Boundaries protect self-esteem
Dysfunctional families have dysfunctional boundaries, which get handed down through parents’ behavior and example. They may be controlling, invasive, disrespectful, use their children for their own needs, or project their feelings onto them. This undermines children’s self-esteem. As adults, they too, have dysfunctional boundaries. They have trouble accepting other people’s differences or allowing others’ space, particularly in intimate relationships.
Without boundaries, they can’t say no or protect themselves when necessary and take personally what others say. They tend to feel responsible for others’ stated or imagined feelings, needs, and actions, to which they react, contributing to escalating conflict. Their partner feels that he or she can’t express themselves without triggering a defensive reaction.
Intimacy requires self-esteem
We all have needs for both separateness and individuality as well as for being close and connected. Autonomy requires self-esteem – both necessary in relationships. It’s an ability to stand on your own and trust and motivate yourself. But when you don’t like yourself, you’re in miserable company spending time alone. It takes courage to communicate assertively in an intimate relationship—courage that comes with self-acceptance, which enables you to value and honor your feelings and needs and risk criticism or rejection in voicing them. This also means you feel deserving of love and are comfortable receiving it. You wouldn’t waste your time pursuing someone unavailable or push away someone who loved you and met your needs.
Healing toxic shame from childhood takes working with a skilled therapist; however, shame can be diminished, self-esteem raised, and attachment style changed by altering the way you interact with yourself and others. In fact, self-esteem is learned, which is why I wrote 10 Steps to Self-Esteem and Conquering Shame and Codependency. Both books contain lots of self-help exercises. Sharing at 12-Step meetings is also very beneficial. Because assertiveness can be learned and also raises self-esteem, I wrote How to Speak Your Mind – Become Assertive and Set Limits, which guides you in learning those skills.
Couples therapy is an ideal way to achieve greater relationship satisfaction. When one partner refuses to participate, it’s nonetheless helpful if one willing partner does. Research confirms that the improved self-esteem of one partner increases relationship satisfaction for both. Often, when only one person enters therapy, the relationship changes for the better and happiness increases for the couple. If not, the client’s mood improves and he or she is more able to accept the status quo or leave the relationship.
©Darlene Lancer 2016
 Lavner, J. A., Bradbury, T. N., & Karney, B. R. (2012). “Incremental change or initial differences? Testing two models of marital deterioration.” Journal of Family Psychology, 26, 606–616.
 Bradbury, T. N., & Lavner, J. A. (2012). “How can we improve preventive and educational interventions for intimate relationships?” Behavior Therapy, 43, 113–122.
 Erol, Ruth Yasemin; Orth, Ulrich, “Development of self-esteem and relationship satisfaction in couples: Two longitudinal studies.” Developmental Psychology,” 2014, Vol. 50, No. 9, 2291–2303
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Written by Darlene Lancer JD, MFT
Originally appeared on WhatIsCodependency.com
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