Healthy Boundaries : where do you draw the line?

‘ We were on a break! ‘ , shouted Ross for the gazillionth time defending himself. Ross and Rachel from FRIENDS are a classic example of unhealthy boundaries in relationships. It is in human nature to support and empathize with our loved ones.

And who doesn’t like to have a shoulder to cry on? A friend to confide in and a partner share our secrets with. ‘ Sharing is caring’- We have been taught that caring for one another is the foundation of every human relationship.

To go above and beyond for your friend or partner is a symbol of true friendship. But what about oversharing and over caring? Boundaries in friendships and relationships is not something we are familiar  or even comfortable with.  So when does this caring and sharing become toxic?

Identifying unhealthy boundaries 

‘As we grow older, friendships  are more than just picnics and playdates. We become an integral part in their lives and they in our lives. Supporting each other through thick and thin is a virtue of every friendship that we tend to exploit unknowingly. Have you ever been affected by your friend’s pain so much that it feels like yours?

There is a fine line between lending an ear and carrying the burden of someone else’s pain, between being empathetic and a stand-in therapist. This fine line is overstepped most of the time because we often fail to acknowledge that it even exists.

The concept of ‘boundaries’  in friendships often entail a negative connotation because of the conventional norms defining how and what friendships are supposed to be. We are often taught how to be a good friend to others but not how to befriend ourselves.

The transition from a healthy to unhealthy boundary is so smooth that often goes unnoticed. Unhealthy boundaries often involve disregarding and disrespecting contradictory values, beliefs of others and discrediting the concept of consent. These boundaries are often bound by the obligation of being responsible for other people’s happines

s and feelings. Exercising unhealthy boundaries lead the individual to believe that it is their duty to fix or save others from their problems. They don’t just compromise emotional well-being but also lead to overstepping of  physical boundaries that can cause a great deal of trauma to the recipient.

They impair the person’s ability to say ‘No’  or even accept no for an answer.  Now that we have a fair idea of what unhealthy boundaries are, let’s understand what impact they have on a person’s wellbeing.

The proverb, ‘as you sow, so shall you reap.’ extends to the area of friendships and relationships as well. Overstepping boundaries often results in fostering unhealthy and toxic relationships. People often tend to lose themselves in these relationships and develop an overly dependent personality.

Their happiness depends on other’s happiness and other’s opinions matter more than their own. This creates imbalance in relations and people start taking advantage of their naivety. They bottle up their own emotions and avoid expressing them as they are too invested in helping others.

Some also start feeling frustrated when they can’t solve others problems. They indulge in self neglect and tend to be anxious, stressed and burnt out. One of the most common effects experienced by people who pass beyond this boundary is empathy burnout.

Being empathetic is a much appreciated quality, however the wrong kind of empathy can actually affect your health. We all tend to turn to our friends during a crisis to vent. Although they can be of great help in such situations, they might not be well equipped to provide you with professional advice you are looking for.

Empathy burnout is such a case caused by the embodiment of the emotions you pick up from someone. This occurs when we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes to the extent that it starts affecting our own physical and mental wellbeing.

Also known as compassion fatigue, empathy burnout leads to extreme stress, feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. It might adversely affect your relationship with the person and break the bond that you share.

Some people also engage in active empathy overload, it occurs when your empathetic reaction takes a form of intrusion instead of unconditional support. They will push you away as they will feel misunderstood, disrespected and undervalued.

One of the ways we can protect our loved ones and ourselves from these repercussions is by setting  healthy boundaries. Although boundaries in friendships are not well received, they are not always a bad thing.

They don’t necessarily imply distancing ourselves but denote a shared understanding of emotional and physical capacities. It is through these boundaries that we can foster healthy and long lasting relationships without feeling overburdened. Healthy boundaries help us differentiate between being a people’s person and a people pleaser.


So, how do we exercise these healthy boundaries? 

Be kind and compassionate to yourself and understanding your own limits can go a long way in fostering healthy relationships.

Effective and efficient communication not only helps stating boundaries but also facilitates the follow-through of such boundaries.

Exercising your ‘No’ muscle and accepting when others say no is very crucial in avoiding toxic relations.

Know when to step back and take a break for yourself instead of being the messiah for others. We must value our own needs and feelings and learn to regulate our emotions as they are just as important as others.

It is absolutely necessary to take active control of your personal boundaries and not compromise for self worth for someone else.

Likewise, we must value the boundaries set by others and respect their values, beliefs and opinions. To conclude,  healthy relationships are cultivated when we consciously regulate whether to feel or not to feel and how much to feel.



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