When we’re home or even away on vacation, most of us tend to lock our doors as a means of protecting ourselves or our possessions. We even lock our car doors when we drive or when we leave them parked along a busy street. Heck, I lock mine if I run into the grocery store for ten minutes in an otherwise safe suburban neighborhood. You never know! These are concrete examples of a boundary– a line that marks the limits of an area. My house and my car belong to me, so I lock them, drawing a line, to keep strangers out. Healthy boundaries work in the same way. A healthy boundary is like a locked door, or an imaginary wall you place around yourself so that others don’t “come in” and hurt you; or, conversely, so you don’t get out and hurt others. But we’ll talk about that later. Here are some obvious examples of a healthy boundary:
- Not walking down a crime-infested city block in a bikini (not only is this dangerous, it’s socially inappropriate behavior).
- Staying away from having a relationship with a murderer or an individual in prison for violent crimes (don’t think this needs further explanation).
- Not robbing a bank (that would be crossing a line. You simply don’t rob banks).
- When traveling, always staying on the beaten path, within safely lit, known areas (unless you’re Survivor Man, or a seasoned traveler, I wouldn’t suggest it any other way).
Of course, not everyone has what seems to be obvious boundaries. Al Capone, Jesse James, Adolf Hitler, Atila the Hun didn’t have very healthy boundaries. Your local prisons and jails are filled with men and women who lack healthy boundaries. You don’t have to be bad or do something illegal to be accused of crossing boundaries. Children lack healthy boundaries until they’re taught otherwise (Look with your eyes and don’t touch anything in the store!) And people from other countries often cross cultural boundaries without even knowing that a boundary is being crossed (if you’ve ever been to Paris nose picking in public is, dare I say it, socially acceptable. Here, you’d be crossing a line) For the most part, though, social boundaries are well-maintained by most.
There are, however, less obvious instances of boundaries that many love addicts fail to establish. And that’s what I want to talk about here.
Take a look at all your friends and family members. Is there anyone who brings you down, or sucks the life out of you, or uses you or treats you poorly? How do you intereact with them? How do you deal with this kind of behavior? Take Billy, for example. Let’s imagine he’s a friend of the family. Not only does he have a drinking problem, but he’s been arrested a couple times for stealing cigarettes from the local convenience store. Definitely crossed a few boundaries in his lifetime. But now, he’s been coming over to your house, unannounced, letting himself in without knocking. He eats your food, asks to borrow money that he never pays back and sometimes crashes on your sofa. His behavior is disruptive to your family and home life. So what do you do when confronted with this kind of situation?
You create healthy boundaries of your own.
In the case of Billy, you build an imaginary wall around yourself by explaining to him nicely that you will no longer allow him to crash on your sofa or come over unannounced. Nor will you lend him any money. By saying this to Billy and following it up with action (Sorry, Billy, you didn’t call in advance like I asked. I can’t let you come in right now) you are not only blocking him from further disrupting your lives (he can go bother someone else now), you are protecting yourself and your family from a rather unmanageable situation. Where once you felt out of control, boundaries now help you feel in control. And that’s the whole point.
There are three “levels” to creating healthy boundaries when dealing with others. They can work together or separately. But the main gist is this:
1.You can block someone completely from your life. Some people are toxic and you need to get away from them during your own recovery. This is what NC is all about. No contact! Friendship over. Affair over. Don’t even bother picking up the phone. The End. Years later when you are stronger within yourself, you may want to break this boundary. But to take this kind of severe action, usually means that your relationship with this person is toxic and will always be. Side note: I had an extremely toxic friend. SHe was supposedly my best friend, but she was a depressed narcissist and was always attacking me for not driving her here or taking her there. I felt so manipulated and so used, that I made the decision to cut off the friendship off completely. This is a good example of when to block someone completely from your life.
2.You can block someone emotionally and mentally, but still maintain a “business-like” relationship with them. This is the kind of boundary you establish if you work with someone or know you still need to see them from time to time in mixed company (mutual friends, father of your kids, etc.). Do not take calls, texts or other forms of communication from this person. For all intents and purposes, the relationship is over. But when you see them, you can be cordial, but emotionally, you need to keep your boundaries UP and do not engage in any kind of deep conversation. Side note: This is the kind of boundary I have with my ex-hubby. The less we interact, the BETTER!
3. You can create a partial boundary: A partial boundary can be used, usually between friends. For example, if you enjoy spending time with a girlfriend, and she doesn’t hurt you in any direct way, but she’s, let’s say, a bad influence on you (every time you go out with her she drags you to places you’d rather not go, or you end up smoking, drinking or hooking up), then you might want to practice boundaries with her. If she wants to hang out tell her “no clubs, but maybe lunch.” If that doesn’t work, avoid meeting her past a certain hour when there’s no opportunity for her to “drag” you out somewhere. Side note: I have a friend like this. She is an amazing woman, but she is prone to drama and she can be a bad influence on me. She speaks very poorly of her husband, and then I start to nit-pick my own relationship. I choose not to cut her off completely, but I do keep boundaries up when she’s around. I pick and choose, very carefully, when I see her, and I always make sure I have a way out (I can only stay an hour and then I need to go pick up my kids!). This way, I am always protected.
We don’t make boundaries to protect ourselves from others because we don’t have the courage to stand up to them, or because we are “push-overs.” We make boundaries because we care enough about our own well-being to maintain a safe, peaceful environment of respect and civility. We deserve those things. And just as we deserve them, so do others.
Which brings me to the idea of placing personal boundaries around yourself, so that YOU don’t cause harm to others, which happens a lot in love addiction. It’s one thing when we talk about blocking others from our lives, but it’s another when we talk about blocking our own behavior and protecting others from us. Eek! But healthy boundaries are definitely something many of us never learned when we were younger. And that’s Ok when we’re young. But it’s not Ok as adults. Here are some examples of when we need to place a boundary around ourselves.
- Holding back your anger or emotions when it could hurt someone is keeping a personal boundary.
- Staying away from a married man or woman is keeping a personal boundary.
- Staying away from your PoA when he has ended the relationship, or has moved on is keeping a personal boundary.
- Not getting involved in someone else’s life to the point of trying to “fix” them (i.e. not care-taking or worrying or trying to manipulate their behavior for the sake of taking care of them) is keeping a personal boundary.
Healthy boundaries are an essential part of healthy living. They are not only a way in which you take care of yourself, they are also proof of how much you respect yourself and others.