All About Boundaries Part 2: What Happens When Our Boundaries Are Crossed?

What Happens When Our Boundaries Are Crossed?

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Learning about boundaries, our reactions, and how to implement boundaries, can help us to live a more authentic and fulfilling life. This is the second post in our All About Boundaries Series by Edmonton-based therapist, Selena Arcovio. Check out the first post exploring what boundaries are here. This blog post explores boundary violations and what happens when a boundary is crossed. If you want to book a session with Selena to get help on boundaries or if you're looking for someone to walk alongside you in your healing journey, you can book your counselling session online - HERE.

What are Boundary Violations?

If a boundary is a metaphorical line that divides ourselves from other people, what happens if that line is crossed? We call that a boundary violation. A violation can happen when the space between you and someone else is not negotiated in a mindful or respectful way. This can lead to experiences of resentment, hurt, frustration, and a weakening of the relationship, regardless of whether the person who crossed the line intended to cause harm. I like to break boundary violations down into two categories: 

  1. Physical Violations - This is when a boundary is crossed in a physical way. These could include someone taking your belongings without asking, someone getting in your personal space, or someone budging in front of you in the Starbucks line. So Frustrating!
  2. Emotional/Relational Violations - This is when a boundary violation impacts your emotional space and inner world. This could include a close friend sharing your secrets; someone expecting a favour in exchange for giving you a favour; or other people using inappropriate or oppressive language towards you. This could also include when we assume the reasons behind someone else's actions or assume the feelings of others without checking in. It could look like not being able to say no, taking on too many commitments, and being overly concerned about other people’s feelings to the detriment of your own. 

Here are some signs that our boundaries are being crossed: 

  • You feel overwhelmed, stressed, and burned out.
  • You experience resentment towards others when they reach out or ask for help.
  • You find yourself avoiding other people or your responsibilities
  • You feel you do not have enough time for yourself or to practice self-care.
  • You fantasize about dropping everything, cancelling your phone plan, deleting your social media, and moving to a tropical island somewhere.

Many people aren’t aware that these signs can be associated with boundary violations. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, All About Boundaries, we often exist in “autopilot” mode and are not aware of the cause of our own distress. We just know we are overwhelmed and burned out. To really understand what is happening to us when our boundaries are violated, it can be helpful to explore what is happening in our brain and body when the line is crossed. 

How Your Brain and Body Respond to Boundary Crossings

The part of the brain that is associated with boundaries is the Limbic System and the Amygdala. This is also the part of the brain that is responsible for our emotions and regulates our fear response. Our fear response is often referred to as our fight, flight, and freeze response. 

Our brain will take in information from our environment or our thoughts that one of our boundaries has been crossed, whether or not we are consciously aware of it. Our brain associates a boundary violation with a threat to our safety and belonging and sends that information to the Amygdala which triggers our fight, flight, freeze response.

The brain’s response to boundary violations has been explored in psychological research. In a study on the Amygdala, researchers found that participants’ amygdalas would activate as soon as someone entered their personal space (Kennedy et al., 2009). As we know from the first blog post in this series, our comfort level around personal space is one of our physical boundaries. The brain’s response is automatic and often happens without us consciously realizing we have sensed a threat to our safety. 

Knowing how our brain responds to boundary violations can help us understand how our bodies respond as well. Just like any other time our Amygdala is activated, some of the body-based reactions to boundary violations include:

  • Racing Heart - the stress response triggers the release of stress hormones which will increase your heart rate and constrict your veins so blood is flowing through your body at a higher rate.
  • Shortness of Breath - as your brain and body prepare to tackle the threat, your body diverts more oxygen to your muscles so you are ready to act. This means you need to take in more oxygen than normal through your breath.
  • Tense Muscles - your highly oxygenated muscles will tense to prepare for action and to protect themselves from injury. Over time, tense muscles from our stress response can lead to longer-term aches and pain.
  • Poor Sleep - Most of us are familiar with how our anxious thoughts can keep us up at night. However, it can be important to keep in mind that as we continue to think about the boundary violation, our brain may still be perceiving the situation as an immediate threat and might still be releasing those stress hormones that keep us tense and ready for action.
  • Long Term Health Impacts - Chronic stress can impact our immune system and our gastrointestinal health. It can be important to talk to your doctor if you think chronic stress may be impacting your long-term health. 

How Therapy Can Help

A trained therapist will work with you to unpack and process the times your boundaries have been crossed. Your counsellor will help you explore your experience from a holistic perspective that includes your brain and body responses, the impact these violations have on your thinking patterns, self-esteem and self-worth, as well as how they impact your relationships with your family, friends, community, and culture. This holistic approach allows you to better understand yourself and your reactions so you can shift and renegotiate your boundaries and feel more empowered to live an authentic and fulfilling life. 

It is important to note that boundaries can differ depending on the culture you grew up in and the boundaries that may work in individualistic cultures may not work in collectivist cultures. Holistic Healing Counselling works with clients on identifying boundaries that meet their needs, as well as the needs of their family and community if that is important to them. 

Understanding our boundaries and learning how to intentionally set boundaries are two very different things. In the next blog post of this series, we will explore how to communicate our boundaries to others. Ready to begin your healing journey? Reach out to our therapists today to book your first session. 

Welcome to Holistic Healing

Welcome to Holistic Healing

Meet our certified therapists, Adam, Selena, Danielle, and Shaheen. No matter what you want to work on, we have a therapist to help. Our Counsellors focus on helping you feel at ease by allowing you to feel heard and understood. By using a holistic, or whole picture approach, our trained Counsellors can help their patients live a happier, more authentic life. Our therapists offer adult counselling, couples counselling, and adolescent/teen counselling. Interested in learning more? Need to book a session? Contact Us here.


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