Monday, February 05, 2007


Anyone who has lived in an abusive situation knows the damage that’s done when boundaries are crossed. And if we stayed in that situation for any length of time, then odds are we may have to stop and think about boundaries. We may not know how to set them or always recognize when we are crossing them.

I find myself thinking about two types of boundaries today because of things that are going on in my own life. One is about setting boundaries with those we love in terms of behavior on their part and the other is about setting emotional boundaries so that we do not take on the pain of others or responsibility for how they are living their lives.

My friend with breast cancer has had some set backs. She is an intensely emotional person and this would be an intensely emotional situation for anyone anyway. When I got off the phone with her, part of me wanted to do what I often did in the past when someone I loved was scared or hurting—swallow up her pain and fear and hold it inside me as well.

What I realized is that I can be empathic, I can show her support, and at the same time maintain an emotional boundary that recognizes this is HER pain and her fear. I realized that I could be of more support if I was able to step back and keep that boundary.

Let me be clear—I did NOT minimize her feelings! Nor did I claim everything would be fine just because I want to believe things always will be. I acknowledged how anyone in her situation would be scared and upset. When I spoke of reasons to believe things could still turn out okay, I spoke about what I know of her, of her doctors, of the support around her, of her past success beating the odds. And I acknowledged the reality that these ARE setbacks for her. By the end of our conversation, she was feeling better about her situation.

I could help the most by keeping the boundary that her pain and fear was hers and did not have to be mine.

The other kind of boundary that’s been on my mind is that of coping with behaviors of people we love. My daughter is visiting. She is a wonderful and extraordinary young woman! She also grew up never seeing me treated with respect by her father. Since my divorce a few years ago, we’ve been redefining our relationship. There are times when I find myself still reluctant to ask her to follow some reasonable guidelines when she stays in my house—for fear that I’ll lose her love. There is a part of me that can fear losing love so much that I can find myself afraid to say: This really matters to me or I really would like you to do that.

Part of redefining my relationship with my daughter is to sometimes say: I know you’d really like to do that but I’d really like to do this. It’s been learning to say: Please clear your dirty dishes off the table (instead of doing it myself). It’s making time to do things with her while she’s here but not putting everything in my life that’s important to me on hold until she’s gone.
Like anything else, the more we practice setting boundaries and respecting them, the easier it gets. Like anything else, there will be times we slip up. The key is to go back to setting and respecting them as quickly as we can. Our lives and the lives of those we love will be better if we do.

So...what boundaries might you want to practice setting and respecting? What would make your life better if you did?

Sending safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),


Karma said...

Boundaries are a big issue for me, and probably for a lot of survivors. The taking on of other people's pain is a very gendered experience, something common especially to the women in my family.

And, I think it is much healthier to be able to have the boundaries. I struggle right now with figuring out how to let people in in a manner that fits me without emeshing completely or losing touch with my own needs and wants.

jumpinginpuddles said...

we have just set some boundaries with our T and we can already see the difference

April_optimist said...

Karma and Jumping in Puddles,

Boundaries can be difficult. It's a learning process and very much worth the effort. With healthy boundaries we are safe to be ourselves knowing that we will neither harm others nor allow them to harm us.