Boundaries Don't Make You A Bad Person

I find it really interesting how the words 'parent' & 'partner' are comprised of the exact same letters. Especially considering the fact that we often seek in our romantic partners what we failed to receive from our parents.

Boundaries Don't Make You A Bad Person
My first love & I at my first trip to the beach.

I find it really interesting how the words 'parent' & 'partner' are comprised of the exact same letters. Especially considering the fact that we often seek in our romantic partners what we failed to receive from our parents. Not only that, our relationships with our parents lay the foundation for every other relationship we have. Our parents are the first people we fall in love with & consequently, the first people who break our hearts. I would imagine that parents would also be the first people to help you understand & establish boundaries within your relationships with others but I can only imagine this to be the case because personally, boundaries didn't really exist in my household growing up.

I identify as a highly sensitive or empathic person meaning I've always been able to sense, & unfortunately, take on, the emotions & moods of those around me. As a child, my mother's mood dictated the overall environment within our home. If she was stressed, I was stressed. If she was sad, I was sad. If she was mad, I was afraid, anxious, or remorseful, even if I was not the cause. And in the rare cases that she was happy, I was happy too. There was no separation between her problems & my problems & even though I was not usually equipped to help her with her problems, I often felt responsible for them.

This trait unfortunately carried over into my romantic relationships. I was one of those men who couldn't fully listen to my partner when they communicated something distressing because I immediately wanted to solve the problem. As much as I'd like to claim I wanted to solve the problem to help my partner, the truth is I wanted to solve it to help myself. Like my experiences in childhood with my mother, as an adult with my partner, I automatically felt responsible for & inherited their moods. If my partner was anything other than happy, I became unhappy & felt compelled to do whatever was necessary to make her happy &, in turn, regain happiness for myself. This belief led to the nonexistence of boundaries for me, because deep down, I feared that having emotional boundaries toward someone I loved would not only make me a bad partner but also a bad person.

For a long time, I believed that my lack of emotional boundaries made me an exceptional partner. Which is why the idea of having boundaries towards someone you love seemed so strange to me. Because from how I was raised, you don't create emotional separation between yourself & someone you claim to love. I thought my lack of boundaries was what made me caring, engaged, & compassionate. But over the past couple years I've discovered that while taking on my loved one's emotions may have made me appear empathic on the surface, deep down it made me feel bitter & resentful. I remember scrolling through IG one day & coming across a graphic that said, "Your ability to feel other people's pain doesn't mean it's your responsibility to fix it" & it gave me pause because while I could understand that it was logically correct, it didn't feel at all practical. Especially within the context of an intimate relationship because if my partner is projecting hurt out into the energetic field that we share, and if I am not able to energetically remove myself from that field, then it absolutely DOES feel like my responsibility to fix it - especially if my partner wasn't equipped to fix it themselves.

This little meme took up space in my head for months & continued to work on me subconsciously. This was around the same time that I was doing a lot of work around worthiness and what I eventually uncovered was that, contrary to my initial belief, I did have the capacity to not take on the emotions of others' but had a major subconscious resistance to doing so because deep down I felt unworthy of love & I felt that if I established an emotional boundary between myself & someone I loved, that they would feel less loved by me & consequently begin to love me less which would validate the unworthiness I felt deep down anyway.

I can track this belief directly back to my childhood and my relationship with my parents. My mother was the type to always let you know how she felt about you either through her words of her actions. If she was upset with me, she'd give me the silent treatment. If I didn't obey what she said, I'd either be verbally or physically reprimanded - regardless to why. If at any point I wasn't being who she thought I should be, I would feel put out of her heart. So regardless to how much I failed, deep down I always wanted to please her. Mostly out of fear that if I didn't please her, she would stop loving me. As far as my dad, his presence in my life was sparse to begin with & as a child, I didn't really understand why. So I assumed that it must be because of something I did or didn't do. Which meant on the occasions that we did get to spend time together, I was hyper aware of his desires and expectations of me and did my best to fulfill them. And when he'd inevitably disappear again, I would assume it was because I'd not done enough to please him.

I've never been someone who's allowed many people to get that close to me which is why I didn't begin to understand the necessity of boundaries within relationships until a couple years ago at the ripe age of 31. I never really needed boundaries when it came to friends or acquaintances because I was always in control of the amount of access they had to me. When it came to romantic partners, it never felt like boundaries were necessary because for me, my romantic partner was the one person in the world I wanted to have total access to me. In fact, the idea of establishing boundaries with a romantic partner seemed like the opposite of love to me because for most of my dating life, I was someone who always wanted to be right up under my partner - talking all the time, doing everything together, not really having separate lives or identities outside of each other.

