Boundaries of Others? Why do we need them?
Boundaries exist to safeguard one another. In therapy it’s to safeguard the therapeutic relationship of both participants. It shouldn’t be any different for anyone else though. Boundaries operate at various levels, including role, time, place, money, gifts, services, clothing, language, self-disclosure, and physical contact (Gutheil & Gabbard, 1993). A boundary at any of these levels is either maintained, crossed, or violated. The problem though, is that boundaries rely heavily on context, and thus may be fluid and difficult to firmly define (Gutheil & Gabbard, 1998).
Dr. A.J. Mahari says it well, “The importance of setting boundaries for your BPD loved one is explained as being an issue of survival. The non-Borderline needs to decide what their personal limits are with regards to the Borderlines’s behavior; what they will and won’t tolerate and how they will communicate these ‘boundaries to the BP, along with the way they will deal with attempts to cross these boundaries. It stresses the importance of speaking only of your (the non-bp’s) experience NOT the behaviour of the BP, I interpret this (as it does not explain) as being about explaining why these boundaries are important to you and how it hurts you if they are not respected rather than coming across as a ‘dressing’ down of the BP, treating them like a child or making them feel bad if you put it across in terms that basically scream at the BP “I don’t like your behavior; you are a bad person; you must not do these things or else!” which is quite easily the way a BP could take it, and even if you are really careful how you put it across you still won’t be able to control the reactions of the BP (which may well be as if you had said it in this mean way, even if you didn’t) because they (we) can’t control our own reactions to what ultimately will feel like ‘bad’ news to us. “
As Borderlines it’s important for us to understand that boundaries are a commitment to the Self, not an attempt to change or control another person. Boundaries aren’t set to push us away or reject us. They’re not a precursor to being abandoned. Though this is how they can feel. When boundaries begin to feel like this, it’s important to do a self-check. As Borderlines our flexible and uncertain sense of identity is often muddled up with the people we’re closest too, so boundaries can feel like we’re losing a part of ourselves as well. However we should recognize that we are not actually a part of another person. We are autonomous beings that don’t actually share internal organs. Healthy people have a sense of self that is not dependent on the people around them. This is what we should strive towards, even though it may not be familiar to us. I think this is a big part of the problem. Our lives are so interdependent on the other people in our lives it strikes us as foreign and strange and frightening when we recognize that this need for interdependence isn’t necessary for other people. Because they don’t want to be in our space the way we need to be in their space it’s like they don’t need us. But this is not true. Healthy people merely have an identity that is their own and not dependent on us. That’s what boundaries are about. Maintaining their sense of Self and this is okay. It doesn’t mean that they don’t care or that they don’t love us. All it means is that they have their own lives and don’t need to live with someone else inside their own skin. Which is kind of creepy visual.
Below is a piece written by A.J. Mahari called TheBorderline Personality Dance and The Non-Borderlines’ Dilemma:
The Dance of those with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) can be defined as the “projective-identification” and “transference” of their identity to the extent that they do not know it, on to someone else. What does this mean? It means that when the borderline in your life is sad, or hurt or afraid, rather than feel those feelings, as the non-borderline would, the borderline will turn on you in an effort to have you hold, act out and be the very feelings that they cannot hold, handle or cope with. It is a subconscious way to have mirrored back to self all that one feels but refuses to feel. It is essentially, the borderline trying to put distance between him or herself and his/her own unresolved and abandoned pain.
Little do most borderlines realize, that in effect, what they are really doing when they act out and push people away and erect walls to 'protect' themselves, is wall themselves in with their own unaddressed psychological pain. There is no relief from pain to be found in casting it out to those [around you] or to the world around you. The walls that a borderline builds will wall that borderline in and threaten to drown him/her in his/her pain. The non-borderline who does not have any boundaries is at risk of being sealed into that borderline wall of agony with a family member, parent, adult-child, friend, or partner with BPD.
From what I’ve been told this is in fact what can happen. As Borderlines that love the Non’s in our life, we should recognize that this can happen and think to ourselves: Is this really what we want for our loved ones? Do we really want them to feel the shit-tastic-ness of what we’re feeling? Probably not.
It is through this dance that the borderline often sets him/herself up to continually re-experience what feels familiar. [Pain.] Because most borderlines have a tremendous fear of abandonment. The behavior that they engage in often is the reason why people have to distance and/or disengage or turn away, sooner or later, to maintain their own sanity. Yet when it is reasonable to leave or to take space (for a non-borderline - BPD Loved One) the borderline (usually not taking any personal responsibility) will blame you and will experience your “taking space” or your leaving as abandonment.
