Navigating Boundaries: How They’re Helping in Recovery

I’m new to the world of personal boundaries. If you were to ask me ten years ago, I wouldn’t know where to start. To some, there was no getting past my self-made brick and mortar castle. Others, well, walked all over me. Once I realized what was happening, I self-sabotaged myself with humour: calling myself a doormat or someone who stood pretty strait for someone with no backbone.

Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to know what ways are safe, reasonable and healthy for others to behave towards the self. It also creates how one personally responds to another if they begin to try to push these limits. They include physical, mental and emotional states, and vary in degree. [1]

Some life situations were 110% obvious abuse by another person, and with help from a therapist I was able to fully separate myself from these people. It was always more than one thing building up over time. Behaviours such as…

  • Giving me a gift with the expectation of a favor returned.
  • Getting the silent treatment without explaining why it’s happening, or strait up disappearing for long periods of time then coming back acting like nothing happened.
  • Emotionally dumping on me but never listening when I needed an ear.
  • Never willing to work on the dispute.
  • Expecting me to pay more or all.
  • Constantly asking for small things over time (change, bus tickets, cigarettes, small food items, rides etc.), and never reciprocating the favor.
  • Getting mad at me for saying no and acting out that anger (gossip, physical abuse, verbal abuse etc.).
  • Making passive-aggressive or direct abusive comments, sometimes with the reply it was just a joke, and continuing to say them after I’ve said that hurt me.
  • Everything was my fault every time, getting mad at me because I was there at that time and place, or getting mad at me for something not typical (cleaning, spilling, doing something thoughtful etc.)
  • Putting my safety/life in danger by doing reckless behaviour and not thinking of consequence.
  • Stealing from me, and trying to downplay/gaslight when caught.

That’s a small list. I wish I were kidding about the doing something thoughtful part, but it’s happened twice now.

Other times, it’s boundaries I have to put on myself. Things like…

  • Calling out when my behaviour is related to cPTSD/pain, and apologize if warranted.
  • Monitoring closely my use of medications, and always asking what’s the real reason I want to take them for.
  • Continue to learn what’s tolerable behaviour (personalizing and giving no chance vs. a mistake)
  • Sticking to the consequences I’ve put in place for people.
  • Knowing when to stop trying (fixing rifts in relationships, helping out people who really don’t want to get better etc.).
  • Admitting to myself that I’m struggling and take steps to rectify.

The above may be called something other than boundaries, but that’s my understanding. If you put them in place to protect yourself from others, it makes sense to put them in place to save me from myself.

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How can one start figuring these things out? To someone looking from the outside in, it can be rather obvious. In my case, I never learned them growing up. I only learned how to protect myself with deferences and coping mechanisms that aren’t the healthiest of choices. Add on the fact that I don’t process emotions like everyone else, I sometimes feel I’m working double on this problem. We’re 7 years in the making, and I’ve scratched the surface. These are things I’ve picked up on that help me define my boundaries.

Why do I feel sick?
I’ve noticed that after an action has taken place and I don’t feel very well (actual nausea), that means to sit down and think about what just happened. Did someone say/do something? Did I do something? Sometimes people describe this as a gut feeling. That’s why it’s important to take some time with it and not react instantly.

I can’t stop thinking about a behavior/I ruminate.
This one’s a lot clearer. If my brain doesn’t let me stop thinking about an event moment by moment, then I know some sort of line was crossed either by me or the other person. It’s then a matter of deciding the appropriate response.

I do something asked of me, then my mood tanks.
Everyone has to do things they don’t like sometimes, but that’s the key: sometimes. Same goes for things I don’t mind doing. If my mood suddenly tanks after doing something that hasn’t bothered me before, or is happening too much, something may be off-kilter.

Limited list of what I’m doing to help figure this out? You betcha. I feel like an infant all the time. Navigating boundaries is a necessary evil, and so far, even when they hurt, they’ve helped. It’s not easy, but I can say yields results.

What are some things you do to help establish healthy boundaries?

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