Relationship Boundaries

Here's a good technique to establish good relationship boundaries.

People need people. We are hard-wired for relationship. We suffer when we don’t have friends and family. We need romantic relationships. Most of the time, ourrelationship boundaries relationships are positive, but sometimes not.


Often, my counseling focuses on helping my client deal with a difficult relationship. The individual may be suffering because of a relationship, which is hurtful or neglectful. The pain has reached the point where they need assistance.


Sometimes, we find ourselves in a relationship with a person who says or does hurtful things to us. They may be critical or demeaning. Their negative messages can come from their words, facial expressions or body language. Either way, we get the point. We feel inadequate and conclude that we can’t please them.


The hurtful relationship could come in the form of a cold, distance. They become disengaged. They seem to have no interest in spending time with us. They may flirt with others, or even have affairs. We feel alone, even when there is someone else in the house. We conclude that we must be boring or unlovable.


The intensity of negative treatment can reach the point of abuse. The abuse can be emotional, physical or sexual. An abusive relationship severely wounds the self-esteem and creates fear.


All relationships begin positively. We would never voluntarily enter into an abusive, hurtful relationship. At first, the other person treats us well. We enjoy spending time with them, and they seem to enjoy spending time with us. We have all kinds of positive expectations for our future together.


The negative treatment begins subtly, with a slight criticism or a decrease in attention. We shrug it off as the result of a bad day. We assume we deserved it. We don’t notice the slow increase in negativity or distance.


At some point, we are faced with the hurtful nature of the relationship, but still tend to blame ourselves. We wonder what we did wrong to deserve being treated so badly.


When do we say, “enough?” When do we let the other person know that we don’t deserve to be treated badly? Where should we set our boundaries?


You can determine your boundaries by putting a loved one in your shoes. Identify a person that you like very much or love. It could be a same-gender friend or one of your children. Imagine that they were in a relationship with a person, who treated them in exactly the same way you are being treated. Imagine that they had made the same efforts you have made to resolve the situation, but the partner continued to treat them badly. Imagine that their partner said the same negative statements, neglected them to the same degree, or was equally abusive to them.  


How would you feel if your loved one was being treated this way? What would you want them to do? There’s your boundary. Never allow someone to treat you in a way that you would not want someone you love to be treated. It’s a pretty simple guideline, but it works!

King of the Hill

Kids and adults sometimes try to boost their social status by putting others down. It doesn't have to be that way.

In the days before video games, kids spent more time outside. They had to be creative in finding ways to occupy themselves. They sometimes created their own games. One suchchildren teasing another child game was “King of the Hill.”


In this game, kids would gather at the bottom of a hill. Someone would yell “go,” and everyone would race to the top. The goal was to be the one standing at the top of the hill at the end of the game. There were two ways to win the game. You could win by being the fastest one up the hill. Most often, you won by pulling anyone ahead of you backwards.


As you can imagine, the game could get pretty rough. Some kids would be running up the hill, while others were rolling back down. You knew you were in trouble when you felt someone grabbing the back of your shirt.


Unfortunately, this game is still played today, just in a different way. It’s played every day in school. Kids will put other kids down in an attempt to elevate their social standing. They try to look cool or gain popularity by teasing, gossiping, or tearing down another kid.


Kids want to fit in. They are acutely sensitive to their social standing. When they tease another kid, their desire to gain popularity blinds them to the pain felt by the victim. The target of their barb simply becomes collateral damage, at they strive to get further up the social hill.


Of course, not every child plays the game. The child with a good self-esteem doesn’t have to play. In fact, I believe that those children with the deepest self-esteem wounds play the game most viciously.


Some kids avoid the game because of their strong sense of empathy. They imagine the pain of the victim, and refuse to attack, even if their own social standing is compromised. They look for a different way to deal with the social battle.


It would be nice if the game were restricted to childhood. Unfortunately, adults sometimes play their own version. We play through gossip, which serves to make us feel better, through the denigration of another. We also play by comparison. We tend to feel better when our stuff is bigger, newer or more expensive than others. In some settings, people still play through direct teasing, oddly reminiscent of sixth grade dramatics.


It would be nice if the victims of this game could realize that their attackers play out of their own insecurities or self-esteem wounds. It would be great if players could pause the game long enough to feel empathy for their victims, and look for a healthier way to boost their own self-esteem. We would all be better off if we realized that there is room at the top of the hill for everyone.


Stress and Aging

We can't eliminate the losses that come with aging, but we can take steps to lessen the stress.

Stress is defined as an organism’s response to environmental demands or pressures. Negative stress occurs when we perceive our environment as straining or exceeding ourstress and aging adaptive capacities and threatening our well-being. We experience stress when we feel a loss of (a) control over our physical well-being, (b) influence over our circumstances or (c) our social support networks.

As we age, we inevitably experience all these losses. People vary in how early or late the losses occur, but unless we die young, we will all be there. Let’s look at these areas of loss and how they impact stress.

  1. Loss of control of our physical well-being: The loss of physical functioning actually begins in middle age. We may find that we need bifocals. We don’t have the stamina we once had, and we experience new aches and pains. As the aging process progresses, our physical losses increase. We exchange agility and stamina for fatigue and pain. In advanced age, even our day-to-day functioning becomes problematic, such that we need others to take care of our needs. All of this adds to our stress in predictable ways. We lose trust in our bodies. We lose control.


  1. Loss of control over our circumstances: With advanced age, it seems that others begin to make choices for us. We are told that it is no longer safe for us to drive. At some point, we find that we are unable to take care of ourselves and stay in our homes. Even with retirement savings, most of us have to deal with limited income. Many older adults find themselves worrying more about things they would have ignored in their younger years. Uncertainty always leads to increased stress.


  1. Loss of social support networks: Our social support networks consist of our spouse, family members, friends and acquaintances. One disadvantage of living longer than most is that you live longer than most. You experience the deaths of many people you have known and loved. You miss them. Also, as we age, we have fewer opportunities to make new friends. We are more likely to feel alone and lonely. Isolation creates stress.

Unfortunately, we haven’t found a way to eliminate the changes that come with aging. But we can take steps to lessen the stress. First, we can be thankful for the gift of a long life. We could eliminate the stresses of old age by dying young, but I don’t think many would choose that option. Gratitude lessens stress.

When we realize that old age is a gift, we more easily accept the characteristics of an aging body. We find ways to work around our limitations. This attitude also helps us adapt to the realities of our circumstances. We work to maintain independence where we can, but demonstrate a more serene acceptance where we can’t. Finally, we need to do everything we can to maintain our relationships. Call any remaining old friends or acquaintances, stay involved in group activities as long as you can. Look for opportunities to keep your mind active.

And for those of you in the younger years, call or visit an older adult. Let them know you love them. Think of someone who may feel that they are alone, and let the know that they’re not. You just might reduce their stress.