What Does it Mean to Respect Boundaries?


Quite a simple question in many ways, but one that many people struggle with, both in terms of trying to set boundaries of their own, and dealing with other people who don’t respect, or don’t seem able to respect anyone else’s boundaries at all.

The issue of boundaries is not unique to people in 12-step recovery but is perhaps more acute because so many of them have grown up either in alcoholic homes or enmeshed homes of one type or another.

Anyone who has grown up in such a home would to some degree have felt that they did not have their sense of space, their sense of privacy, or simply their right to be themselves.

It is sometimes described as not knowing where your life ends and the other person begins. This is really about someone having the space to be themselves.

Personal Space

This sense of not having your personal space becomes more apparent as you get older, and becomes more important as you try to reconcile the responsibilities of your own life, with the responsibilities of other people’s lives around you.

Trying to define boundaries is quite difficult in one sense, but is normally much more obvious when they are being blurred. When people do not respect other people’s boundaries, they do not respect the person themselves.

Respecting someone as an individual is in large part about giving them the freedom to be themselves, giving them the space to process their own needs, and also having the space where they realise what their own needs are first.

Respecting the Individual

Respecting boundaries is about respecting an individual.

When someone does not respect boundaries, they do not respect the individual’s right to be themselves and make decisions for themselves.

Inevitably they try and manipulate the other person into doing what they want them to do, whilst trying to make them think that it is their decision in the first place.

Boundaries are often talked about in terms of childhood development because they are about setting a safe place for a child to learn what is and is not acceptable. Boundaries are about creating a real sense of freedom within the confines and context of your life.

In adulthood, this is a very different process from how a child will learn how boundaries affect a sense of space.

Enmeshed Homes

The problem in many ways for people in 12-step recovery is that they are playing catch up. Many who have grown up in alcoholic or enmeshed homes will have experienced acute levels of a lack of boundaries.

This will have manifested itself in a lot of complications and problems in the individual, often leading to a real sense of emotional limbo, feeling they have no responsibility or power over their own life, but feeling responsible for the lives of other people that they have no control over.

This is normally a direct reflection of the home they grew up in and becomes a pattern of behaviour and thought throughout their life.

Learning to set boundaries as an adult is not an easy thing, Especially if other people in your life are used to getting their way and being able to use you as they want to.

Learning to say no, and to own your right to make your own decisions is really what setting boundaries is about.

At first, it may feel a bit awkward, or even a bit controlling. As time goes on learning to set boundaries will become a very real and natural part of your life, and ultimately will give you the safety of being able to own your own emotional space, and feel you have your life back.