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Managing Boundaries

Eagle Ray
Valued Contributor
Valued Contributor

Throughout my life I have had great difficulties with boundaries. I have often allowed others to transgress my boundaries because I felt like I had no choice. This pattern comes from childhood where I was taught to focus on the needs of others but not myself. The consequences of not anticipating and meeting other’s needs in childhood were quite severe and often involved rage being directed at me. Hence I’ve been very sensitised to others’ needs in a kind of compulsive, unconscious way. Countless times others who’ve wanted someone to meet their needs have sensed this about me and quickly attached to me but they have often then become unhealthy co-dependent situations and I’ve felt trapped.

 

I am now in a transition phase where I am learning to unlearn this pattern. But my goodness it’s hard. With people who were being particularly exploitive with me it has been easier to leave those situations. But with others I can see their vulnerability and continue to have empathy for them. They’ve often had some kind of trauma themselves and have developed a particular attachment style. Just as I’ve developed the role of the carer/support person for others, they have developed a kind of dependency role. It’s partly because I have empathy for them that I can still struggle to set boundaries with them. I don’t necessarily want to walk away from the person and I care about them but I can find it hard getting the interpersonal boundary right.

 

I am gradually learning the following:

  • how to see myself and start to consider my own needs.
  • not feeling guilty for setting a boundary.
  • listening to my body which never lies and will feel uneasy if something is unhealthy about the way someone else is attaching to me. I used to ignore this feeling by convincing myself that everything will be fine only to end up in bad situations.
  • feeling a higher level of assertiveness.
  • observing how the other person reacts when I do express a need around boundaries as this is often an important indicator of whether they can genuinely see me and respect my boundary needs or whether the relationship is one-sided.

I am interested to know how others may have learned to establish boundaries. I realise for some people it is second nature to take care of their own needs and boundaries while for others it’s very difficult. I just thought this might be a good topic for the Staying Well section as for me my ability to stay well has been impaired by my inability to protect my boundaries in the past.

 

Have you had similar boundary issues and have you found ways to manage your boundaries in healthier ways? Or you may have a different set of boundary issues and dynamics to me so feel free to discuss what is relevant for you.

43 Replies 43

mmMekitty
Valued Contributor
Valued Contributor

Hello ER,

 

This is a topic I've had to face, too.

Growing up, I was denied the right to choose, everything from what I ate, wore, what subjects I had at school, when I needed time alone, to when people put their hand on me. It seems, I never had a choice, & when I managed to think, I ought to have choices, & tried to say what I wanted, or maybe even took action, it was very rare that I was taken seriously.

 

Being put down very frequently by my (ex-)step-mother & my father not stepping in to protect me, didn't help. His own attitudes about how he could treat us kids, also, didn't help.

I had no messages telling me I was worth defending or worth listening to. I learned to keep quiet to keep safe, (so I thought at the time).

 

Speaking up, speaking my mind, having an opinion & voicing it are things I'm still learning.

 

Seeing when someone is trying to take advantage of me & saying, "no, this is unacceptable', & stopping it, is also something I'm learning.

 

I also tend to feel I have to justify myself, have to explain, have to have such a strong reason for what I want no-one could disagree, because if there is any slight suggestion that I am not reasonable in what I need then I can expect my needs to be denied, my request, rejected.

 

I feel: rejected & abandoned, asking 'too much', & more than the little I deserve. & I'm supposed to be oh-so-grateful for every little thing.

& yeah, I have tried to keep a spacial boundary around me. & when someone transgresses, I still have a very difficult time telling them.

 

Hugzies

mmMekitty

mmMekitty
Valued Contributor
Valued Contributor

Hi again, ER,

 

Another boundary I am aware of is recognising what I am not responsible for.

 

I'm learning, I am not responsible for how someone else feels in response to how I feel, what I have said or done, or why or how they respond. Their thoughts, feelings & responses are their own responsibility, as are mine, my own responsibility.

 

Since I can't stop someone feeling, thinking or doing whatever they choose, what can I do? What am I responsible for?

 

My PDr has steered me towards thinking about what is in my own best interest.

 

so, protecting myself, keeping myself safe - top of the list.

 

Doing what I can to be as healthy as I can, too, is my responsibility.

What is most difficult is learning when I have to adjust my boundaries, & how to do do that. It can mean difficult conversations, or, as I need more support, allowing more people into my space, & having to judge if I can trust them or letting people know I am not comfortable with one or another.

 

I've had to set boundaries for BB as well, knowing how emotionally involved I can get & how this can make me feel attached, inadequate & overwhelmed.

