Strengthening Your Limits and Boundaries

Like the invisible line between two countries, your boundary is a border that separates you from others. It helps define you as a person with unique feelings, opinions, experiences, and values. Physical boundaries enable you to control the kind and amount of contact you have with other people, like whether or not you want to be hugged or how close you stand in a conversation. Emotional boundaries protect your feelings, like when you want to limit your contact with someone who says hurtful or thoughtless things.

Strong boundaries keep you safe by setting appropriate guidelines for your relationships with people or situations. They help you choose what to let into your experience and what to keep out. They are a sign that you know who you are and how you want to be treated. Strong boundaries assert that you’re worth protecting. And you ARE! You matter!!

Weak boundaries, on the other hand, are a sign that you don’t think you’re worth protecting—often because you don’t think you matter. There are a lot of reasons why people feel this way.  Maybe your feelings were consistently invalidated or ignored. Maybe you endured abuse, or have been treated with a general lack of respect.  Maybe other people took control over your decisions, making you feel powerless and unimportant. Whatever the reason, weak boundaries mean that you don’t have a strong sense of yourself as being separate from other people. It means that you are more likely to do what pleases them instead of what pleases you.

Under these circumstances, eating problems, weight obessions and eating disorders can serve as a type of boundary. These food/body related issues assert your right to live your own life in your own way, and force people to recognize you as an independent, separate person. An underweight or emaciated body is a powerful message that you are in charge and well-protected. It is an impenetrable wall that keeps others out, providing a haven of sorts that no one can take away. Eating too much food is a way of stuffing the feelings that get brought up when someone takes your power away. Exercising too much or purging is a way of “running away” from those feelings or “moving” those feelings out of you. Frantically looking for and choosing the next fad diet, numbs out your feelings by distracting you from setting

appropriate limits and dealing with whatever the issue is at hand. Despite the temporary sense of relief these kinds of behaviors can bring you, boundaries set with food/weight are neither satisfying nor fulfilling. They are based on your feeling powerless and unimportant, and they perpetuate that feeling.

One important goal in setting yourself free from food/weight obessions is to strengthen your healthy boundaries. This becomes more possible by recognizing your own worth and using your voice. Use “I messages,” clearly stating what the other person is doing, how that makes you feel, and what you would like to be different. For example, “When you tell me you know what is best for me, I feel stupid. I’d like you to hear what I think is best for me and be respectful about what I have to say.”

Treat yourself with love and respect. If that is challenging you may want to try the 10 Steps to Self-Compassion. Once self-compassion is in place it can make setting boundaries a little easier for you.  That by itself, models for others how you should be treated. Remind yourself that you are entitled to your feelings and desires. You have a right to be safe. You are a worthwhile, important person with unique gifts to give. You matter!