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Inner child healing is not just about doing inner child work on yourself. In order to heal you need to protect yourself against others who may try to undermine your inner work. Whilst doing your inner work, you also need to establish (if you haven’t already) your personal boundaries. You must protect your personal boundaries to prevent others from undermining the progress you have made in integrating your inner child. See here to learn about inner child healing.
A fundamental requisite for personal happiness is to have healthy relationships. Not having or having weak personal boundaries will only facilitate unhealthy relationships which conflicts with personal happiness but corresponds with unhappiness.
What are Personal Boundaries?
The clue is in the name, a boundary is a protective barrier, think of it as a line of defence, a barbed wire that protects you, if others cut through that barbed wire, then you’re mental, emotional and physical health are compromised. Protecting these parts of yourself should be non-negotiable, as you don’t want to risk mental illness, emotional harm or your physical health. Having healthy boundaries is not only a form of self-defence, it is a preventative measure.
Your boundaries assert how others treat you, if they are lacking or weak, this allows others to treat you the way they want to treat you, you are in effect, giving them permission to mistreat you. Your personal boundaries are linked to your core values and beliefs. Lacking or having weak boundaries is a form of self-neglect, you are neglecting your own needs and wants in favour of others.
Your core values are what’s important to you, things you won’t compromise on. What are your top five core values? If you want to learn more about core values and beliefs, see here. It is essential that your personal boundaries correspond with your core values.
The reason we have weak boundaries is because we think so little of ourselves, our self-worth is so low, we disregard our own wants and needs for what others want. Doing inner child work will definitely help your self-worth, as long as you have strong personal boundaries and you uphold them when others try to push past them.
Protecting Yourself from Unhealthy Relationships
If you have ‘unhealthy’ ‘ toxic’ ‘abusive’ or manipulative people in your life, then doing inner child work alone will not be enough. Ideally you should get as far away from these types of people as you can. But we all know that is sometimes easier said than done. However, manipulative and abusive people will dismiss your boundaries, so at least make a plan of action to remove them from your life. If this person is a family member, greatly reduce contact, you owe it to yourself to keep yourself safe both physically and emotionally. Once you start to heal your inner child, you will start to identify the people who are ‘not healthy’ for you. Having strong personal boundaries will either prevent manipulation or repel these people because if you can’t be abused or manipulated what use are you to them?
Without strong personal boundaries and protecting those boundaries, you are giving toxic people the space to treat you badly, disrespect, abuse and manipulate you. All of which will impact greatly on your mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. So you can do all the inner child work you want, but setting and protecting your boundaries will prevent or minimise any further abuse in your life.
Think of the domino affect, childhood trauma (neglect, physical or emotional abuse) leads to poor core beliefs – poor core beliefs lead to low self-worth – low self-worth leads to non-existent or low personal boundaries – non-existent or weak personal boundaries lead to being vulnerable to abusive or manipulative relationships – abusive or manipulative relationships lead to low self-esteem. Not only does this have a domino affect it comes full circle and the result: low self-esteem feeds your original low self-worth, it’s a vicious circle that only you can break.
Signs you have weak or no personal boundaries:
- You are co-dependent
- Find it difficult to make decisions
- Don’t trust yourself in sticking with a decision you have made
- Allow others to control or manipulate you, you often don’t recognise this (if at all) until after the event.
- Often feel ‘let down’, ‘disappointed’ in how others treat you or often feel ‘taken advantage of’ (victim mentality)
- You make excuses for the poor behaviour of others
- Having people pleasing tendencies, you fear abandonment
- Emotionally drained, you may suffer with depression or anxiety
- Inappropriately overshare (with strangers) or under share (with close ones) personal information about yourself with others
- Feel others lack respect for you
- Feel guilty saying no to others, you lack assertiveness
- Find it difficult to express your opinions and feelings or you may find it difficult to know how you feel about certain situations.
