My apologies in advance for such a long, somewhat confusing headline. I hope you will get what I mean as you read further into this article. The terms, No and Yes hold a certain significance if you identify as a codependent on any level. They go to the very heart of the problem. That is, the inability to define, set and maintain boundaries around relationships and significant others. It is a common problem in codependency and most find it easier to avoid this or‚ ‘go with the flow‘ and enable the process of dysfunction. It leads to an assumption from both sides that things go a certain way in the relationship.

If you enjoy reading the varied articles on my primary blog The Online Therapist, you will be excited to know that it is now available as a free app for both Android and iOS.

The inability to set boundaries brings up the question of where this came from. We certainly are not born with that inability and we need to be taught it from someone in our childhood. Unfortunately, this doesn‘t happen as often as it should and people, and especially codependents, come into adulthood without this essential skill set. It is then not surprising that codependents fail to set relationship values and have no idea what dealbreakers are and how they would exercise the consequences. Additional to this, codependents have issues with saying no and asking questions to clarify their feelings. In their world, failing to do this gives their partner the assumption of yes when no was the real intention and the assumption of no if questions are not asked.

Codependents know logically that both of the above should happen but many of them fear the reaction, especially from an abusive partner, and there is always the fear of being abandoned and left. Given that, it is much easier to justify avoidance of the issue and move on. Plus, there is always that people-pleasing element that is found in all codependent relationships. This control measure is used to guarantee a return. That is that affection and validation is given for the sacrifice of needs.

Learning to say no and setting boundaries is hard at first when first practiced and it can bring a level of guilt and self-doubt which is natural. However, with practice, they can be relationship defining tools.

Not having healthy boundaries means that codependents have an unclear sense of “who” they are and have difficulty defining the difference between theirs and other’s feelings, problems and responsibility. Due to these blurred boundary lines, codependents take responsibility for others, absorb other’s feelings and have no sense that boundaries draw the line between “you and me”. They often mistake sacrifice and codependency for love and that having no boundaries is “healthy and normal” when in a relationship.

The reasons for this are many and too numerous to mention here but research shows that mostly developmental trauma but also abuse, shame, humiliation, inappropriate intergenerational roles have a major impact on the development of codependency and subsequently on boundary formation. When parents fail to or are unable to demonstrate or model healthy boundaries, it is no surprise that children come into adulthood with the same issues and have difficulty forming a sense of “self”.

Often even codependents who see the need for boundaries fear what will happen to the relationships around them, thinking that people will reject the “new” assertive person. What can happen is that people who are not used to having boundaries put around them will maybe fall away. At the same time, other maybe discarded relationships may revive themselves in a healthier way.

Hints for Setting Healthy Boundaries

Boundaries exist to give us a sense of ourselves and to distinguish us from others physically, intellectually and emotionally and are there for our protection. They are flexible, not fixed and can change with how we feel and who we are with but they are our boundaries. They define how people should treat us and are linked to our definite choices and values. They are a measure of our self-esteem and individuality. The easiest way to think about a boundary is a property line. We have all seen “No Trespassing” signs, which send a clear message that if you violate that boundary, there will be a consequence. Look at the list below for more help.

When you identify the need to set a boundary, do it clearly, calmly, firmly, respectfully, and in as few words as possible. Do not justify, get angry, or apologise for the boundary you are setting.

You are not responsible for the other person’s reaction to the boundary you are setting. You are only responsible for communicating your boundary in a respectful manner. If it upset them, know it is their problem. Some people, especially those accustomed to controlling, abusing, or manipulating you, might test you. Plan on it, expect it, but remain firm. Remember, your behaviour must match the boundaries you are setting. You cannot successfully establish a clear boundary if you send mixed messages by apologising.

At first, you will probably feel selfish, guilty, or embarrassed when you set a boundary. Do it anyway and tell yourself you have a right to self-care. Setting boundaries takes practice and determination. Don’t let anxiety or low self-esteem prevent you from taking care of yourself.

When you feel anger or resentment or find yourself whining or complaining, you probably need to set a boundary. Listen to yourself, determine what you need to do or say, then communicate assertively.

Learning to set healthy boundaries takes time. It is a process. Set them in your own time frame, not when someone else tells you.

Develop a support system of people who respect your right to set boundaries. Eliminate toxic persons from your life – those who want to manipulate, abuse, and control you.

Please Contribute

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Marty

    I am guilty of this coming out of childhood and high school. Unfortunately my first true love relationship turned into public betrayal.

    I was lost and now see, I had no clear boundaries or knowing how to handle it

    How do you know what your missing coming out of a very abusive childhood.

    I did not even realize I was abused violently, and never attached to my abusive caregivers.

    I was isolated by my narcissistic father from making attachment with peers.

    Narcissist want total control.

    I understand my plight so much better

    Sad I am old now

    Thanks Doc. Excellent wisdom