I’ve seen a lot of articles written about boundaries that focus on the person with poor boundaries. Boundary violations and weakness affect not only the person with the unhealthy boundaries. People with unhealthy boundaries are scary for those they come in contact with, too. So let’s take a look at how unhealthy boundaries impact other people. We’ll use the following scenario as an example.
Monday at 11:00 a.m. Alice calls Wayne.
Alice: Hi, Wayne. My car is going to be in the shop Thursday. Would you be give me a ride from there to work? I can get a ride back after work.
Wayne: I’m not sure. When I get off the toilet, I will check my schedule and get back to you.
Monday at 4:45 p.m.
Alice: (via voicemail because Wayne is avoiding her call). Hey, just checking to see if you would be able to do me that favor. Could you let me know? Thanks!
Tuesday at 10:00 a.m.
Alice: (via voicemail) Hi, Wayne. If you can’t drop me off, can you just let me know so that I can ask someone else? It’s not a big deal. I just need to make plans. Thanks.
Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. Alice sees Wayne at a friend’s house.
Wayne: Hey! I meant to get back to you. Sorry about that. I have a meeting Thursday morning, so I’d have to be at work early. I’d really like to get in my morning workout too. I was just trying to see how I could make it work before getting back with you.
Alice: Okay, no problem.
Wednesday between 4:30 and 9:00 p.m. Alice tries calling Wayne to set up up a time to meet at the shop and give him the address. She doesn’t reach him so she calls the shop to reschedule. She follows up by sending Wayne angry messages about why he didn’t just call her. Wayne eventually responds by explaining that Alice didn’t tell him when and where to meet. Wayne also defends himself by saying that he never agreed to do it. Then Wayne tries to smooth things over with jokes and tells Alice to not take it so seriously.
Unhealthy Boundaries Leaves Others With Uncertainty
People with unhealthy boundaries can have a hard time saying no. This leaves others wondering about expectations and outcomes. To some people, no answer means the question is still open. To others it means not yes. “Maybe” has the same confusion. To some people, it means “Yes, if” or “Yes, when.” In the example above, Alice may have heard, “Yes, I will do it if or when I figure out a way to work around my early work time and going to the gym.”
Another reason why unhealthy boundaries causes uncertainty is that there are often mixed messages. Wayne’s demeanor was pleasant throughout his interactions leaving Alice with the sense that he wanted to help. He even tried joking afterward to keep things pleasant. However, he also dodged her phone calls and didn’t give Alice a straight answer. This could leave Alice confused about Wayne likes her, respects her, or can be depended upon. She may be doubting her own perception.
Create Unnecessary Drama
Dealing with people who don’t have healthy boundaries can be anxiety provoking. We all see the world through our own lens. If it’s easy for Alice to say yes and no, she may not understand why Wayne can’t do it – especially if Wayne doesn’t own this. This creates tension between the two of them that can make their relationship swing from hot to cold. Or perhaps they have a hard time staying on the same page.
Can’t Achieve Trust or Intimacy
The example above doesn’t show this explicitly, but you can image what it’s like to be Alice. If she feels she doesn’t know who Wayne is, what he wants, or what he feels, there is no way she can really trust him. With no trust, the relationship will always remain superficial. Most people would rather spend their time with people who mean something to them.
Everybody has a need for privacy, physical space, and emotional space. When Wayne told Alice about being on the toilet, he was oversharing. When you bring people into your personal space or they come into yours without an invitation or permission, it feels like a violation. This can lead to them withdrawing.
The example above includes only a few ways that unhealthy boundaries are demonstrated. Here are some others:
- taking on the feelings of others. Many explain this by saying that they are “highly sensitive people.” While some people do have enhanced energetic sensitivity, if you have any of these other symptoms, you probably have boundary issues.
- unaware of their own needs
- violating the space, privacy, belongings of others
- unable to say no
- unable to say yes
- often blames self or others
- can’t stand up for themselves/doesn’t ask for what he wants
- indecisive/doesn’t know what she wants
- either so flexible that he can’t be pinned down or is very rigid and unbending
- takes things personally
- highly reactive to feedback or other’s emotions or nonreactive
- listens without responding or changing
- overshares own business or that of others or shares nothing (can go back and forth)
Misunderstandings happen every day. When they happen habitually, it’s a problem. If this is happening to you, perhaps it’s time to ask yourself if you’re the cause. If it is, don’t beat yourself up, and don’t take the confusion or rejection personally.
Just look at it from the other person’s point of view. People with unhealthy boundaries are scary. They seem unpredictable, not trustworthy, can’t be relied upon, and can get too close one minute and too far away the next. When people respond by withdrawing, they are just trying to protect themselves.
Healthy boundaries can be learned. You can get a book to teach yourself what healthy boundaries are and how to practice them. You can take a class. Go to counseling. Go to a Cuddle Party. If you are in the Richmond, VA area, you can come to one of my Cuddle Parties. We’ll practice healthy boundaries. When your boundaries improve, your relationships will stop being scary for you and others.
*Note: the above example is deliberately mild to show that boundary violations don’t have to be earth shattering to be problematic. The issues created by unhealthy boundaries can be a lot more crazy making than this.