- May be passive-aggressive
- Have inner anger but you don’t express this
- Don’t stand up for yourself, even when others behave badly towards you
- Ignore your intuition (gut feelings)
- Cannot bare others thinking badly of you
- Lack self-control
- Have a history of unhealthy or toxic relationships and friendships
- You don’t feel you can be yourself around others
There are many more signs, the above list is just a snapshot, the most important thing to remember is, if a particular relationship causes you anxiety, try to look at it objectively, what is it about that person or the dynamics of the relationship that causes you anxiety, remember don’t make excuses for their bad behaviour.
Examples of weak boundaries:
- Do you want commitment in a relationship? and your partner won’t commit even though you have been with them for more than 3 months, but you stay anyway. This is you putting the needs and wants of another ahead of your own needs. This will only cause you more emotional pain in the future.
- You feel pressured to have sex by someone else, despite the fact you feel you are not ready or your partner is pressurising you to take part in sexual acts, that you don’t want to do. But you don’t want them to think bad of you and you find yourself giving in just to please them or keep the peace. It feels uncomfortable and wrong to you, but you do it anyway.
Now, if your existing boundaries are weak, this is going to take some work, but it is so worth it. Some of the benefits of doing personal boundary work are that you will repel toxic people, and attract healthier minded people into your life, you will gain self-respect which in turn will gain you the respect from others. If you don’t respect yourself, other’s won’t either.
If you’re doing inner child work and you start to heal and integrate your inner child, but don’t establish and uphold your personal boundaries. Then the love and self-acceptance you gained from healing your inner child are at risk of being impacted negatively. This will leave you vulnerable to abuse and manipulation.
If you are setting and upholding boundaries for the first time, you will meet with resistance from others, stay firm.
When I first started learning about personal boundaries I remember telling my therapist that I didn’t know what my boundaries were. How can you uphold your boundaries, if you don’t know what they are? Read on to learn about the steps you need to take to set and uphold your personal boundaries.
Steps to Setting Personal Boundaries
Step 1 – Identify YOUR Personal Boundaries
Your personal boundaries are unique to you because they link in to your needs and wants. If you find yourself going along with what others want and disregard your own needs and wants, then you either lack or have weak personal boundaries. So the first step is to identify your boundaries and make sure they align with your wants and needs. Add to these boundaries as and when you identify new ones.
If you find this difficult, you may need to do some self-awareness work (see here).
If you don’t know where to start, see some brief examples below of healthy personal boundaries. You may wish to use some of these or they may prompt you to identify your own.
- I will not become sexually involved with a new interest for a minimum of 3 months so I can avoid creating false feelings of intimacy.
- I will not get involved with a person who is married, already attached or is emotionally unavailable.
- I will not give up other friendships, relationships or personal goals for another person.
- I will not be put down in private or in public for who I am
- I will not tolerate lies, deceit or cheating in a partner
Once you have identified a boundary, you don’t have to negotiate it or explain why to the other person. Just having that boundary means it is important to you.
Step 2: Have specific detailed boundaries
The more specific and detailed the boundary the easier it will be for you to uphold. Think of personal boundaries as a set of rules for yourself and breaking these rules would make you feel uncomfortable and not good about yourself.
For example, you want to respect your body, so you have a personal boundary of ‘I will not have sex with someone too soon’. Be more specific, decide on how soon. You don’t have to state that you will sleep with someone on day 90 of meeting them. But you could have a boundary that you will not sleep with someone for a minimum of 90 days. It could be 30 days or less, whatever is comfortable for YOU. Remember they are your boundaries, it’s about what are you comfortable with, not what the other person your dating wants.
Verbalise a particular boundary, ensure you demonstrate it, by upholding what you have expressed. If you just state you don’t want sex until you’re ready and they try to push you into sex, then this person is not for you. The fact that they are pushing a boundary you have set is a red flag. It shows they have no respect for you. You may want to give them a second chance, but never a third. There are certain boundaries that should never be given a second change, you decide what they are, being physically abused is one example. Don’t take boundary violations personally, this person will probably be doing the same to others. Just walk away and save yourself a lot of future pain, further loss of respect from them and a complete loss of self-respect.
