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  • Writer's pictureNatasha Patiño

Boundaries Versus Walls- Understanding Why Walls are Toxic for Relationships

Hi everyone! Natasha here, and I’m ready to talk about a very important topic…. BOUNDARIES!!

This is such an important topic, that it’s too much to write in one blog!! This is part one….so stay tuned for part 2 (maybe 3) 😊. A major theme that I see with my clients, are their difficulties with speaking up for themselves, whether it’s being too aggressive or too passive. Throughout these blogs, I will be referring mostly to (in my opinion) one of the best books about boundaries, which is called “Boundaries. When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life” by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. They also have different variations of this, like “Boundaries in Dating,” “Boundaries in Marriage,” and “Boundaries with Kids.”

I cannot recommend this book enough, and it has helped many families understand why these are so important!

There are some faith-based components to it too, with it

referencing scripture to help back up its statements, just FYI. I’ve still had many clients get a lot from this book, though, even if they are not religious. Please, please take time to order this book before you finish the blog, it’s $14.35 on Amazon 😊.

So let’s get started….what is the difference between boundaries and walls?!! Very good question! Today’s blog will be focused on walls……So let’s break it down.


These are unhealthy!!! These keep everyone out, both good and bad. Imagine the Great Wall of China…you’re on one side, and the other person is on the other. There is no space for connection. People put up walls to protect themselves, but since they keep everyone out, they tend to become lonely. One can either do this passively or aggressively, either way at the end of it they don’t feel so great. Passively we don’t say anything, make passive aggressive comments, get cold with our partners, take away love (for example, not be as affectionate). Aggressive walls we tend to lash out, raise our voice, use aggressive body language, use cuss words, be insulting, and so on. Here are some scenarios to show you how they work:

SCENARIO 1: Intimate Partner Example:

Let’s say a husband comes home from work at 8:15PM instead of his usual 7pm. He worked late and lost track of time. His wife was first worried because she hadn’t heard from him, but once she sees his car pulling up the driveway, it turns into frustration. “Why didn’t he tell me he was going to be so late?!!” she thinks. “Dinner is cold, and I was stressed out for nothing.”

· PASSIVE WALL (AKA passive aggressive)

Husband: (comes in the front door) “Hey babe, how’s it going?! Did you have a good day?”

Wife: (facing her computer typing, avoiding eye contact). “Fine, just busy.” (Ouch…so short and cold!)

Husband: “Okay” (confused). “Um…are you okay?” (he’s thinking, ‘she was fine when I talked to her earlier’)

Wife: (keeps typing aggressively). “I’m fine.” (Looks at him, flat, cold). “Do you need something?!” (Snapping at him)

Husband: “What’s wrong with you? Why are you being like this?”

Wife: “Like what?!! I’m fine, why do you keep asking me! Just FYI, dinner is in the oven, it’s probably cold though (passive aggressive comment because he was late). I’m going to be working late tonight on these projects.”

……………………. let’s just say, this conversation does not end up going well!!! She is seething with so much anger, puts up a major wall between them! He probably eats alone, she works late, they watch TV in separate rooms, it’s weird and tense. Maybe he sleeps on the couch, she’s cold with him in the morning (see? She’s taking away love). And when you think about it…he probably does not even know what he did wrong? And wondering what is wrong with his wife because she was just fine earlier when they talked. These are walls!!!


Husband: (comes in the front door) “Hey babe, how’s it going?! Did you have a good day?”

Wife: (aggressive tone, and loud) Well…. not really!! I’ve been worried about you for the past hour!! But besides that, just fine!! (sarcasm).” (She faces him, arms crossed, ready for a fight!!)

Husband: “I just got home, why do you have to be like this?! I don’t have the energy to fight.”

Wife: “Well, let’s just focus on you and making sure you’re okay! (Sarcastic tone) What about me?!! You’re so selfish, you couldn’t even pick up the phone and let me know you’re going to be late.”

…………………. well, at least this time he knows what he did wrong!! But, because of her aggressive tone, instead of him taking ownership and saying he’s sorry, he’s on attack mode just like her. Their night does not go well, maybe some more yelling, cuss words, tension, and words that they will probably regret later. This is another form of a wall…. there is such a distance between them now.

SCENARIO 2: Work Example:

A restaurant manager needs extra help this coming Sunday since they are short staffed. He asks Andy (who is off and has plans already with friends), if he can work a double shift. Here’s the conversation:


Manager: “Hey Andy, I know you’re off Sunday, but we are short staffed that night. Is there any way you could please work double?!! It would be super helpful!”

Andy: (feels pressured) “Um…. sure. That’s fine.” (He instantly regrets saying ‘yes’ and is in a bad mood the rest of the night).