It doesn’t take much to invoke this fear!
The person with Borderline Personality is in a very painful world of his or her own. Emotionally, it is a psychological world that exists in parallel to the world of the "averagely healthy". Despite usually having an 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 and deeper than the Grand Canyon. It is a world that is run by terror and fear and often by the triggered-dissociations from the past of the person with BPD.
The Dance of the Borderline is experienced by the non-borderline when all of sudden, yet again, they have become the focus of the borderline's pain, rage, anger, unmet needs, wants, demands, helplessness and so on. Questions I've been asked a lot of late in email and by clients include, "How do I not go there?" "How can I set a boundary?" "What do I do when he/she starts it all over again?" "Why is this happening?"
So there is the borderline prone to repeatedly engaging in a deceptive dance of demanding devastation and the non-borderline who cannot get into the head (understand the motivation) of the borderline. Herein lies the central dilemma of the non-borderline (BPD Loved One).
*** GETTING TO THE IMPORTANT PART HERE ***
The Non-Borderline's Dilemma is realized when he/she comes to the inevitable conclusion that he/she has to effect some change for themselves. There comes the realization that a choice has to be made. The choice is one that most often feels like, and is, a choice between equally unfavorable and disagreeable alternatives. This is the projected out predicament in which the borderline (to a degree) has lived within all of his/her life without knowing if fully. It is this similar dilemma/dynamic or predicament that is the fuel of the borderline dance in the first place. So, you see the borderline and the non-borderline, in some ways, are not so far apart. The experience of each is very painful - often riddled with conflicting emotions. The experience of each is real. The experience of each has its roots in BPD (for the borderline) and the effects of BPD for the Loved One. And yet each lives on a different side of understanding - sharing something in common - yet not connecting with each other as to what each experiences. What each non-borderline must realize within this dilemma however, is that they have the tools necessary to take care of themselves. And that it is up to each and every person with BPD to get help, therapy and/or coaching to learn the skills and tools to help them cope and get on the path to recovery. A BPD Loved One cannot rescue someone with BPD no matter how much one cares. It just isn't possible.
It’s our responsibility to heal ourselves, not wait for someone to save us, even though it may take a long time to get past this thought process.
So, you are in a relationship with a borderline and you have reached this stage of dilemma. You want the relationship to survive. You have all sorts of mixed feelings toward this borderline in your life, what are you to do? The first thing you must do is decide what it is that you cannot live with anymore. Once you've identified that, you will then have the rather difficult task of communicating that to the borderline in your life. Before you communicate what your limits and boundaries are make sure that you are prepared to back them up. If you are not, or you do not you will experience the dance times one hundred and the borderline in your life will generate more chaos than before.
You will need to identify the core problem, decide what your limits and boundaries are, you need to develop a plan of action and be ready to implement and consistently stick to it. At this point it's time to talk to the borderline in your life. As you do this -- remember, you must speak only to your experience and not to his/her behavior. [ Avoid placing blame! This is a sure fire way to start a fight.] This will be the beginning of a difficult and painful process whether things work out or not. As with any dilemma know that your pain is real and that pain is a natural part of change. Your pain does not have to cause you to doubt that you are doing what you need to do for yourself.
The non-borderline must communicate honestly, fairly, and consistently with the borderline knowing full well that you cannot have any control, effect, or say over how the borderline in your life will choose to react or behave, or even punish because when setting your boundaries the person with BPD may well feel abandoned. It is important to not enable or rescue the person with BPD even though their emotions are often so intense. Intensely angry and distancing or intensely painful which can pull on your heart-strings. People with BPD need to learn that they cannot re-play their past abandonment trauma or their present abandonment fear out on you. [The people in our lives now, hopefully, are not actually the people that caused the origins of our trauma in the first place. Therefore they do not deserve to be treated as if they were the ones that caused the problem.] You will benefit from being neutral in the face of these alternating and intense emotions from a person with BPD in your life.
The only way to not be engaged in the dance of the borderline is to identify, clearly and consistently communicate, and follow through with your boundaries. Pick a quiet time when there is no high intense emotion or conflict, a time when you can talk, calmly to your BPD Loved One.
