In addition to my degree in clinical social work, I have a masters degree in public health. We prevent. That’s what public health is about. In this post I want to help you see the hidden costs of poor boundaries, and prevent those costs for yourself. First you need to understand that prevention is often invisible unless you first look at the prevented costs. Here’s an example of that.

healthy boundaries

Vaccines are a great example of this phenomenon. They tell the story of invisibility–when prevention works, it is the lack of a disease that occurs. Statistics reported in the Journal of Infectious Diseases show that the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccines alone achieved cost savings of over $11.1 billion dollars in the US ($3.5 billion and $7.6 billion from the direct cost and societal perspectives, respectively). And that does not include the prevented discomfort of the illness born. Those of you who have anxiously watched your child suffer from a difficult illness will get this right away.

The Hidden Costs Of Broken Boundaries

So when you choose to ignore preventive vaccines, whatever your reasons may be, you not only increase the chances of you or a loved one getting sick, you run the risk of contributing to outbreaks, even pandemics, of what you choose to ignore. In other words, everybody suffers, not just you, from your choice. And this can run through generations.

And that is exactly how boundaries work.

When you don’t know how, or cannot maintain, your own healthy boundaries, you suffer, your family suffers, and your children learn by observing your behaviors. Oh boy do they learn. That is when the hidden costs of poor boundaries really takes hold. Then your children pass on those same unhealthy behaviors to their children, making it harder and harder for a family unit over time to function in a way that gives birth to healthy, happy, and creative lives. And of course there is the added dysfunction that happens for you in the workplace and with your friends.

First I’ll remind you that healthy boundaries are simply when you allow the good stuff in, and keep the bad stuff out—via several principles listed below. Brené Brown, at the University of Texas, Houston, has done seminal work in this area, and it is her research that I draw upon.

How To Create Healthy Boundaries

  • Try to do what you say you are going to do, and don’t overpromise. This means being aware of your personal limits.
  • If your screw up, own it and apologize. Make amends if necessary. If you made someone’s life more difficult by your error, then help them fix it if you can.
  • Keep those lips sealed. Be aware of when you are leaning into gossip. Would you want whatever is being said to be said about you in absentia? Would you say it to the person’s face? And remember that when others listen to you, they are taking in the clear message that the story you are repeating without permission is something you would do to them as well.
  • Do you live what you profess to value? Do your words match your deeds?
  • When you are talking with a loved one or friend, do you feel safe with divulging tender feelings or painful areas of your life? In other words, does this person make you feel safe, or do you feel judged? It is the judgment that needs to be addressed.
  • Are you able to extend the benefit of the doubt to others without automatically assuming the worst about them or the situation?

The Real Kicker

We tend to expect all of the above principles to apply to us when dealing with others. But are you applying the same rules to yourself? If not, then you have some work to do. Doesn’t it sound a lot like the Golden Rule? It’s just that sometimes we forget to do unto ourselves

If figuring all of this out seems confusing, call or shoot me an email and let’s check out what your healthy boundaries might look like!

Page Rutledge, LCSW, MSW, MPH is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker practicing in Wilmington, NC. She specializes in anxiety management and couples communication. Visit her website and blog at