For all of you that have Borderline Personality Disorder raise your hand if you can easily identify and communicate your personal boundaries. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Until I started therapy I had no real sense of my personal boundaries. I’ve said it before here and I’ve said it before in therapy. When I told Therapist I didn’t feel like I really had boundaries she just looked confounded. Like, how could I not have a clear sense of what is and is not okay for me?
I think part of my lack of understanding of my own boundaries comes from the lack of validation I had of my own emotions growing up. Expressing how I was feelings was rarely okay so it follows that expressing what isn’t okay isn’t necessarily acceptable either.
Not to mention that when you have a history of abuse, instead of learning to say “no”, you learn to deal with it. So as long as whatever it is isn’t killing you, then it could be worse, right? Just because that may be true doesn’t make it right. However when that’s what you know, you don’t have an internalized sense of what is right and what is wrong in terms of your own well-being.
“Children are naturally innocent, inexperienced, naïve and believe that their caregiver can do no wrong. But in fact, caregivers often attack or abuse children for having the normal traits of imperfection, dependency and immaturity. As a result, the children lose their own sense of value (since they can't see that the fault might lie with the caregivers). Also the fact that abuse is occurring means the parents aren't demonstrating boundaries, so the children don't develop their own boundary systems properly. (This applies to adults in abusive relationships as well).”
Then there’s our friend Abandonment Issues. When you’re in a state of utterly frantic panic to not be rejected and abandoned, that fear is the greater evil. That’s the fear that wins out. Allowing whatever we feel is necessary to not experience that perceived loss (whether real or imagined) is better than Abandonment. The One, Evil-Ex, Friend… I let them get away with treating me in ways that cognitively I knew were incredibly disrespectful, but even that was better than losing them completely.
“The Borderline is in a very painful world of his or her own. Emotionally, it is a world that exists in parallel to the world of the "averagely healthy". Despite a usually above average intelligence and an often charming initial presentation most borderlines are emotionally vastly different from how they are intellectually. The discrepancy between a borderline's general ability to think and his/her emotional capacity is often an internal schism between self-known and self-unknown that is wider than the grand canyon. It is world that is run by terror and fear and often by the triggered-dissociations from the past of the borderline.”
This doesn’t go away. Even if the loved one in our life isn’t the kind of person that would actually make us feel bad for needing personal boundaries by this point 1. We may not have a concept of personal boundaries because they’ve never been respected and constantly violated, and 2. The trauma of experience and our disposition is already deeply ingrained.
It’s hard to understand the boundaries of others, when we’ve never really developed boundaries of our own. It’s like trying to deeply feel the significance of a Japanese Tea Ceremony that lasts for hours when you grew up above a Starbucks. The intellectual recognition of what it is, is there. It’s a curiosity. But it’s also a culture shock to be asked to join in when you take your double shot of espresso with a shot of vanilla syrup in a race to catch a cab. You won’t have internalized the significance if you haven’t lived that way.
So the interpretation of it, from an outsider’s perspective, can be kind of scary. Very scary if we’re having a really bad day. From the outside looking in Boundaries are just like what they seem: A demarcation of where you are and where I am and a fence erected between. It’s a big Stop sign on the road to grandma’s house where you’ve been looking forward to a huge holiday dinner all month. It doesn’t appear to be the natural interaction that it is.
When grandma says take your shoes off before you come in, it feels like: Why? I like my shoes? Are my shoes not good enough? Not fancy enough? Am I not good enough? Well if my shoes aren’t good enough to come into your precious house I must not be good enough to come into your house either.
It’s okay to laugh. Now think of it in terms of, what do you mean I can’t call you when I’m really hurting? Who cares if it’s 3:30 in the morning and you have a major presentation first thing in the morning. What I’m experiencing RIGHT NOW feels like my insides are boiling and melting through the floor. I need THIS THING, RIGHT NOW, OR THE WORLD IS NEVER GOING TO BE RIGHT AGAIN. If you can’t be there for me when I need you, you must not really care, you must not really have meant anything you’ve said to me before, you must have been lying, what else have you been lying about…. And eventually, whether we admit it out loud or not, those thoughts turn self-deprecating and self-harmful. We can fall into a pit of self-despair, or overcompensate and suppress the shame by lashing out in anger at you or anything else.
