kevin has done and keep up the rage have a problem with their
own identity. The son is happy but the father is not. People with boundary
problems are capable of causing enormous difficulties and pain in peoples’
lives. We will look at more boundary problems in coming articles.