More boundaries, more love… sounds counter-intuitive, yes? For many of us raised in homes with codependency (lack of boundaries), the concept of having more boundaries can feel not only foreign, but more selfish, mean, and cold-hearted than loving.
Before we dive into how holding boundaries creates a greater capacity for love, let’s get clarity on the concept of codependency. The construct of codependency can feel confusing, and it’s certainly been misused and misinterpreted. The concept was first introduced in the 1980s as a term for a particular set of characteristics displayed by partners and family members of addicts. The word codependency was adapted from the word “co-addict.”
However, the true concept of codependency has much less to do with addiction as it does trauma and anxiety. Codependency simply means lack of relationship with self. It manifests from family systems where the parents/caretakers were either emotionally immature, engulfed in their own anxieties and trauma, or otherwise weren’t able to hold a consistent, safe space for the child to explore themselves and their surroundings with playfulness and curiosity. Playful exploration lays the foundation for internal emotional & nervous system regulation later in life.
Instead, the child unconsciously learned that in order to survive, they must take care of the parents and make sure they were okay. With the child now overly involved with the caretakers’ wellbeing, not much room was left to learn how to regulate themselves (and who was there to teach them?). Instead of having a safe container to explore their inner world, the child learns that in order to stay safe – and, according to the mammalian survival brain, safety means attaining secure attachment in relationships – “I must constantly make sure others around me are comfortable.”
Hence, a codependent dynamic is born – “for me to feel okay, I need to make sure they feel okay.” It’s an unconscious attempt to feel safe and secure on the inside by trying to make others feel happy. Behaviorally, codependency often surfaces as abandoning one’s own needs, not knowing what one’s needs even are, hypervigilance of others’ needs and feelings, people-pleasing, saying yes too much, over-committing, needing to feel needed, and feeling resentful.
Here’s where boundaries come into play. Due to the anxiety underlying codependency, we unconsciously decided long ago that we must always be available to those who might need us (the inner child is always chasing secure attachment in unattainable ways). Plus, we didn’t learn enough about our own body, personal space, energy, and needs, so we typically have no idea what our limits are or how to ensure that our body runs smoothly.
But the truth is, always saying “yes” and trying to be available to our loved ones 24/7 is a great way to remain resentful and burnt out. This way of being in a relationship is our anxious inner child doing their best, however repeating old, programmed attempts at earning parental attention and love.
How does it feel to be in a room with someone who’s resenting you? Exactly. The opposite of loving. The energy of resentment is what we’re sending to our loved ones when we consistently over-commit. Energetically, resentment doesn’t create space for safe, vulnerable, loving, playful connection. It can be quite scary to think of saying no, especially to people you love. If you’re on this path, I deeply celebrate you for your bravery.
Think of the relationships you long to have – joyful, safe, passionate, loving – all of these experiences are the result of boundaries. Creating safety in relationships, for example, requires that we show up with honesty and integrity; i.e., being honest about the time and energy we have to give. An honest “no” is so much more loving than a resentful, teeth-gritting “yes.”
By saying no, you’re saying, “I care enough about myself to honor my energy, and I love you enough to be with you when I’m at my best. To do that, I will commit to saying yes when it feels aligned.” Is there risk of losing relationships? Yes. If a relationship is built on the expectation that you over-give… is that a relationship you want? There’s equal risk that either your current relationships will get better, and/or that you’ll draw healthier relationships to you.
As you start saying yes to you by drawing boundaries with others, over time, you’ll feel the benefits of more spaciousness, self-trust, and self-love. These things are magnetic for healthier relationships. Deeper love will not manifest on the outside if we’re not creating it within.
Create space for those who will thank you for your boundaries. They’re out there, I promise.
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