We don’t violate personal boundaries because we don’t care or respect you. We violate personal boundaries because we don’t truly have an internalized sense of what they are because we’ve never had our own properly developed and respected.
Is it perfectly reasonable for a loved one to not pick up the phone at 3:30a.m.? Absolutely. That’s a very reasonable personal choice that they’ve made in order for them to function as a human being.
Does it mean they don’t care? Does it mean everything they’ve done before is negated because they’re exercising their personal boundary? No, it really doesn’t at all. Of course they care. This is where we need to take responsibility for our own dysfunctional thinking.
Is the world really going to end if someone doesn’t pick up the phone? For as many times as I’ve felt like my world would fall apart, I have yet to experience a single apocalypse. Not one.
Something Therapist says about me a lot is that I am EXTREMELY tolerant, way more tolerant than I ought to be, but when I’m done, I’m done. I do and I do and I do. I let people. I let people. I let people. And I never say no. I never express my displeasure until I’m finally at the point where it’s way past too much and I have been spinning down into a self-hate spiral and I just can’t take it anymore. Usually by then I’m not at the peak of my communicative control. My anger is at the breaking point. I just want people to KNOW. I want people to SEE that I’ve been uncomfortable with something. I want people to TAKE MY NEEDS INTO CONSIDERATION, not to the exclusion of theirs, but just acknowledge them… without me having to say something.
“Without me having to say something” …. Is completely unreasonable. I’d be willing to say that this goes beyond being a Borderline thing to just being a female thing. This is completely unreasonable. If you don’t express in any way and if you don’t communicate, another person doesn’t know that there’s anything to be guessing about. Let alone how to guess. Say something.
There’s also fear. Fear of setting our own boundaries. Fear of expressing the boundaries that we recognize. Afraid that if we set boundaries, express what we’re not okay with, if we’re not all open and completely accessible, it will be taken negatively. If I express that I don’t like something, well, then what’s to stop that person from just leaving and finding it somewhere else? Mutual love, trust, and respect? Psh. Those things aren’t tangible. If I can’t provide everything than clearly I’m the one that’s deficient and they have no reason to stay. They’ll find what they want somewhere that’s not me.
Hell, you saw this with me when Tech Boy had that night where things got too rough during sex and he hit me in the face. That is a HUGE boundary. You do not hit me. Granted I threatened to rip his balls off, but bringing it up to discuss it a day or two later? I was worried he’d be mad at me for getting upset about it! I had a steady stream of panicked adrenaline coursing through my body by just the mere thought of bringing up the subject because I was worried at how he would react. We recognize this as being a little ridiculous right? Now, his reaction was completely appropriate. He was horrified at himself and that he did something that made me so upset. As soon as I realized he wasn’t mad at me though? Yeah, I was fine. Over it.
Getting to that point for me to express that something isn’t okay is very difficult and it usually takes completely surpassing the point of acceptable behavior for me to speak up for myself.
Guilt is another problem. I don't know about you, but I often have an gnawing sense of guilt when I should say no because I need to act differently than someone wants in order to function.
Sadly, boundaries are also tied up with our sense of self-worth as well. If our self-worth is low, and let’s face it this is extremely common, if we don’t feel that we’re worth protecting or being treated well because we have a very poor self-image, then defending ourselves via imposing personal boundaries is not going to occur naturally. If we can figure them out at all.
But that’s the problem. Having lived for so long not having solid boundaries, how do you even know how to recognize what your boundaries are? Let alone communicate them?
These are great questions if I do say so myself. Questions that I will answer… tomorrow!
Before I wrap it up for today though….
One phrase to keep in mind: This makes me uncomfortable.
During your day, your night, when you’re out on the town, or with a loved one…. If something happens that makes you uncomfortable, say to yourself: This makes me uncomfortable. You don’t have to say anything if you’re not ready, but make a mental note of it. Write it down. And keep writing those situations down.
Don’t associate people (you don’t want to start targeting anger or holding a grudge), just note the situation or the event that triggered that uncomfortable feeling.