Moving Towards Healthy Boundaries

Written By: Morgan Blair, Founder and Creative Director of Unpolished Journey

Setting healthy boundaries is an essential part of treatment from an eating disorder…or so my team tells me. You have to learn how to speak your needs, stand up for your values, and have emotional balance within relationships.  This is true for everyone, not just those with eating disorders.  Though, it tends to be harder for people with eating disorders due to low self-esteem, caretaker tendencies, or empathetic personalities. I know, personally, I have a hard time telling people to change a conversation topic, or cancelling plans, or reaching out for help because I am afraid of the other person’s reaction.

Needless to say, I have a hard time with boundaries. Either I am too distant from others and won’t let anyone into my struggles, or I force myself to adopt a caretaker role holding everything for others and nothing for myself.  But, I also have an eating disorder so it makes sense why balance within relationships is a hard concept for me to grasp. My eating disorder exists in black and white thinking. Either everything is controlled or nothing is controlled. Either I starve or I binge. Either I run 10 miles or I sit on the couch. Either I am perfect or I avoid life all together. It makes sense then why relationship boundaries have also run parallel to my black and white pattern of thinking.

Once I became aware of my issue with constructing healthy boundaries, I needed to figure out how to begin creating them for myself. The issue was that I didn’t even know where to start. Allowing others to offload their struggles onto me without obtaining anything in return felt so natural, almost like a reflex at this point in my life.  I became an emotional punching bag and then I would beat myself up when I felt overwhelmed.  People who tend to take on caretaker roles while denying their own personal needs are called emotional doormats. Other examples of unhealthy roles in relationships would be enablers or people who try and protect others from any hurt they have experienced in life.  Then there are the pleasers or those who focus more attention on pleasing others than what they actually need.

Now, I already said I identify with the doormat, but if you struggle with unhealthy boundaries you may find you identify more strongly with the enabler or pleaser role. Figuring out where you fall with boundaries is just the first part of the puzzle. After realizing you may be someone who struggles with unhealthy boundaries, steps need to be taken towards more balance with others.  Since I had lived so long as a doormat, I had a lot of trouble coming up with what healthy boundaries even look like.  So, I went to therapy and allowed the guidance of a professional to point me in the right direction.  Here’s what I have come up with over the years.

My list of healthy boundaries:

  1. Speak my truth. If I know this person is safe and cares about me, practice open and honest communication when they are doing something that hurts, triggers, or upsets me.
  2. Do not overextend myself. If someone invites me to a party, I don’t have to offer to bring four appetizers. If someone is struggling with recovery, I don’t have to become their only support. If someone is asking me to do something too overwhelming for my social anxiety, it is okay to tell them I need a break. All in all, this boundary gives me permission to say no when necessary for my emotional well being.
  3. Give myself permission to be supported. Because I struggle with becoming others emotional doormat, it is important I remind myself that in a healthy relationship I am allowed to also be helped and supported. It is not a one way street.
  4. Walk away. When a relationship isn’t working, when someone is consistently overstepping the boundaries I am setting, leave. This is the hardest one for me because I have so much trouble saying that someone else is in the wrong. I always feel like I have to become an emotional martyr at the expense of others needs. But if someone is detrimental for my recovery (constantly talking about food and exercise) or to my self-esteem (constantly putting me down) I have to leave or else I will risk another relapse.
  5. Respect mine as well as others boundaries. This is the ultimate form of emotional balance and one of the hardest things for me to manage. This requires a self-respecting backbone which I commonly lack. It requires me to speak my needs while someone else speaks there’s. I commonly just adopt other people’s boundaries. This boundary requires that I also hold true to my own boundaries.

The last step to solidifying these boundaries is putting them into practice. I have figured out my emotional doormat tendencies and defined what healthy boundaries need to be put in place in order for me not to fall into that role anymore.  Now, I have to take action.  This requires courage. Courage being the conquering of fear and not the absence of it.  I won’t say that I am perfect at this step in the process, but I certainly continue to try and that’s all anyone can really ask for.
After all, honest communication is one of the most courageous acts in a relationship.

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