Emotional Boundaries

I often hear my clients say, “I can’t trust my decision making.” When I hear this, I start to ask them questions about what boundaries looked like in their family growing up, such as, “were you more on the strict/oppressive end of the spectrum where family members were controlled and dependence was promoted, or were you more on the empowering/relaxed end of the spectrum, where individuals were given freedom and independence, and growth was promoted within your family?”

When we think of boundaries, we often connect our physical space, such as our bodies, and the space around us to these thoughts. However, we have emotional, social, mental and spiritual boundaries as well. It is the emotional and mental boundaries that are very often hidden in our unconscious as they were mentored to us growing up, and these boundaries are what becomes familiar and comfortable for us. Our brains love what is familiar and comfortable, like a comfort blanket, even though the pattern or beliefs may not be helping us.

It is the emotional boundaries that cause us pain and grief in our relationships as adults. These are the boundaries that were mentored to us in our families, and this is where we learn how to manage and set our boundaries, and we carry this pattern with us to our adult lives. How our families coped with conflict and day to day living then determines our understanding of what type of boundaries we have. When we make these boundaries conscious, then we can shift and change them to empower us moving forward.

Emotional boundaries are what keep us feeling safe. When our boundaries are in place, we are in our comfort zone and our sense of dignity remains secure.  When our boundaries are wounded, we experience anxiety and frustration, as we come up against things we can’t stand, don’t like or feel angry about. Our emotions and physical sensations will then send us cues that our boundaries have been compromised. 

It is helpful to think of our boundaries as a container for our sense of self. Our emotional boundaries mark where we end and the outside world begins, like a property line, defining what belongs to us and what we are responsible for. This line is what makes us unique and keeps us in our safety and comfort zone.

I have found that as my clients learn new ways of thinking about their boundaries, and learn to set healthy boundaries for themselves, they find they are able to identify what they like and don’t like, what they want and don’t want, what feels good to them, and what brings them pleasure and makes them happy. This enhances the quality of their lives, and enables them to create their own happiness.





Madeleine Sullivan
M.Ed., RCC
Madeleine Sullivan, Sullivan Counselling Ltd.
#330-1641 Hillside Avenue, Victoria, V8T 5G1

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