The lack of boundaries with an immature parent may cause difficulty to cultivate healthy adult relationships

In my clinical practice, a lot of my clients reported their parents as being immature and they are deprived of emotional support and guidance from them.  Most of my clients did not realise their parents as immature as they thought they had provided them with shelter, food and education in their childhood.  However, as they grew up, they felt themselves having a very low level of self confidence and a very poor self-image.  They also found their interpersonal relationships as not satisfying and even burdening. 

For instance, one of my clients’ mother kept intruding his privacy even he approached age 30.  She frequently called him to ask his whereabouts and kept going to his flat suddenly during weekends without asking my client.  She needed to know all the details of his work and even asked to visit his office and his boss.  When he tried to set boundaries by not answering her phone calls immediately, she would express anger and gave my client silent treatment.  My client’s authentic self is never expressed and his mother never reflected back to him on his true self.  It is because his mother was so anxious about my client living his own life and abandoning her.  Due to the immaturity of his mother, my client has poor self image himself and did not know his true self.  His mother did not realise that she has the responsibility of helping my client to be himself.  As a result, my clients also had problematic interpersonal relationships.  His friends only called him when they needed someone to talk to. They did not respect his boundaries and called him at midnight for ventilating their negative emotions.  In fact, my client never related with his friends in his authentic self.  It is because he is not his authentic self even in front of his mother.  His mother felt fearful of not being able to control him and my client felt fearful at being ostracised from his family.

It is important to know that all of us need to set boundaries with others, even our closed family members or spouses.  We need to learn that we are not solely responsible for the emotional states for those close to us or for our friends.  We should be aware that due to our childhood experiences with an immature parent, we may have an internalized needs to “please” or “save” others.  We may strive to always meeting others’ needs.  For those who used to have blurred boundaries with others, it may cause anxiety or fear if they started to set boundaries with their significant.  In fact, some of their significant others may start to reject, bully or ostracise them as a punishment for they setting boundaries with them.  Deep down these significant others may feel anxious or fearful for losing control of us and being abandoned by us.

To be able to set appropriate boundaries with others, it is important for us to have an internal awareness.  We need to cultivate an internal awareness of our feelings and bodily sensations so that we can sense that when others are intruding our boundaries or privacy.  When we feel unsafe and uncomfortable inside, it is important to be aware that we might sacrificing ourself to “please” or “save” others and we might feel burdened.  In this case, we need to be brave to say “no” and set boundaries with these people.  In a safe condition, we may feel comfortable and calm to share our own feelings with the other party and we do not feel compelled to have to sacrifice our needs to fulfill the needs of the other party.

If you have boundary issues all along and feel burdened and not satisfying in interpersonal relationships, you may seek professional help from a clinical psychologist for psychotherapy.

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