………………….. Sunday night comes along, and Andy is off his game. In a bad mood, short with customers, and upset because he ‘has’ to work. Well…no! He had a choice, and he said, ‘yes’ when he should have said ‘no.’ Now he’s mad at his boss, mad at himself….and is stuck in this situation. He misses dinner with his friends, and just…. Hates his job, hates everything! ☹


Manager: “Hey Andy, I know you’re off Sunday, but we are short staffed that night. Is there any way you could please work double?!! It would be super helpful!”

Andy: (feels pressured) “No, you know I don’t work Sundays!” (Snapping, and kind of in a rude manner).

Manager: “Okay, sorry. I was just asking; you don’t have to give me an attitude.”

…………. A-W-K-W-A-R-D evening at work!! Maybe even the whole week. Andy put up walls with his boss when his boss was just asking a legitimate question. He could have said it a lot nicer and now their good work relationship is strained.

SCENARIO 3: Therapist Example:

Let’s say I am working with a young adult whose name is Alexandra. We have seen each other for several sessions, built a good relationship, and I recently started calling her “Alex” in an endearing way, but she does not like that. Someone in her past that hurt her, called her that and she hates it. Let’s see what happens with these walls:


Me: “So Alex, tell me how it went over the holidays with your family!! I know you were excited to see them.”

Alexandra: (annoyed, thinking ‘why does she keep calling me that’) “Fine.” (Short and cold tone).

Me: “Okay (kind of confused). Well….do you want to talk about how things went?”

Alexandra: “Nope.” (Sits back on couch, puts couch cushion on her lap like a barrier from me).

Me: (super disappointed and hurt) “Well, I’m glad it went well.” (Awkward pause. I’m thinking, ‘why is she being like this with me?’)

……………. So, this is going to be an uncomfortable session. There is tension, I don’t know why. Maybe Alexandra stops coming to see me because she would rather avoid me than tell me what’s wrong. This relationship has been negatively affected. And again…. I don’t know what I did wrong.


Me: “So Alex, tell me how it went over the holidays with your family!! I know you were excited to see them.”

Alexandra: “It’s Alexandra, not Alex!” (Rude tone, aggressively, and short).

Me: “Oh, well I wish you would have told me before.”

Alexandra: “well, yeah. I don’t like it.” (Flat face, looks angry at me).

Me: “Okay, I won’t call you that anymore.” (Awkward silence).

………………. Yeah, things get weird. The rest of the session, I might be super on edge, nervous about what I did, worried about offending her again and walking on eggshells to avoid another problem. Alexandra is already checked out and knows deep inside she won’t come back to see me. Alexandra may feel a little bad too, for snapping at me. Again…. relationship is probably broken.

All three of these examples seemed to be nice people who cared about the other person, and you see how it hurt the relationships?! So speaking up for yourself is not only for toxic people, but for everyone.


Part of our therapy journey is understanding ourselves and why we do things. Figure out what we do that’s unhealthy and start developing healthier patterns. Understanding why we put up walls and how we, specifically, do them is part of that journey. What I have seen over the years is that we put up walls for a number of reasons, as a way to protect ourselves. Having parents/caregivers that modeled walls to us is a major reason why we do them. Maybe we had a parent that lashed out when they were angry (aggressive walls) or one that did not speak up and often gave the unhealthy submissive approach (passive). Another big reason is if we have experienced trauma in our lives, especially in childhood. We stay in a triggered state, being in fight-or-flight constantly which makes us quick to jump and get defensive, because we are quick to perceive things as threats. Here are some tips to help you slow down, and work on building healthier communication.


1.) Regularly do stress-relieving activities. Why is this related to walls, you say?! Well,

because if you stay in a state of stress, then you are quick to put these up. If say, you went for a run earlier before an argument, you tend to be calmer and respond better, versus quick and responsive. Examples would be walking your dog, running, yoga, reading, hobbies, etc.

2.) When feeling triggered by what someone says/does, take at LEAST one deep breath

before you say anything! This may seem simple, but it’s really powerful. What it does, is helps you think before you speak, and filter your words so it comes out nicer and more assertive.

3.) If you are that upset and one deep breath is not enough (for example, you already had a lot of triggers that day), walk away for 20-30 minutes. Even just 5-10 minutes can be helpful but get away to calm down and then come back to talk. But please…let the other person know you’ll be back versus just walking away and them thinking you’re leaving indefinitely.

Can you start seeing how walls work, with them putting distance with others, feelings getting hurt, and nothing helpful getting accomplished. Now, I’m NOT saying don’t speak up, but let’s speak up in a way where others hear us, and we are proud of how we handle situations…. with BOUNDARIES!

Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog (Subscribe to my blog, "Your Companion in Healing" (natashapati, to not miss on the next blogs related to this topic, so in turn, you will help build healthier and closer relationships with those you care about, as well as necessary boundaries for the toxic ones.

Until next time,



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