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When boundaries become walls: How to keep them from destroying your relationship

Boundaries become walls when limits are set out of anxiety, fear or embarrassment. While boundaries help enhance love, walls lock love inside.

Walls can be impenetrable and only serve to isolate, whereas boundaries define who we are and who we are not. 

However, people who have experienced emotional trauma may have unknowingly constructed impenetrable walls in place of healthy personal boundaries. Emotional walls make close intimate relationships very difficult and create a distance that makes relationships weak and unable to ‘get off the ground’. 

Consciously looking into the build-up of emotional walls, some of it may subconsciously sprout from unresolved childhood trauma which can create an underlying core belief that people can’t be trusted, will take from you, are unreliable, and that you are not worthy of love. 

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Not knowing how to constructively say no to another person’s requests, communicate your needs and communicate behavior that you won’t accept, can lead to avoidance. This is when emotional walls start forming which is a type of emotional unavailability. The strategy is ‘I’m not going to let others close enough to me that they will ever be able to hurt me again’.

Having walls means that you only want to show partners small parts of your life. You may struggle to show or express affection, which will ultimately affect your relationships. This is a self-sabotaging behavior.

The purpose of setting healthy boundaries is to develop a good sense of self along with a strong sense of safety and security, emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. Learning to respect and to love ourselves allows us to become close to others and to develop relationships without the threat of losing oneself, smothering another, invading another’s privacy or personal space, or being invaded or taken advantage of by another.

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Setting boundaries is about learning to take care of ourselves, no matter what happens, where we go, or who we’re with. They’re a standard set of principles you live by. 

Boundaries emerge from deep decisions about what we do and don’t deserve, the belief that what we want and need, like and dislike, is important, a deeper sense of our personal rights, especially the right we have to take care of ourselves and to be ourselves, and as we learn to value, trust, and listen to ourselves and to God’s Spirit.

Boundaries are incredibly important for nurturing yourself and all your wonderful gifts. But don’t confuse them with walls. Many relationships suffer in “silence” because there are no clear lines that distinguish between boundaries and walls, but not anymore. Here’s how they’re different:

  • Boundaries are transparent. Walls are opaque.
  • Boundaries are healthy. Walls are based on fear.
  • Boundaries are dynamic and compassionate. Walls are immovable and stubborn.
  • Boundaries represent possibilities. Walls represent limitations.
  • Boundaries welcome the right people inside. Walls lock everyone out.
  • Don’t build walls. Embrace boundaries instead. Enforce them and communicate clearly when they are violated.