…… to set BOUNDARIES sometimes? Simply stated, ‘Boundaries’ are the way we let others (and ourselves) know what behavior will be tolerated, and what behavior won’t be allowed from the people in our lives. Boundaries must be clear, are best when simply stated, do not need to be over-explained (although a bit of quality communication may be appropriate), and ultimately are for our peace of mind, safety, and security. They are simply where we choose to draw the line in the sand.
Stating this in another way, boundaries let others know what is and what is NOT acceptable to us. Everyone should have boundaries. Codependents typically don’t have them, although they may say they do. They may be absent altogether, or weak. This may be due to the fear of alienating others, fear of angering others, fear of LOSING people, and because boundaries fall outside of the normal acceptable ‘way of life’ of putting everyone first, second, third, and so forth. Personality disordered (PD) individuals don’t have them, and why should they? In their minds all too often, or even permanently, others exist for their benefit only; no need for boundaries when all you do is take, take, take. They may SAY they have boundaries, but over time you will find their actions in no way resemble their words. Do you know someone in your life who talks one way, but their behavior is altogether different? Yep. Me too. Or rather, I did. PD individuals are notorious for saying all the right things, but having no follow through, or extremely delayed or partial follow through.
Further, creating boundaries serves to let others KNOW what is and is NOT acceptable to and for YOU. The stronger the boundary, the faster you will learn who is on your side for YOUR health and happiness, and who is only ‘there’ or ‘with you’ for their OWN benefit. Those that cannot handle safe, healthy, and secure boundaries are people you may need to consider the depth of their involvement in your life. Boundaries create SAFETY and security, for ourselves and others. Boundaries let others know to not ‘go there’ with certain things, topics, or behaviors. Respecting boundaries is FOREIGN to a PD individual. CREATING and ENFORCING boundaries is foreign to the codependent.
Codependents are likely to feel an enormous amount of fear in the creation and enforcement of boundaries. A codependent may have been taught in early childhood they were to ‘obey’ their parents without the right to speak up about their feelings, or else punishment would be placed upon them; it is common that adult codependents find their roots of people-pleasing behavior come from neglectful and/or abusive family dynamics. Children of addicts / alcoholics often struggle mightily with boundaries as it is common the child assume the role of caretaker in the home when addiction rules the roost. Often, children don’t have a voice in the home, are held to expectations and placed in situations that are unhealthy and dysfunctional, and grow up to repeat these patterns into adulthood. It may be that in the home, the children were not a priority. Knowing this, children often go ‘above and beyond’ what they should as children to earn parental love, or adopt so much guilt and fear at feeling they aren’t ‘worthy, or good enough’ for love from the parental figures. This is really tough everyone; children not feeling unconditional love in the home may grow up with a slew of unhealthy self-perceptions that carry through to adulthood in dysfunctional relationship dynamics, stemming from just those faulty self-perceptions of not being ‘lovable’.
Good news! These patterns can change for the codependent, and boundary setting CAN be a learned SKILL.
Often, people (both men and women) may carry a great amount of guilt for feeling their needs and wants MATTER. We often may choose just to stay quiet, to not rock the boat, never taking the chance to speak up and let our own needs be known. Perhaps the codependent never learned that safe relationships have a measure of equality on BOTH sides, or were raised in a toxic environment where one person held the power at the expense of all other family members. Remember, codependents don’t want to upset anyone, don’t want to make waves, and simply want harmony and for everyone to get along. This is great – there is nothing wrong with wanting and working toward harmony – EXCEPT – when the codependent is willing to forgo their very needs, wants, and desires! There cannot be harmony in all things, all the time. There must be give and take, reciprocity, and meeting in the middle in any relationship. Everyone should be allowed to have a ‘say’ in adulthood; there should not be one person who holds the power over another.
On the flip side, an individual with a Personality Disorder (PD) has no interest in boundaries; it pays to remember in the mind of a toxic person, he or she truly believes the world and everyone in it OWES them compliance in all things, and we are to SERVE their needs only. A toxic person, an individual with a personality disorder has LITTLE TO NO ability to understand and perceive boundaries as being HEALTHY; boundaries do NOT serve a toxic person. Remember, from the perspective of someone with a personality disorder, everyone else is the problem, everyone else OWES them, and ‘how dare you NOT comply with my demands!” While this is very hard for an emotionally healthy person to understand, the problem arises for codependents because of conditioning, fear, repeating faulty relationship dynamics learned in childhood, and lack of skill in this area. The narcissist or Cluster B individual (‘Cluster B’ is a psychiatric grouping of specific personality disorders) wants to OWN the other person and truly feels the other has no RIGHT to boundaries. This is why the ‘relationship dance’ between a personality disordered (PD) individual and a codependent is so powerful; the PD individual doesn’t believe you have the RIGHT to set boundaries, and the codependent is fearful of upsetting anyone, thereby not creating necessary boundaries, those lines in the sand. A codependent likely feels enough guilt, is working to build and maintain harmony and smooth sailing to the point of acquiescing to the toxic person completely, losing their very sense of self eventually. This is the very slippery slope, the DANCE if you will, between a toxic, personality disordered individual and the codependent; both sides of this relationship dynamic are rooted deeply in FEAR, actually fear of abandonment, although the reasons and underlying motivations are not the same.