By walking away, you are demonstrating (to the other person) your boundary. They can either step up or lose you. How they respond is their choice, not yours. When you disregard your own boundaries for someone else, it gives them power over you. This is not the basis for a healthy relationship, it is the basis for a toxic relationship which will be very damaging to you.
When you have strong boundaries, it makes things easier, easier to say no. Easier to recognise people who are not healthy for you, who will cause you emotional damage, and subsequently a loss of self-esteem. Remember ‘healthy’ people respect other people’s boundaries even if they differ from their own.
Step 3: Embed Your Personal Boundaries
If you have lacked or had weak personal boundaries, then you need to ‘learn’ them by heart.
Write them down on a piece of paper or type them up and print them. Keep them with you, or close by, read them daily at least once. As you read them, feel empowered, acknowledge that you are worthy of others respecting your personal boundaries. Do this until they are embedded in your awareness and then read them occasionally to remind and further empower yourself.
Step 4: Commit to Upholding Your Personal Boundaries
If you have previously had weak boundaries, this will be the hardest step for you, but the most important. There is no point doing the previous 3 steps if you don’t protect and uphold your personal boundaries.
This is where you need to be assertive because believe me, there will be people you encounter that will try to push through your boundaries. This is exactly when you need to be assertive, not aggressive, just calmly state ‘No’. You don’t have to explain yourself, you owe no-one nothing. But you do owe it to yourself to protect your self-respect, it’s that simple. Never compromise your own values.
The more you uphold your personal boundaries, the easier it becomes, commit to this process. If a person violates one or more of your boundaries, ensure there are consequences for them. This will teach them you mean business and will protect your boundaries at all costs.
If you have identified a manipulative or abusive person in your life and you love them, think about what’s best for you. If you have an adult child who was experiencing this, would you want this kind of emotional pain for them? Make a list of what your wants and needs are from a relationship, e.g. love, support, respect, safety, honesty, loyalty etc. This will be easier to measure against the reality of your relationship. If these don’t match, then it’s probably time to walk away.
Remember a manipulator or abusive person may start small, they may try to push through a minor boundary. They are testing you and if you allow them to violate even small boundaries, you open yourself up to much worse violations further down the line.
Step 5: Review your boundaries
Once you have established and upheld your boundaries, review them from time to time. You continuously learn throughout your life, your boundaries may change, be open to this. What worked for you at 25 may not work for you at 35. Regularly review and evaluate your personal boundaries, are you comfortable with them, do they serve you (not others)?
Five Step Summary:
- Step 1 – Identify your personal boundaries
- Step 2 – Have specific detailed boundaries
- Step 3 – Embed your personal boundaries
- Step 4 – Commit to upholding your personal boundaries
- Step 5 – Review your boundaries
The sense of empowerment when you establish and uphold your personal boundaries is amazing. Your self-respect and confidence will sky rocket. Your inner child work will not be compromised. You will be on your way to being a healthy, happy and balanced human being. Don’t punish yourself if you fail to uphold a personal boundary. Don’t berate yourself or feel weak, you are learning, be patient, keep practising, it will get easier.
I highly recommend the book ‘Boundaries After a Pathological Relationship‘ by Adelyn Birch. Don’t be put off by the title, you don’t have to have been in a pathological relationship. This book is excellent for anyone to understand, learn to identify and apply personal boundaries. It is short and concise, if you don’t really understand or find it hard to identify or uphold your personal boundaries, then this is the book for you. In fact I recommend everyone read it from teenagers to older people because it will prevent you from entering or staying in unhealthy damaging relationships.
Remember, you and only you can build your self-esteem and self-worth. So, take responsibility and set about making changes happen in your life!