Your message in words and in action must be clear and consistent. If for example, the borderline in your life is demanding something from you that you cannot give, it is reasonable that you answer the demand calmly with a statement about how you feel and why you cannot do what you are being asked or manipulated to do. Then make a clear statement that you are not going to continue to engage in the conflict or issue. If the borderline continues to press or escalates his/her behavior then you have to disengage in whatever way you have set out as the way that you will do this. For example, if you made it clear you will leave the house for an hour or that you will take a half hour alone somewhere in the house then you must do this.
If you are finding that you have set boundaries and limits and that you have communicated them and acted upon them only to meet with more and more conflict, abuse, punishment (silent treatment) and/or hostility then it is time to consider space. In order for you to take care of yourself and have your needs met, your boundaries and limits need to be respected. This is often next to impossible for many borderlines (not yet in therapy or refusing to get help). If the borderline in your life is not getting help, won't go get help, is in total denial, and will not respect your personhood then the choice you have to make in order to maintain your own sanity is one of space and distance, for a time, or altogether.
As someone who has gone through this from the side of having borderline personality disorder, before I recovered in 1995, I can honestly say that it took my losing people from my life before I could incorporate certain changes. I had to want to make those changes. I had to want to go to therapy. I had to want the help. No one could rescue me - though many people had tried. If you are staying in a relationship or continually caving or surrendering to "have peace" only to find that is not "right", or "good enough" for the borderline in your life either - you are doing no one a favor by staying in that situation. You have to decide whether you are willing to remain a hostage anymore or not. Do you want your freedom enough? What will this freedom that you seek from pain and emotional turmoil mean? Does it mean you can stay?
Does it mean you have to go? Yes, in the pursuit of your disengaging the dance and your attaining your emotional freedom you will hurt. The borderline will hurt. If life and recovery have taught me anything it's that you cannot grow and change without feeling and working through pain. Let your pain motivate you to learn the lessons, whether you are a borderline or a non-borderline. Sometimes we cannot learn those lessons without experiencing loss. Sometimes the only way is to let go.
Often we, borderline or non-borderline, have to lose in order to gain. We have to grieve in order to grow. We have to say good-bye in order to say hello to ourselves and to subsequent others in our lives. No one of us can change for another. No one of us can control another. Relationships are complicated and hard enough. For the borderline they are not truly possible until the borderline finds his or her lost self and then connects to that self and learns to relate to that self.
Until the borderline learns to relate to "self" he/she will always be relating over and over again to "self" through "other". This reality pushes the "other" away. It also is why the borderline tries to take hostages. If the borderline (in throes of BPD) only knows "self" through "other" and "other" goes away the experience is one as real and painful as "death of self" -- annihilation. The end of a relationship to a borderline can be like a death of "self" as was known in "other". The end of a relationship for a non-borderline or averagely "healthy" person is a very sad, painful loss, but, it is not the loss of self. In fact, when a non-borderline leaves a borderline they often experience a very healthy and welcoming "re-birth" of "self" - a coming home to a self that to one degree or other there was some separation from.
If you have BPD it is up to you to take responsibility for yourself and to learn to respect the limits and boundaries of others. If you are borderline you need to find yourself and to live through that "self" and not project that lost "self" onto others. If you are a non-borderline you need to be realistic with yourself and not accept anything less than basic human courtesy and respect. Where courtesy, respect, and mutuality - healthy give and take - are absent so too is healthy love. What you end up with is a toxic-love dynamic.
The Dance of the Borderline, the tune of which can only be heard by a borderline is music that a non-borderline cannot truly hear or appreciate. You live in one world, separated from itself, worlds over-lapping, yet not touching, worlds in parallel. Borderlines need to stop the dance and the non-borderlines need to end their dilemmas. Whether this can be done in tandem or whether you have to let go and do it alone, only each one of you can decide. Each one of us in this world has a responsibility to ourselves. We cannot extend any real love to another until we learn to love "self", borderline or not.
As Borderlines we need to recognize that in order to keep the people in our lives that we love, we need to let them be themselves. We need to find a way to get past only seeing our own desperate needs and learn to respect their needs as well. Our needs can be mind-numbingly painful, but that doesn’t negate that our Loved Ones have their own needs. They’re there for us as much as they can be, but sometimes they need to take care of themselves too. This doesn’t mean they don’t love us, it just means that they matter too. Which is something we already know, unfortunately it just gets a little lost sometimes when our own trauma takes over. Respect for each other as individual people. That’s the heart of what boundaries are. Boundaries are an act of self-love, not a lack of love for us.