Once at University I had a history professor that gave an assignment to write on the Fall of the Roman Empire…. in 3 pages or less. Have you ever researched the fall of the Roman Empire and tried to condense it into less than 3 pages? I failed miserably because in order to accurately detail all the contributing factors I couldn’t get my page count below 6. I still got an A, but that’s sort of the dilemma I’m facing currently. I have a lot of insight and ideas to convey, so bear with me. I like to be thorough.
For now, I want to talk about Recognizing and Understanding appropriate Boundaries…. And why this can be difficult.
We have a hard time establishing appropriate boundaries as adults for many reasons, many coming back to our fear of rejection, loss, abandonment, and self-worth. (I’m going to be talking from a BPD perspective, because that’s what I have, but it’s important to remember that this is no less true for anyone else).
It’s important to remember that establishing boundaries starts with honoring ourselves and self-respect. It’s about knowing yourself. It’s about recognizing what you stand for and what you don’t in your relationships. A healthy relationship is sometimes described as an “inter-dependent” relationship of two “independent” people. Regardless of the type of relationship, we all come to it with values that we intend to honor and defend regardless of the nature of the relationship - these are known as core values or independent values - this is what defines us.
Which can be difficult for someone with Borderline Personality Disorder when our identities are so flexible and change depending on who we’re with or where we’re at?
Difficult but not impossible.
Boundaries are about how we define those values inherent to us, to others. They’re about protecting our interior selves. We can’t make people act differently, but we can establish where our own limits are.
There are many different arenas in life and many different types of boundaries. Not to mention boundaries are slightly flexible… for example: What is not acceptable from a co-worker can be acceptable from a lover. It depends on the area of life that you’re currently in. Though some will cross over, for example: It’s never, ever okay for someone to hit me (unless I’m in a martial arts class that I’ve volunteered for). I swear I’m not trying to be confusing. But you see how boundaries go.
So what we need to do is:
1. Recognize the different kinds of boundaries.
2. Identify the important aspects of life where boundaries should apply.
3. Identify Boundaries by:
a. Recognizing Unhealthy Boundaries
b. Recognizing what Boundaries are important for us
4. Understand how to Develop Boundaries
5. Understand how to Communicate Boundaries
6. Understand How to Defend (and Respect) Boundaries constructively
One of the problems we face by NOT having and enforcing our boundaries, by letting people do things that we’re not comfortable with, is this tends to breed resentment and anger within ourselves. Which in turn perpetuates our more aggressive mood cycles. And that rarely helps anyone. Upholding personal boundaries is actually a better way to KEEP a relationship healthy.
So what Type of Boundaries are there? 3 Kinds actually of Personal Boundaries and 4 Types of Psychological Boudnaries.
3 Types of Personal Boundaries:
1. Physical boundaries help us determine who may touch us and under what circumstances.
2. Mental boundaries give us the freedom to have our own thoughts and opinions.
3. Emotional boundaries help us deal with our own emotions and disengage from the harmful, manipulative emotions of others.
4 Types of Psychological Boundaries:
According to Nina Brown there are four main types of psychological boundary (thanks Wiki!):
1. Soft - A person with soft boundaries merges with other people's boundaries. Someone with a soft boundary is easily manipulated.
2. Spongy - A person with spongy boundaries is like a combination of having soft and rigid boundaries. They permit less emotional contagion than soft boundaries but more than rigid. People with spongy boundaries are unsure of what to let in and what to keep out.
3. Rigid - A person with rigid boundaries is closed or walled off so nobody can get close to him/her either physically or emotionally. This is often the case if someone has been physically, emotionally, psychologically or sexually abused. Rigid boundaries can be selective which depend on time, place or circumstances and are usually based on a bad previous experience in a similar situation.
4. Flexible - This is the ideal. Similar to selective rigid boundaries but the person has more control. The person decides what to let in and what to keep out, is resistant to emotional contagion, manipulation and is difficult to exploit.
As Borderlines we tend to fall into the Spongy and Rigid boundaries. Spongy boundaries tend to go hand in hand with an unstable sense of identity. When we don’t have a firm grasp of who we are, it’s difficult to have a firm grasp of what we should or shouldn’t let in or keep out. Then there are Rigid boundaries. This was me hard-core before I broke down my defenses via Evil-Ex’s abuse. Everything I felt was a “defect” I kept walled away. Any small deviation from what I thought was “right” threw me into a tailspin of anxiety and panic. My perception of what was acceptable for me was so fixed that I couldn’t function if things deviated even slightly, in the most innocuous of ways. Which meant that when people acted normally as they needed or wanted to, and it threw off “my way” of doing things, I would freak the hell out and try to fix (or want them to fix) their behavior to adjust for what my mind needed. This was not appropriate.
Fortunately it is possible to fix this. My boundaries are still a little rigid, but I’m able to adapt much quicker and I’m learning to be more Flexible. I’m not going to lie, there was a fair amount of inner turmoil in the process, and pushing myself to confront where boundaries needed to be, or breathe through the moments when my boundaries were being unreasonable wasn’t always easy… but the more I watched for these situations, the more I learned to recognize what was healthy and what wasn’t, the easier it’s become. Not easy, but easier. Still a work in progress. But much, much more functional and pleasant. Last minute change of plans, schedule alterations, an unexpected [insert something unexpected] doesn’t paralyze me the way it once did. And you can get there too.
Tomorrow I’ll talk about the main aspects of our lives where we need to establish appropriate boundaries and how to identify what we need those boundaries to be. Spoiler: It’ll be different for everyone, but there are tools we can use to establish what is necessary for each of our personal situations.