 

There are also physical boundaries I have had to accept, too. There's no denying, I'm getting older, my sight is worse as each month goes by, my hearing is failing, I'm still not very fit, even, so what I can do physically, is limited. I've still got a chance to push the physical fitness boundary, so long as I also am mindful of when I may be doing 'too much'. I want so much - can I at least have this?

 

Over time, I'm recognising more & more, patterns, as you say, & trying to be ever mindful for the times I will need to practice my assertiveness.

 

I support you in your transition, all the way! 

 

Hugzies

mmMekitty

 

Eagle Ray
Valued Contributor
Valued Contributor

Dear MK,

 

Thank you for sharing your experiences. What you describe growing up is like the experience of being invisible which is how I felt. I can see how hard it had made it for you to speak up for your needs and that fear of not being taken seriously. Sometimes it feels easier to withdraw and not assert oneself in the world doesn’t it. But it sounds like you are aware and making some progress at speaking up more. I totally understand as I have been kind of invisible to myself my whole life. It didn’t even occur to me to speak up for myself for a very long time. I have been dedicated to responding to the needs of others while oblivious to the fact I’m a human being with needs too.

 

I think these things start to improve with corrective experiences with good people who do respect our boundaries and are kind. I’m just thinking now of when you mentioned your support worker inviting you to her home for a swim and having nice time with her family. There are those lovely people out there who do see us and that we are people with needs too. It can take a bit to learn to trust can’t it. I try so hard never to be a bother to anyone, never asking for help etc. Even recently when I had Covid I organised a Woolworths delivery rather than phoning or texting a neighbour to pick things up from the local supermarket for me. It’s like I make myself as small as possible but will go to great lengths to help and support someone else.

 

I can feel a bit of a shift though and I know you have made progress too MK. We can value ourselves as important too! You are definitely a valuable and valued contributor here.

 

Hugzies to you,

ER

Eagle Ray
Valued Contributor
Valued Contributor

Hello again MK,

 

I’m just seeing your second post. I totally agree, it’s so important to recognise what we are not responsible for. This has been massive for me learning this. But I am starting to protect myself more and stop thinking other people’s happiness and well being is in any way my responsibility.

 

The same as you I am also learning how what others think and feel is never my responsibility, just as how I think and feel is fully my responsibility. My mother taught me to be very enmeshed with her needs so from very early childhood I was trained that I am responsible for her happiness and well being. It is incredible how much I have repeated that pattern with people over the years. I was only thinking today about how people who have attached themselves to me are all like different facets of my mother. She was very multifaceted often in very contradictory ways too which was extremely confusing.

 

I support you too all the way MK! I can hear the challenges you are dealing with around physical boundaries. I think there is a balance in there somewhere between pushing ourselves to be healthy but not being too hard on ourselves. Perhaps pushing is not the right word. Maybe I should say encouraging ourselves. I think that is the other thing, the way we were brought up taught us to be hard on ourselves so I feel like that is another pattern to unravel. That made me just think of a kitten unravelling a ball of wool. Perhaps we can imagine that MK!

 

Good to chat with you MK.

Hugs,

ER

Hello! This is a great thread and one I wish I knew more about, because I really struggle with boundaries. I feel a bit like I don’t have an identity, I don’t know what I want. And constantly worrying about other people and being hyper responsible, taking on everything even sometimes if they don’t know it. It’s so draining and gives me so much anxiety, and it’s something that people have taken advantage of especially when I was younger and dating.

Fiatlux
Community Member

Hi ER,

 

This topic has me thinking about the past and how it has led to the present.

 

The saying that, “when you have friends like that, you don’t need enemies” and “you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family” is all about those who do not respect your boundaries. 

I had a discussion with someone a few years back about loosing a few friends when you turn a corner and start setting boundaries for yourself as well. A friend was desperate to kick an addiction and get healthy. He thought that he would loose a few drinking buddies but he did gain a few more when he achieved sobriety. I was one of those friends who encouraged and supported his transition and we became closer. I was chuffed when he thanked me for helping him through this without being critical if he fell off the wagon occasionally and helped pick him up to start the road to sobriety again. This person never crossed my boundaries however. I think this was the first friend to whom I had offered unconditional love because they were deserving. 

Unconditional love for my children was a given and this made a massive difference to their lives. I didn’t get that from my own parents and it baffles me as to why? Why were they incapable of love. It’s the absolute basic need to raise your children. Unconditional love starts from their conception.

