I suppose I’ve always struggled with setting boundaries and holding to boundaries I did set. For the majority of my life I wasn’t even aware of whether I had boundaries, was setting boundaries, or how necessary boundaries were.
I suppose I should start with a definition of the type of boundaries I am talking about:
Personal boundaries are the physical, emotional and mental limits we establish to protect ourselves from being manipulated, used, or violated by others. They allow us to separate who we are, and what we think and feel, from the thoughts and feelings of others.
I would add to this that boundaries aren’t just to protect us from others, but also to protect us from ourselves. In my life I have struggled with setting and holding boundaries with others and with myself.
Due to my previous inability to set and hold boundaries I have managed to put myself in some pretty unhealthy situations. When I was a teenager and into drinking and smoking pot, one of our hangout spots were apartments referred to as “the rat hole”, and it lived up to it’s name. There were some pretty strung out people that lived there. Did I care at the time? Many of the places I went to back then gave me an uneasy feeling, but I just ignored the uneasy feeling and went about my drinking and pot smoking. Not very good boundary setting, and I ignored my inner boundary (gut feeling) that was often saying “um Dani, I don’t think this is such a good idea, maybe we should just go home…?” Oh the trouble I could’ve saved myself had I just gone home. I got into a lot of trouble as a teenager (click to read a little about my teen years) in large part because I lacked boundaries, other than my gut instinct (which I ignored) I didn’t have an awareness of boundaries or that I needed to set them. After getting in trouble as many times as I did as a teen, I set what I will refer to as my first boundary! I was tired of the path I was on, I was going nowhere fast. I was dangerously close to being 18 yrs old and knew if I stayed the course I would end up in jail with a record that would follow me for years to come. It was time to make a change. And so I did. I’ve not been in trouble with the law since I made the decision to change the way I was living my life back then.
But as an adult I found other ways to break boundaries I should’ve set, but didn’t…so I guess I didn’t break them if I never had them (this is not a good thing either, boundaries are necessary). I had an emotionally abusive girlfriend. She was a train wreck, but I didn’t want to be alone and single so I stayed with her. After 10 months, I met the person who I would be with for the following 10 years. The train wreck became even more of a train wreck after that. She manipulated a friend of mine into calling me to tell me that she had been in a car accident (drinking and driving, she had a drinking problem) and died. No worries, the accident never happened. She just wanted to hurt me as much as I hurt her when I broke up with her. Then I got into a relationship that probably should’ve ended years before it did. I believe we just became very codependent on each other. After 10 years of being together, I ended it. My life has changed in so many ways since then (Click to read a little about my last 6 years).
You would’ve thought that 6 years ago I would’ve started being more aware of the do’s and don’t’s (boundaries) in my life, but nope, not yet. I fell madly deeply in love and formed a very unhealthy relationship with someone, it lasted roughly 3 years. It ended in massive heartbreak for both of us. Now we don’t see or talk to each other. We were becoming more and more toxic to each other everyday, we needed time apart, time to heal, and so we are. I hope one day we will be able to be friends. In the end, I managed to set a healthy boundary with this person. In part, I owe that to the support and encouragement of my therapist.
Speaking of my therapist, she would without a doubt attest to my inability to set and hold boundaries for others and especially for myself. She would also agree that it often times takes me much longer to see in myself what she sees in me. In some ways, probably more than I’m aware of, that connects to boundaries. She has been more than great, understanding, and patient with me (very very patient with me). I couldn’t appreciate what she has done for me more than I do. I’m slowly learning to set and hold boundaries. I have much more self-awareness. I have a calmness in me that never existed before. And as hard as it can be sometimes, I’m learning to look at myself and to identify my short comings, my faults, my weaknesses; I’m also learning to like and love myself, to see my heart and feel how much love I have inside me, I’m able to see the kind of person I want to be, and I’ve realized that in many ways I can be that person right now. These are also things I credit my therapist for. Without her, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Of all of the ways I have either not set boundaries or I’ve broken them, the most eye opening one was with alcohol. I started drinking at the age of 12, and carried on with it throughout my teen years as well as my adult years. I’m not a stranger to alcohol problems and alcoholism, I’ve seen plenty of it. At no point in my life did I feel I had a drinking problem, until I realized it. I didn’t drink daily, I didn’t even drink every weekend. Sometimes I would go months between drinking. There was no way I could’ve had an alcohol problem, right? Wrong! When I drank, I had no off switch. I would blackout. I couldn’t remember most of what took place while I was drinking. And for some reason I found humor in it.
My therapist asked me if I felt I had a problem, I adamantly said “NO!” We had this conversation more than once. By this point we had already discovered that my ability to set and hold boundaries was limited at best and we were working on it. I would set a limit/boundary as to how much I would allow myself to drink when I went out. I could hold that boundary because I don’t have a drinking problem, or so I thought. At that time my coworkers and I had a habit of going out for happy hour after work almost weekly, but no less than biweekly. I first set my limit to 3 beers. If I was going to drive I could only drink 3 beers. If I didn’t have to drive then 6 beers was my limit. There was no need to drink more than that. Well, the first time I set that boundary I completely destroyed it. There was no signs that a boundary was ever even set. And I made a pretty terrible decision that night; one I would never had made sober.
Well, it was a party, it just got away from me. In a normal setting I wouldn’t have any problems holding to this 3 limit beer boundary. After setting this boundary and obliterating it well over a dozen times, it occurred to me that my therapist might be onto something with this drinking problem stuff. The last time I got drunk, I had driven home, like I had so many times before that. I know, you don’t have to tell me how stupid and selfish that is, I’m very aware. I was lucky enough to have avoided hurting anyone. When I woke up the next day it hit me, and it hit me hard. I had to stop doing this. Sooner or later my luck was going to run out and I was going hurt someone or even worse, I was going to kill someone. That is something I couldn’t bear the thought of. I would never be able to live with myself if that happened. People would say, “you’re lucky you didn’t get a DWI!”, and I would respond with “If I did I would’ve deserved it, I made the irresponsible decision to drive in that condition. Had I killed someone, would they have deserved it because I made the irresponsible decision to drive in that condition?” So, I don’t really drink anymore. The last time I drank I didn’t get drunk, I paced myself and I am very proud of that. However, initially I wasn’t going to drink at all, then I changed it to just 1, then it became 1 or 2, I ended up having 6 over the span of 5 hours. Then I stayed at the bar for another 3 hours after I quit drinking. I set a boundary for that night and I broke it. I was still responsible and didn’t get drunk, but I broke another boundary around drinking. So, I had to admit I had a problem. I didn’t go to treatment, I’m not in any program, but I don’t drink. I say “I don’t really drink anymore” because it leaves room to have a glass of wine in the evening at home (that I can control).
So, I will leave you with this. Boundaries are essential. We cannot and should not live without them. We need to love and respect ourselves enough to set them and hold them. They keep us and others safe. If you struggle with boundaries like I have then please reach out to someone who can help you to set and hold to the boundaries you set. We are all worthy of self-love, self-care, love and care from others, self-respect and respect from others. Setting boundaries is the key to these things, and it is the key to healthy relationships (all types of relationships: family, romantic, friendship).
Click on the link I provided above to learn more about personal boundaries.
With Loving-kindness ♥