Friday, October 28, 2016

B is for...Boundaries

"We cannot simultaneously set a boundary and take care of another person's feelings."
~Melody Beattie, author 

Boundaries continue to confuse the hell out of us, don't they? If there's one thing on this site that seems to trip so many of us up, it's boundaries. (Though I'm not commenting so much, I still read your comments and you warrior women never fail to make me proud to be among you.) Boundaries seem selfish. They seem dictatorial. They seem unfair.
They're not. And Melody Beattie, best known for her books about co-dependency (that's another term that a lot of us instinctively recoil from), makes it clear when she says that boundaries are about self-care. Nothing more, nothing less. They are about keeping ourselves safe.
My daughter's friend was recently kicked out of her home. She's 18. She did nothing wrong, unless you count forgetting to make her bed now and again. It's the second time she's been kicked out – the first time she was put in foster care at 12 with her twin brother because they fought too much.
This girl's mother deserves my award for shittiest mother of the year, however, I'm conscious of the fact that we love others the best way we know how. I'm trying hard to practice compassion. I don't doubt that this mother loves her daughter. It's just that her love is toxic.
And so this girl has the monumental challenge of reconciling her love for her mother with her pain at being rejected.
That's where boundaries come in.
Somehow this girl needs to come to a place where she can acknowledge her love for her mom while still keeping herself emotionally safe. And she gets to decide what those boundaries look like. For instance, she might love her mother while at the same time deciding that she can't have her mother in her life right now. Or it might look like the occasional phone call. Who knows. But it's about this girl's self-care not her mother's feelings.
And that's your challenge too.
Your partner betrayed your trust. Setting boundaries isn't about penalizing him, it's about self-care. It's about deciding what you need to begin to feel safe in your marriage again. Maybe that looks like access to his phone and computer log. Maybe it looks like regular check-in calls. Maybe it includes his commitment to a 12-step program or weekly therapy. Maybe it's about physically separating.
Whatever it looks like, it's your decision. They're your boundaries. It's about your self-care, your safety, and your right to feel safe with the people you've allowed into your life.
It isn't about penalties, manipulation or selfishness.
He might not like it. He probably won't, especially if you've been someone who hasn't, historically, enforced (or even had) boundaries in the past. It can be hard for your partner to realize that things are going to be different.
But remember what Beattie says: you cannot set boundaries and worry about another's feelings at the same time.
It's not that his feelings don't matter. It's that they're not yours. His job is to take care of his feelings. Your job is to take care of yours.
A key part of boundary setting is letting go of the outcome. This isn't about controlling another, it's about ensuring your own safety. You might not like how the other person responds to your boundaries.
But that doesn't mean you should back down. It means that you're with someone who doesn't respect your boundaries, who prefers the old you who puts others feelings above your own.
Learning a new behaviour is tough, especially if you've been taught for years that self-care is selfish, that boundaries are manipulation.
But it gets easier with practice. And it's crucial to your emotional health, to your healing.
Safety. Self-respect. Self-care.


  1. Boundaries Rock!
    Learning how to do them with compassion for myself and for others has been revolutionary and life changing. I just listened to this Love Rice podcast (hosted by Eat My Scabs) about boundaries in all relationships, that was so right on and so, so helpful to me:

    One of the important things that my therapist has helped me with is that I sway on the side of overcaring of others so much so that i don't trust my boundaries. She encouraged me to have them even though I worry about "being wrong." Once I started to get over that fear that I might be wrong, I realized that as long as I remember to preserve my dignity, self worth, and maintain a reasonable level of self care, I can be better to those I love.


    1. MBS,
      It's funny, isn't it, that we can let that fear of being wrong about boundaries prevent us from setting them. As if other people are experts on what we need more than we are. I envy people who were raised with boundaries and, therefore, it's a language that they seem to speak. They say 'no' without offering a zillion excuses, they don't feel obliged to be friends with someone simply because that person wants to be friends with them. They don't worry that the world will stop spinning on its axis if they don't keep taking care of everyone and everything.
      I love the Love Rice podcasts. Scabs is awesome and has some great guests. Thanks for linking. I have it in my blogroll under Bloom.



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