Codependency (Part Two): Personal Boundaries

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Codependency (Part Two): Personal Boundaries

by Alexis Pardo, LCSW - Licensed Clinical Social Worker at Agape Therapy Institute in Downtown Orlando

In codependent relationships personal boundaries can be blurred and the people in the relationships often feel like they are always doing so much for the other person with little return. 

I frequently hear my clients say “I’m ALWAYS doing EVERYTHING for them and they do NOTHING.” With some probing, I frequently hear my clients say that they don’t speak up because they don’t want to make the other person feel bad. In the meantime my client is left feeling taken advantage of because they continue to do things that they don’t want to do but never communicate that with the other person clearly. 

It’s important to remember that it is our job to recognize how much we are willing to do for someone without feeling over extended. It is also our job to communicate what we expect in return. Without doing this, we are engaging in a cognitive distortion called Mind Reading where we expect the other person to inherently know what we think, feel, want and need. 

In these relationships there are often a lot of unsaid expectations, which can result in resentment. My client’s describe this resentment like feeling chronically angry. 

What are personal boundaries?

Boundaries are what we use to set the stage for how we expect to be treated. 

The scariest part about boundaries is that it requires us to be confident enough to walk away or provide consequences if our boundaries are not respected. Boundaries without consequences are just suggestions. 

People with healthy boundaries feel comfortable saying “no” without having to explain themselves. They understand that “No.” is a complete sentence.

Tips for setting boundaries

Practice and plan ahead what you are going to say. This gives us time to rehearse something, especially if it is a new skill you’re developing. It can also make it easier to say out loud when the time comes.

Use ownership language by using the word “I” and not using the word “You”.  For example, “I wont be able to go to the party because of my schedule” vs “You scheduled the party too early, so I can’t make it.”  Blaming others for having to set boundaries is not helpful and can damage your relationship. 

It’s important to think about why setting this boundary is important to you. How does it connect with your values? How are your honoring yourself when you set this boundary?

Be respectful of the other person by avoiding yelling or putting the other person down. Use confident body language but remember that confidence is not the same as aggressive. 

3 Examples:

  1. Respecting Privacy
    Your coworker asks for more details about why you called out sick from work but you don’t want to share every detail about how sick you were. You can say something like “I really appreciate your concern, but I don’t want to talk about it.
  2. Doing things you don’t want to do
    You are invited or asked to do something that you don’t want to do. I have client’s that say yes before they even think about it. In these cases you should practice saying, “Let me think about it,” “Let me check my schedule first” or simply “Maybe.”  This will give you some time and space to really consider if you are able to fit this in and whether or not you actually want to do it. It also gives you the opportunity to figure out if you will need to add any conditions like needing to be done by a certain time. 
  3. Friend asks you for money
    In this situation, I encourage you to remind yourself that “No” is a complete sentence. It is your money and you have no obligation to give it away.  After all, you worked for it. If you are inclined to let someone borrow money, you can clearly state what you expect in return and that the consequence will be no borrowing money in the future. 

Warning: Shameless Plug!

Obviously, I am going to recommend that you seek the help of a therapist. Can you learn to do this on your own? Absolutely, but you got here through years and possibly decades of learned behavior. You will not be able to undo everything you have learned in one day and that goes for therapy as well. 

This is a process of learning how to care for yourself, finding confidence, challenging your limiting beliefs, and learning how to communicate clearly. I do think that you can learn how to set boundaries on your own, but where most people get stuck is on untangling how they got there in the first place. I believe that this is where a therapist can help. Once you learn why you do something, you will be able to make changes from a deeper understanding of yourself. 


Below are a few books that can help you on your journey to building healthier boundaries: 

Codependent No More by Melody Beattie
The Codependency Recovery Plan by Krystal Mazzola, M.Ed, LMFT
Where to Draw the Line by Anne Katherine


Alexis Pardo, LCSW is a therapist at Agape Therapy Institute, a not-for-profit outpatient mental health counseling center in Downtown Orlando.  To learn more about Alexis and to book an appointment with her, visit her page on our website by clicking here

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Cover photo credit:  Tatiana