Posts Tagged ‘boundaries’

boundaries

One of the easiest problematic themes to identify in our music is poor boundaries.

As my frequent readers are no doubt aware, I am a firm believer in boundaries.  These are the limits we set around ourselves in our relationships – they are what we will accept from others, what we will not accept, and the consequences for violations of these boundaries.

Often, those with poor boundaries grew up in a non-validating household, though not necessarily an abusive one.  Abuse, obviously, is a violation of personal boundaries; if you say no, and something happens anyway, you learn you have no power or control over your body, and that others do not respect your limits.  Correcting this misperception is often the primary function of therapy.  However, simple non-validation can also lead to poor boundary development – asking to use the restroom and being told “you can’t have to go, you just went,” or trying to ask for what you want, and being totally ignored, teaches us to mistrust our own wants, needs, and feelings.

Personal relationships often see the worst boundary violations.  The lines between ourselves and the significant other blur, creating an unhealthy and addictive relationship; those who have been enmeshed with a partner know how frightening this can feel, how emotions run unchecked, how powerless you can seem.

Unfortunately, examples of this issue are put forward as the ideal for romantic love almost constantly.  Listening to this song, I was reminded how we can’t depend on others for our entire well being, and how doing so is crazymaking.*  (really, Dido?  You can’t be until I’m here?  YIKES!)  Also, the Spice Girls have a great one which can be enjoyed for maximum nostalgia here.

However, as a change of pace, I’m going to put in a song with kick ass boundary setting, by Alanis Morissette from her first album (the first CD I ever owned, as it happens.)  Lyrics are here; I fully recommend reading along!  This is such a great example of setting boundaries between two people, I absolutely love it.  Enjoy!

 

*I am by no means saying those around us don’t affect us – they totally do!  But depending on other people to determine our emotions isn’t healthy, and deprives us of personal autonomy.  If I’m having a bad day just because you are, I’m also not going to be able to offer support and healthy feedback for you – it’s bad for everyone.

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When I teach classes, I often talk about boundaries, those gold plated ideals that make relationships healthy (or not).  Boundaries are really difficult to pin down, even for someone who’s been leading lectures and groups about boundaries for a bit over five years.  In short, they are your limits, what is and is not okay with you.

Boundaries are important to address for anyone, but particularly in cases of abuse and trauma.  Most survivors of childhood trauma (including, but not limited to, abuse) have no concept of their limits mattering.  

When they say “no”, it is not respected; their bodily autonomy, their pain, their mental and physical being, are of no consequence.  Living through this often means adults who are at the extreme ends of the boundary spectrum.  Either one rarely says “no” because they believe it is meaningless, and do not feel comfortable speaking up for their needs (think of a person who is uncomfortable with a full body hug, but does not pull away or ask others to stop, or someone who tells you their life story after just meeting you), or can be completely closed off, avoiding all physical and emotional contact with others, for fear of being taken advantage of.  These are when we have boundary issues.

All people desiring healthy, rewarding relationships need the ability to set limits with those around us (and know what our limits are).  However, just because boundaries are with others does NOT mean they get respected, and this is where things get a bit sticky.

I can assert my boundaries, but that doesn’t mean you’ll respect them.  You have control over you, and I have control over me.

As an example, one of my close friends is constantly calling other people “pussy” and “faggot.”  I find both of these words extremely offensive; not only do I have close LGBTQ friends, I am acutely aware of how language perpetuates prejudice and oppression (with often fatal consequences) and shows my friend’s incredible privilege as a cis, straight white male.

I have repeatedly asked him to not use the words; I have tried to open up discussions about how language is super powerful; I work to make him realize how stupidly offensive it is to use these words.  However hard I try, I cannot control what he does.

If I assert my boundaries, and they are not respected, I have a choice.  I can continue to assert boundaries, and I can leave.  Sometimes, the best assertion is a clear consequence and an I statement.  Put on your learning cap!

I feel ___________ when you ___________.  I would like it ____________.  If you continue ______________, I may have to leave the room/conversation.

I feel uncomfortable when you use the word faggot around me.  I would like it if you could try not to use those words around me.  If you keep using these words,  I may not be able to continue to be around you.

At that point, you can leave and come back, ensuring you follow through on your consequence.  And it’s worth looking at – why would you keep spending time with someone who doesn’t respect your limits, or the basic humanity of human beings?

At the end of the day, you cannot love others using the language of murder, torture, oppression and hate.

Recovery is a tricky thing.  Not just because there’s triggers everywhere you look, but because it’s a personal journey, and often a bit different for everyone.  How much should you say to a stranger?  How do you explain why you’re drinking club soda, or why you don’t keep candy in the house, or why you had to move out of your childhood neighborhood?

this is how we cut ourselves down so other women will feel comfortable around us.

This is a question I’ve been struggling with (so bear with me, this article may have fewer references than usual).  One of my big triggers is having people discuss weight loss efforts, so you can imagine my day to day life is triggers galore.  I read an article about body hatred as a bonding technique for women , but we can all testify to the truth of it without even reading the supporting literature. The literature that’s even in Glamour  – it’s so SHOCKING that women have poor body image, isn’t it?! It’s ubiquitous for women to share their hated body parts (“god, my ass is so big!”), weight gain (“I swear I gained 5 pounds just looking at that cake!”), weight loss efforts (“I shouldn’t eat that cookie”), sage family advice (“once on your lips, forever on your hips”) and so on.  This talk is everywhere in every kind of situation, and can serve as filler for silences or in new, uncomfortable situations.

While this discussion is old, my concern is where those in recovery should draw the line between speaking up and letting conversation pass.  I don’t suffer from anorexia, but I would assume listening to thin women (or women of any size) complain about their shape would be difficult to deal with.  It’s difficult for me to deal with!  The question is, do I ask other people not to talk about those things around me?  Or do I just refrain from engaging in that conversation?

It’s different with close friends, who, at least in my case, know that I’m dealing with food issues and for the most part respect my desire not to talk about weight loss.  It’s different with coworkers, or people in the gym, or clients.  With client’s its easier, because there it’s a clear distinction between therapist and consumer.  Do I tell my supervisor not to discuss her daily eating plan because it makes me want to binge?  Do I share with the woman who uses the locker next to mine that when she tries to get me to buy her diet products, it is uncomfortable because I’m aiming for recovery?

how much hate can you stand?

We tell alcoholics and addicts to avoid liquor stores and “wet places.”  To be assertive in their recovery.  At the end of the day, however, I believe most of recovery is dealing with your own stuff.  It’s not anyone’s responsibility not to talk about diets but mine; my responsibility is to increase awareness and manage my reaction to these triggers, because in no reality are triggers always avoidable.  Sometimes, though, that boundary is hard to maintain.