 

I would also say that I have lost contact with friends and family as I set boundaries but on the other hand, I lost contact with some people as they also set boundaries and refused to have my husband in their lives, so I too was excluded from their lives. A friend did say to me that while I am in this marriage to my husband they couldn’t have me in their lives either. My husband constantly over stepping their boundaries so I too was exiled. Anyway none of these people are a great loss after all. 

At times it’s hard knowing that people liked you but cut you off because of who you associate with. 

I think at this time in my life I have erected walls around me as my boundaries were not being respected. 

That’s just what has come to mind this evening. Peace and Love to you 🙏🏼

Eagle Ray
Valued Contributor
Valued Contributor

Dear GreenEgg,

 

The feeling of kind of not having an identity is something I can relate to. Having said that, I have things I love doing such as photography and in the past it was playing music, so I have had a sort of identity connected to those creative interests. But in other ways I didn't really have much of an ego self and barely recognised my own personhood. But I think we are supposed to have a healthy ego, a sense of "I" and "me" to a decent extent in order to meet our own needs and survive well in the world. I think our instincts to have this healthy ego can be really impaired in childhood if this part of us wasn't supported. What I am learning is I now have to do this for myself, basically care for myself in the ways I didn't receive as a child.

 

I relate too to what you say about feeling hyper-responsible for others. I am gradually learning to separate from this now and I've found that, although it can be kind of anxiety-inducing at first, it is much better when you do it.  I've found I have more time and energy for myself. It also means people with strong dependency behaviours don't start clinging tightly to me because I'm not coming across as having an endless source of supply for their needs. I still find it hard not to feel hyper-responsible so I am finding this is incremental change but the more I practise it the easier it gets. I don't know what it was like for you as child, but I know for me it felt like my very survival was based on anticipating my mother's needs and ensuring she was ok all the time. I think that's why there can be such a strong drive that continues into adulthood with this hyper-responsibility. It can feel like a survival imperative.

 

I hope you can start to feel that support for the inner part of you that needs boundaries. I've found it is like developing a wise inner parent that knows what to do in situations and how to act in my own best interests. I wonder if it would help to try writing down some things that you want, where if you think about it you realise there is a "you" who has preferences, interests, needs etc. With friends in the past I would always accommodate to what they wanted, such as which movie to see, cafe to go to etc. I didn't really have a sense of how to figure out and express what I may like to do. Is that kind of how you have felt?

 

Best wishes,

ER

Eagle Ray
Valued Contributor
Valued Contributor

Dear Fiatlux,

 

Yes, I think the past does shape how we are in the present, especially those things we experience in childhood. I'm thinking not getting that unconditional love is what can make us feel there are always conditions in relationships we think we have to fulfil. Like to earn approval and acceptance we have to perform to the others' expectations rather than just being loved for who we are. I think a really valuable thing to learn is that we are enough as we are. We don't have to feel and be responsible for others in order to be enough and deserving of love.

 

It is very true that we can start to lose people from our lives when we set boundaries. In some cases it is a good thing with people who were really not good for us and who cannot come to respect our boundaries. For me what I'm struggling with now are the grey areas with individuals who I do really care about but are also very challenging for me to deal with. They have transgressed boundaries with me because of trauma they are carrying in many cases so I get why they have their particular pattern of behaviour. Where trauma for me meant keeping myself invisible and shying away from relationships, in their case trauma has led to patterns of intense attachment. I'm still learning how to handle several situations like this and I think very slowly I'm doing it better.

 

I enjoyed hearing about your friend you were able to support who overcame his addiction and was grateful for your support. Isn't it a good feeling to have a friend like that who we know is always respecting our boundaries. I think whenever we experience a healthy connection with another person, it can become a model of what healthy looks like and it becomes easier to identify others who are also people who respect boundaries.

 

I understand you erecting walls around you at present. I think it is a natural self-protection response and makes much sense in certain situations. When I moved to the town I live in now I had been through so much. I thought I would become part of the community and had hoped to do so reasonably quickly. But I was so extremely shutdown after stress, trauma and boundary transgressions that had occurred in the preceding years. The only way I felt I could survive was by being reclusive to a considerable extent and I'm still somewhat in the place now. But it is like I have needed quiet recovery time and to not allow other people in beyond a certain minimum of contact while I've still felt so vulnerable. I think I will start to move out of this at some point, but it is just what I've needed to do. So I get what you are saying about that self-protection.

 

Sorry, I just wrote a lot! I'mr reflecting a lot on this topic at the moment.

 

Peace and kindness to you too Fiatlux,

ER

Hey ER,

 

I do enjoy reading your posts and find them interesting. Don’t ever apologise about writing a lot! 🙏🏼