The power of mental and emotional boundaries

I have been working with thousands of patients across Europe over the last 12 years. Everybody has their own specific problems, symptoms, diagnoses, behaviours, traits and thinking patterns related to various cultures, languages and societal groups. However, there are some conceptions within the field of clinical psychology that are shared between all patients. One of them is the concept of boundary. 

A boundary is the limit that you set up between yourself and the external world. At the outset children are fully dependent on their parents and more specifically on their mums to provide them with physical and emotional care. Step by step, they start to differentiate themselves from their parents and family and to exist as separate individuals. The initial dependence then evolves into a healthy relationship. 

Sometimes, the transition from dependence to relationship remains partial or for various reasons cannot be done. This can potentially cause identity or dependency issues, such as not knowing who you really are (you have never entirely separated from your parents); focusing on other people’s emotions, thoughts and behaviours (you are unable to separate your thoughts and emotions and those that belong to others); letting other people define you (you depend on other’s definitions of who you are); or letting other people control you (you need external guidance because you cannot manage yourself). 

The only way to break the above unhealthy options is to learn to create boundaries that will enable you to focus on yourself; to recognise and identify your emotions; to build your own definition of the individual you are and to understand the difference between yourself and those around you.

I am sharing as an example an extract from my psychodynamic work with Selena [1]. Selena is 27 years old. During the initial assessment, the patient reported symptoms of depression, including low self-esteem, lack of self-confidence, anxiety, and a negative definition of herself.

After 10 psychodynamic therapy sessions, we discovered (here I say ‘we’ and not ‘I’ because the patient is always the main actor in the therapeutic process) that Selena’s negative definition of herself was primarily linked to a defense mechanism, called projective identification. She was engaging in social and intimate relationships with depressive people (friends and partners) with whom she was identifying, but differentiation was never happening.

This mechanism was pushing her to internalise all these people’s symptoms related to low self-esteem and lack of confidence and consider them as belonging to her. Once we identified this, we could understand that the definition she was having of herself was not actually hers.

The only way for a differentiation to happen was to learn how to set up boundaries between the external world and herself. Selena needed 10 more sessions to understand the meaning of putting healthy boundaries and to repeat the learnings from the sessions in her interactions with people surrounding her. 

If you would like to learn more about psychodynamic therapy, please click here.

Do not hesitate to get in touch directly with me on if you need to talk to a professional. I will be happy to discuss with you.

With warm wishes,

Dr Ivanka Ezhova (please check biography here). 

[1] For confidentiality reasons, the story, the name and the context have been changed.