Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Boundaries along the Borderline Personality Disorder: Part 1

Boundaries. People have them. People should have them. People need to respect them. 

Those of us with Borderline Personality Disorder have a less than favorable reputation for not understanding or respecting people’s boundaries.

As far as I know this is true for most of us. However it’s not necessarily the same for all of us?  Wait, what? I’m actually very adept at recognizing the boundaries of other people. It’s actually typical that I’m hypersensitive to their needs and concerns…. To the detriment of my own healthy needs. The boundaries I’m not good at recognizing, understanding, and respecting the most? Are my own. Not those of other people. In fact, when I defend my boundaries I often feel extremely guilty because by defending my boundaries, I’m denying the wants or desires of someone else.

When I do violate another person’s boundaries it’s not because I’m trying to purposely hurt them or control them. It’s usually a direct reaction to a way I’m feeling. A direct reaction to my need for comfort and security. A direct need to be in some way soothed. It’s not about the other person, it’s about me. It’s not about disrespecting someone else, it’s not about purposely wanting to step on their needs, it’s about trying to stop some turmoil that I’m going through. Which is kind of narcissistic, but when I’ve been in the kind of emotionally volatile state when I’m desperate for the kind of attention that comes with violating another’s boundaries, it’s usually b/c I’m in a state of intense distress.

 Hold on for a second. I’m getting ahead of myself. What exactly do I mean by boundary? What is a personal boundary?

 Definition: In psychology and psychiatry, the term “boundary” is used to refer to one’s sense of personal space and separation from other people. People with borderline personality disorder (BPD) have a difficult time establishing and maintaining their own personal boundaries and respecting others’ boundaries. 

There are two Main boundaries that I’m concerned with:

1.    Our own boundaries

2.    The boundaries of others

Boundaries are actually one of the most misunderstood concepts for the loved ones or those involved with someone with BPD. The problem is that most people don’t understand to whom the boundary applies.  The one big mistake people make when they think about boundaries is they think they’re about:

Mistake: Setting up “boundaries” and “limits” that are really rules for someone else’s behavior.

Nope, wrong. Boundaries are not rules to be followed. Boundaries are about you and can only be applied to your own behavior. Your boundaries are for you.  A supporter of a person with BPD can set boundaries for themselves, not for the person with BPD. Likewise someone with BPD can set boundaries for themselves, but they can’t try to set boundaries, create rules, or dictate the behavior of someone else. 

Only you can respect your own boundaries. Trying to dictate the behavior of someone else is almost a guaranteed sure-fire way to inspire a rebellion. Especially with BPD. In fact,  I would say the more you attempt to control someone with BPD, the more they will lash out. At least that’s how I would react. And have. Often. Much to the dismay of the person attempting to control me. When I feel at a loss of control, I no longer care. I do what I have to do to get back in control. I do what I have to do to make sure the other person realizes they can’t control me like that. One of the things that we with BPD have a big problem with is feeling out of control and working so, so hard to create some kind of control in our lives. When someone else tries to impose rules onto us? We feel trapped, we feel even less understood, we feel the need to re-exert our control and lash out. And we will. Probably with dynamite and fireworks.

Now that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t discuss triggers and let someone know when something they are doing is hurtful. It is important to convey your concerns. But you can’t actually expect to dictate the behavior of another person.

So how do I know if I’m setting boundaries or trying to create rules? Here’s an example I found:   

“A popular book for Non-BPDs uses the example of telling the person with BPD that you will not take phone calls after 9PM. This “boundary” (or limit as it’s called in this book) is supposed to be “respected” by the person with BPD. However, when emotional dysregulation gets a hold of a person with BPD, it is unlikely that the boundary will be remembered and respected. The problem with this boundary is that it really is a rule that governs the other person’s behavior. With BPD, rules are made to be broken.

Only you can respect your own boundaries. If you decide not to answer the phone after 9 PM then that is a boundary, because you are applying it to your own behavior, not expecting the person with BPD to comply with your rule. The misunderstanding of boundaries and to whom they apply causes much confusion and leads to frustration. The frustration is born out of trying to control another person’s behavior with a rule, which is impossible.”

Everyone has a personal code of values.  We all have codes with respect to finances, romance, parenting, lifestyle preferences, personal safety and faith.  Boundaries are what we communicate as reasonable and permissible ways for other people to behave around us and not violate our code.   For example, a recovering alcoholic may communicate that he doesn't want to participate in group events involving alcohol or a women may communicate the she doesn't want any kind of physical touching during an argument. These are boundaries that a person can define for themselves, that only effect their needs, not dictate or violate the rights and freedoms of others (… and if anyone tries to argue with my that setting the boundary of no physical contact denies the other person the right to express their physicality I’m going to glare at you silently.)

So do we have a reasonable idea of what boundaries are? In the coming days I’ll discuss 1. The Boundaries of Others, 2. Discovering and Understanding Our Own Boundaries, 3. Different Kinds of Boundaries, and 4. Identifying and Setting appropriate Boundaries. 


  1. Good post. I have a boundary-breaker in class that sits behind me. He won't shut up and blurts continuously and wants non-stop attention from the professor. Being BPD myself, I'm the first one to spot it. I want to blare out to him "STFU". It sucks.

    Thanks for your work.

  2. looking forward to the one on discovering and understanding my own boundaries, as someone who wasn't allowed to have boundaries as a child I find this really difficult

  3. bless you. thank you. thank you. thank you. this is the explanation of boundaries i needed.

    i won't bore you with tales of my friend who frequently screams about people "violating her boundaries"--let's just sum up by saying that she made me feel like her boundaries were my problem and that my boundaries were also my problem and it was my job to figure out people's boundaries & the respect said (and unsaid) boundaries.

    so...*this* is the end that goes up! much better....



Leave me a comment! It makes me feel good and less paranoid about talking to myself =)

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