Let’s take a look at some strategies for setting solid and FIRM personal boundaries:
- Listen to your gut. Your gut knows and will TELL YOU when something falls outside of what is good for you. Codependents are entrenched at squashing this very important internal voice; remember, we don’t want to upset anyone. What we find however, is that when we listen to our gut, we are able to avoid harmful situations before that harm can come to be. How often have you put aside your gut instinct for the sake of the relationship, even a friendship? I know I did. I knew within TWO WEEKS (yes, two weeks) that my relationship was toxic; but man oh man, did I want the dream that was presented to me. I put aside my own gut instincts telling me get out, and run far, far away.
- Understand YOU HAVE RIGHTS, and no one, and I mean NO ONE, gets to tell you that you don’t. You. Have. Rights. A PD individual will trample those rights and tamp them down until they are barely recognizable. Don’t let that happen. You have the right to speak your opinion, feelings, and thoughts. Now, this is not to say that you might want to explain a bit about how you feel, as in any quality, healthy relationship, it truly does help to understand where another person is coming from. In a healthy relationship, you will feel EMPOWERED by being able to explain yourself without FEAR. If you are hesitant to explain yourself, there is a reason for that and may stem out of prior interactions with someone who PUNISHED you in some way for your explanations, or perhaps just wanted to have power and control over you. There are those that don’t think you NEED to explain yourself, but in my view, quality relationships (even friendships) are about give and take; explaining WHY you feel a certain way is healthy and helpful, even if the other person has a different view. Here’s the kicker; if YOU start feeling defensive immediately, retract or lash out at someone asking to explain how you feel, you may actually be part of why the conversation is not going well. There is nothing wrong with explaining yourself a bit. You don’t need to go on and on, nor do you need to try to CONVINCE anyone else to feel the same way you do. On the other hand, what a beautiful thing it is for someone to say “Oh, I get it now. I can see how you feel that way.” This quality discourse strengthens relationships, and cannot happen with defensive posturing. ANYONE with immediate defensive posturing has something going on there; be wary. If it is you that feels that way, do some work to figure out why.
- Keep boundaries simple. State them clearly, such as, “I am not comfortable doing that”, or “That doesn’t work for me”, or even, “When you do such and such, it makes me feel nervous (unsettled, violated, etc.), and that is unhealthy for me”. Remember, PD individuals will balk at this, and may even tell you that you are overreacting, too sensitive, or any number of other things to plant those seeds of doubt and insecurity. A PD individual will also fall into that defensive posturing here; don’t fall for it! Don’t fall for that nonsense. Setting a boundary is a great way (although sometimes alarming and hurtful) to find out the other person’s emotional and mental health; healthy people will respect your boundaries, particularly with a bit of quality communication even if they don’t agree with them. Agreeing and understanding are two very different things here; understanding is important, however it is not necessary for total agreement as long as the respect of the boundary remains. Again, a bit of healthy communication can help BOTH people understand and feel comfortable with the boundary.
- There must be consequences for when someone does not honor your boundary. This is a tough one for people-pleasers who truly don’t want to upset anyone. However, a violated boundary without consequences is ineffective, and shows the other person they CAN do such and such, or say such and such without follow through on your part. Only you can decide what the consequences will be, but they must EXIST and follow through must occur. Perhaps the boundary is around a certain topic that you do not want to discuss, but you have a friend who continually brings up that very same topic. This friend is NOT respecting your boundary. Follow through may look like seeing the friend in a group rather than alone, so that you are able to diffuse the opportunity of targeted conversation around this topic. You also should question why this person continues to bring up this subject; there is a boundary violation here that needs to be looked at. Perhaps you have someone in your life who consistently shows outward behavior that is not healthy for you – and over time, you learned that even though initially you thought a relationship / friendship could be a wonderful addition to your life, you have learned this is just not the case. This is okay. We all have the right to live how we choose; we also have the right to eliminate harmful people from our lives. Let the truth of who they are show you the way; stand firm in YOUR boundaries about what is not acceptable in your life, even in a friend. Strong boundaries may actually alleviate your life of people who are just not a good match, in romantic relationships and friendships. When someone’s personal values and boundaries are lax, and in no way ‘measure up’ to how you live your life, you may need to eliminate them for your own emotional and mental health.
- Boundaries are for YOU. Yes, there is give-and-take in relationships that is perfectly acceptable and create quality interactions, build trust, and form the solid basis for continuing growth of the relationship. Boundaries however, are for YOU, and you have a right to them. Be clear. Be firm. Be solid.
- Accept there is risk with setting a boundary, but do it anyway. Yes, there is risk at upsetting someone, ruffling their feathers so to speak – so be it. You are not living your life for them (or shouldn’t be), you are living your life for YOU. It is perfectly okay to have ruffled feathers and still maintain a quality relationship. In fact, over time, you may realize and enjoy a strengthening of the relationship as the emotions over the boundary settle, a deeper respect level is obtained, and further trust has been built because of the honoring of the boundary. You’ll know it when it happens, and it is one of the greatest feelings in a relationship I think! 🙂
- Write them down. There is nothing wrong with writing some thoughts about what you will tolerate, what won’t work, and where you need to stand firm. Alcohol consumption is a boundary for me. I will not tolerate nor do I want in my life anyone who consumes alcohol regularly, to excess. Listing boundaries on paper helps with clarity, and don’t be surprised if you discover a few things about yourself and others as you go through this process.
So, there you have it. Thoughts, feelings, considerations, and background on Boundaries. Boundaries are a blueprint for our lives; what works, what doesn’t, what we want and need more of, and what we just won’t HAVE in our lives. You have the right to decide these things!! Where do you draw YOUR line in the sand? Best, L.A.