'Your ability to feel other people's pain doesn't mean it's your responsibility to fix it.'

It wasn't until I got into a relationship as a more healed person, with his own identify, who no longer felt the need to spend all of his time with or entertaining his partner, that the idea of boundaries started to become a real issue for me. As a more healed person, I highly value solitude - spending time with myself, for myself, wholly focused on myself. And I'd gotten into a partnership with someone who wanted to spend a lot more time together than I did. At first I fell into the same trap that I always had and instead of communicating how important having a substantial amount of alone time is to me or saying 'no' when she'd ask me if I wanted to do something with her that I didn't really want to do, I'd often just go along with her desires to appease her, thinking I was doing 'the right thing' & being a 'good boyfriend', largely unaware that doing this was causing me to resent her and our relationship.

Unsurprisingly, this eventually came to a head causing rifts in our connection. It was exacerbated by the fact that this partner had no issue communicating her wants and needs to me or saying 'no' to things I wanted her to do that she didn't want to do. Not only that, she wasn't as emotionally adept as me so very rarely, if ever, did I feel like she took on the same emotions that I had. And I noticed that despite her having emotional boundaries & not feeling a constant need to please me, I didn't lose any love towards her. In fact, in one of our conversations regarding needs and boundaries, she communicated to me that even though me telling her 'no' would likely disappoint her & make her feel sad for a while, it would ultimately make her respect me more than me just doing what I thought she expected of me and secretly resenting her for it. Which made a lot of sense. And I have to give her a lot credit for helping me to uncover and to heal this wounded behavior of mine.

The fact of the matter is, the reason I have been so adverse to emotional boundaries in intimate connections is because of how deeply I felt unworthy of love. I was truly convinced that by telling someone I love 'no' or refusing to allow them to project their emotions onto me would eventually lead them to abandoning me as my father did or at the very least, making me feel put out of their heart as my mother did. I assumed that everyone I interacted with had an anxious attachment style like myself and because of this, they could not accept being rejected by someone they love. But in reality, not everyone experienced the same sort of childhood trauma that I did and to my surprise, when people actually value you, they're willing to put up with being disappointed by you from time to time without it adversely effecting how they see you or feel about you.

I spent way too long worried that having boundaries towards the people I'm intimate with would make me a bad person not realizing that what caused me to actually behave as a bad person towards them was the resentment I built towards them out of a refusal to be honest. In reality, what makes a person 'good' is not always pleasing others around you but instead having enough self-respect & self-compassion to be honest & authentic & trusting that the people who really love you will respect & appreciate that authenticity & that those that can't don't deserve to be in your life anyway.

Recognizing the value of boundaries has been a reaffirmation of my worth and a testament to the fact that genuine connections are inherently resilient. It's a lesson in love, not just for others, but for myself. By establishing boundaries, I've not only safeguarded my emotional well-being but have also cultivated deeper, more authentic, and enduring relationships. Boundaries don't make us bad people; they make us honest, self-aware, and considerate. They teach us that true love—whether for a parent, partner, or friend—flourishes not in the absence of limits but in the understanding and respect of them. Embracing boundaries has shown me that I am, indeed, worthy of love, just as I am—and that perhaps, the greatest love starts with loving oneself enough to set them.

Growth Challenge

Objective: To understand the consequences of not upholding our values.

Challenge: Reflect on the last time your heart told you 'no' but your mouth said 'yes' to a request that someone close to you made of you.

  1. What were the immediate feelings you experienced after saying 'yes' when you wanted to say 'no'? Consider emotions like resentment, relief, guilt, or anxiety, and describe why you felt that way.
  2. How did this decision impact your relationship with the person who made the request? Reflect on whether it led to feelings of resentment, a pattern of similar requests, or perhaps a temporary boost in the relationship that felt unsustainable.
  3. In what ways did this choice affect your self-esteem or self-respect? Think about whether you felt proud for being helpful, disappointed for not honoring your feelings, or conflicted between the two.
  4. Looking back, what were the reasons you felt compelled to say 'yes' despite your gu feeling? Identify factors like fear of conflict, desire for approval, habit, or lack of confidence in your right to say no.
  5. What would you do differently if faced with a similar situation in the future? Consider strategies for honoring your gut feelings, such as pausing before responding, preparing phrases to decline politely, or discussing your boundaries more openly with other

Further Study

I recently came across this Youtube video which expounds on the idea that people pleasing doesn't build intimacy but actually destroys it. Check it out if you want to dive into this concept further. If you do check it out, I'd love to hear your thoughts about it or your experience with establishing boundaries among loved ones in the comments! 💜