Thursday, December 13, 2012

Boundaries and BPD: Discovering your Boundaries

Yesterday I talked about recognizing unhealthy boundaries. I started with those because it’s often easier to put your finger on things that are already occurring and recognize they need to change. Once you’ve established which things aren’t healthy in your life, it’s time to begin replacing those with things that actually are healthy and adaptive.  So how do we go about discovering what boundaries are healthy and reasonable?

According to the book Boundaries and Relationships by Charles Whittfield, M.D, 

Healthy value boundaries ARE:

1. For the Present
2. Appropriate {for the situation}
3. Clear and easily understood
4. Firm 
5. Protective 
6. Flexible
7. Receptive
8. Determined by Us

Healthy value boundaries are NOT:

1. Set for us by others
2. Hurtful or harmful
3. Controlling or manipulative
4. Invasive or dominating
5. Rigid and immovable 

Boundaries are things we set for ourselves, not things that others set for us, or that we set for other people.  I keep reiterating this, because I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been so hurt, angry, or filled with resentment when I believed it was other people doing things that were “against me or against what I needed”  when 1. They didn’t realize they were doing things to make me uncomfortable because I hadn’t established those boundaries, and 2. I was so hell bent on controlling my world that it escaped me that I couldn’t expect to control or expect others to conform to my overly rigid “needs”.

So how do we figure out what Boundaries we should establish? Two ways:

Discover what you value autonomously (not dependent on others).
Discovered what is not acceptable in your life.

Which values are independent, core values to be upheld by us and defended (in a constructive way, of course), and which values are more open for compromise or replacement based on our blending with and building a relationship with another person (partner, friend, relative)?

Independent core values identify and form the foundation of your personal values. Independent core values determine our decisions and guide our lives. They’re the things that define the kind of person we want to be. They designate the personal line we do not want to cross. These are the things we need to protect and maintain in how we live and they should be clearly reflected in the life choices we make. For example: Those who value their individuality take responsibility for themselves, are self-reliant and act with self-respect. Those who value truthfulness cannot bring themselves to tell a lie. Those who value goodness cannot bring themselves to do something they know is hurtful.  

These values should be expressed in our day to day living and in our relations with other people. No one has the right to make you compromise your core values (which goes for us too! We don’t get to compromise anyone else’s). So take a long look at the things you value strongly and keep those in mind.

Boundaries = Your value system in action [1] 

Figuring out what is not acceptable in your life is a little easier. I’ve said it before, when you’re in a situation take stock of what’s going on and ask yourself: How does this make me feel? Does this make me uncomfortable? Am I okay with this?

The goal though, is to establish boundaries for good, not just in the moment. Here are some other things to contemplate:

- What subjects do I try to avoid?
- What is best for my life, long and short term?
- What is best for those in my care?
- What do I want in this relationship?
- What do I need in this relationship?

- What makes me feel safe?
- What makes me feel angry?

Here’s your homework for the day. Answer those questions. I’m not kidding. Pull out a pen and paper and begin the process of figuring out what you value and what you need to maintain some space from. Write down everything to give yourself ideas, and eventually lead you to the things that are truly important.

When all is said and done, we also need to be realistic. I know this is something that we struggle with, but being realistic is important. “If we have an unusually large number of uncompromisable independent values / core values, we may be too dogmatic to have a relationship with very many people. At the same time, if we have so few independent values, or such a weak commitment to them, we will then be "undefined" to ourselves and to others. When that happens, the only values that matter are those of others. The latter is common in codependent or enmeshed relationships.” We want to work towards being appropriately flexible*, and not overly rigid.

Remember: Boundaries are for everyone, Borderline and Non-Borderline alike. In understanding what healthy boundaries are for ourselves, we should also be able to recognize what are healthy boundaries in those around us. This can be very helpful in enabling us to control the runaway feelings of rejection and abandonment we can feel when people can’t always do everything we need all the time. It’s really just not reasonable, and recognizing appropriate boundaries can help us realize that it’s not actually an attack or rejection on us, it’s not something we should be taking personally, it’s just an act of self-care and normal human functioning.  That’s it.

It will take time, maybe a lot of time, to really internalize new boundaries, but you can’t internalize what you don’t begin to develop.

Next I’ll talk about Developing those boundaries and putting them into practice.

*Flexible does not mean we allow our values to change, but that we are capable of adapting constructively within our environment and within our relationships. 


  1. I just found your blog last night. Wow. I THINK I'm the non-bpd in the relationship but I identified so closely with so many of your thoughts that now I just don't know. It would be just our luck for us both to be BPD. I appreciate the honesty in your writing and the full range of topics--especially therapy tidbits!!

  2. Another well-thought post. More!

  3. Excellent. Working out boundaries when you haven't been accustomed to it can be tricky and triggering. Fear of losing "something" is key.

  4. Helpful for everyone. As a non, I realize I've spent a bit too much time trying to intellectually figure out how to respond the best way to my GFwBPD; I see now that I could've saved some mental stress by just expressing what works for me and what doesn't.

    1. I can say, I really appreciate when my spouse can just *calmly* say he needs to go out, or needs some "recliner time." In dealing with my own BPD, it's a relief to be able to trust him to be honest in that way.


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

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...