Good Personal Boundaries Keep You Safe And Confident

People with healthy relationship boundaries understand what they are and are not responsible for; they respond to others but are responsible for themselves.  Being responsible for your self means you own your attitudes, feelings and behaviors. You may respond to the inappropriate behavior of others but you aren’t responsible. You recognize you are not helping others when you allow misbehavior which threatens your safety and confidence. Boundary development is a continuing process; however, the most critical stages for boundary growth take place during the early years of childhood when character is formed.  Good boundaries ensure self esteem.

Bonding is the prelude
Screen shot 2013-02-16 at 9.57.41 PM During childhood bonding with caretakers becomes the basis for boundary development.  As the child learns to feel safe in their primary relationships, they are building a strong foundation to bear the separateness and conflict that comes with boundary growth (Cloud & Townsend, 1992).

Interferences with healthy boundary development

Children need to know their boundaries will be honored.  They need to know disagreements, and testing limits will not result in a withdrawal of love. Parents still need to set and maintain good boundaries with their children; nevertheless, they need to stay attached and connected even when their children disagree with them.

Children whose parents withdraw when they start testing limits learn to develop their compliant, loving, sensitive parts; and the same time learn to fear distrust and hate their aggressive, truth-telling, and separate parts. Children incorrectly learn they are responsible for their parent’s feelings.  These children grow up to be adults who are terrified setting boundaries will cause isolation and abandonment. 

Resentment against boundaries

If a parent becomes angry at a child’s efforts to separate and punishes for natural growing independence, the child will usually retreat into hurt and resentment. Parental anger toward a child’s developing separateness creates problems for the child in both setting and respecting boundaries.  Some children become adults enmeshed with others, resulting in compliance and depression.  Some react outwardly and become hostile, controlling people in similar ways as their parent.

Over control

Appropriate, responsible parenting allows children to make mistakes.  Over-controlled children are vulnerable to dependency, enmeshment conflicts, and difficulty setting and keeping firm boundaries, in addition to having problems taking risks and being creative. Lack of limits and inconsistent limits also interfere with healthy boundary development.   

Trauma and abuse

Children who experience trauma or abuse become unsure that they are safe and have control over their lives. Their ability to set boundaries becomes damaged.  They also, out of necessity, develop a high tolerance for inappropriate behavior, which becomes problematic later in life. People who have a high tolerance for inappropriate behavior have difficulty recognizing who is and is not safe (Cloud & Townsend, 1992).

SAFE PEOPLE                                                        UNSAFE PEOPLE

Listen to you                                                              Don’t listen

Hear you                                                                     Don’t hear

Make eye contact                                                      No eye contact

Accept the real you                                                   Reject the real you

Validate the real you                                                Invalidate the real you

Nonjudgmental                                                         Judgmental

Are real with you                                                      False with you

Clear                                                                            Unclear Boundaries

Appropriate and clear                                             Boundaries unclear

Direct                                                                           Indirect

No triangles                                                                Triangle-in others

Supportive                                                                  Competitive

Loyal                                                                            Betray Relationship

Authentic                                                                    Relationship feels contrived

(Whitfield, 1993)


Camille Curtis Foster, MSW, LCSW

Contact Me |Foster Connections/ 801.472.7134/

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Thanks to Tami Thayne, LCSW for her thoughts and contributions to this article.


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