Monday, December 17, 2012

BPD and Boundaries: How to Develop Healthy Boundaries

I’m calling this How to Develop Healthy Boundaries but really, everything I’ve talked about already should be encompassed within this. 

Once you understand what healthy boundaries are, we need to discover what boundaries are important to us. Once we figure that out, we need to figure out how to put those boundaries into practice. This is not necessarily a quick process. It takes time and continual practice but eventually they become second nature.

The number one step is often the hardest. Step #1 is: Take ownership of yourself. We with BPD (as well as just about everyone else, oh yes, even those without) get caught up in the Blame Game in an attempt to shift responsibility for our actions onto someone else. This is rooted in the associated shame felt with doing something we don’t agree with emotionally but take part in anyways. Yanno what, shit happens. You learn from it. You keep going. You can’t learn from it though, if you don’t take responsibility for what it actually was: a choice you made. A choice you participated in. As adults we are responsible for the decisions we make in life. Even if they’re painful. Painful for us. Painful for those affected by us. That doesn’t mean you need to accept responsibility for more than your actions though. It takes two to affect each other. That said, we also have the ability to respond, to make choices, and to limit the way other’s behaviors affects us (or how we affect others). Setting boundaries and learning to respect the boundaries of others, is how you demonstrate taking responsibility for yourself.

When you developing your boundaries there are some things we need to keep in mind. Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend have written several books on the subject of boundaries. According to these authors, there are Ten Laws of Boundaries:

Ten Laws of Boundaries:

The Law Of Sowing and Reaping - Choices have consequences. 

The Law of Responsibility - We are responsible TO each other, not FOR each other. 

The Law of Power - We have power over some things, we don't have power over others (including changing people. It is human nature to try to change and fix others so that we can be more comfortable. We can't change or fix our Borderline (Or our Nons), but we do have the power to change our own life.

Can’t control everything. It’s hard to accept the realization that we can’t control everything because that opens us up for uncertainty… which is often accompanied by feelings of abandonment. We need to recognize what feelings have basis in reality and which are just fears. 

The Law of Respect - If we wish for others to respect our boundaries, we need to respect theirs. If your Borderline is a rager, you should not dictate to him/her all the reasons that they can't be angry. A person should have the freedom to protest the things they don't like. But at the same time, we can honor our own boundary by telling our Borderline, "Your raging at me is not acceptable to me. If you continue to rage, I will have to remove myself from you."

I’m keeping this in the perspective of being written for the loved ones of people with Borderline Personality Disorder, but that doesn’t mean it applies any less to us. I am also choosing to do this because we often feel entitled to our rage and then get even more angry when people respond by having to take some time at a distance. We need to understand that this is actually a healthy boundary. Taking time off from an overly heated situation in order to regain clarity and an emotionally safer situation is perfectly reasonable. Even though it may feel like an abandonment or like we’re being ignored and misunderstood. I also like that they say it’s not okay for others to list reasons why we can’t be angry. That would be classic invalidation, and whether you agree with someone’s reasons or not, how a person feels is legitimate and they’re allowed to feel how they feel. 

The Law of Motivation - We must be free to say no before we can wholeheartedly say yes. One cannot actually love another if he feels he doesn't have a choice not to. Pay attention to your motives.

I’ve struggled with this a lot. I’m extremely slow to say no to others when I should have a stronger regard for my own needs. This sounds like a lovely altruistic things, but it can lead to unintentional emotional self-harm and a buildup of anger and resentment. 

The Law of Evaluation - We need to evaluate the pain our values cause others. Do our values cause pain that leads to injury? Or do they cause pain that leads to growth?

“Life is pain Princess, anyone that tells you otherwise is selling something.” I have some pretty strong values. I know for a fact that some of them invoke less than pleasant feelings about peoples own ideals. For example, I try not to ever attack a person for having spiritual beliefs even though they may be different from my own, and I do like to discuss such things. In another vein, I’m a strong civil right advocate. Especially for women’s rights and LGTBQ rights. If I come up against someone that is openly bigoted, I will defend what is a core value for me: Equality of life. Attacking a person’s individual beliefs would lead to injury. Arguing on behalf of a more evolved societal view (in my opinion, and you can disagree) contributes to growth. Refrain from attacking a person directly, and focus on the argument. See the difference?

The Law of Proactivity - We take action to solve problems based on our values, wants, and needs. Proactive people keep their freedom and they disagree and confront issues but are able to do so without getting caught up in an emotional storm. This law has to do with taking action based on deliberate, thought out values versus emotional reactions.

In my last Lucid Analysis I mentioned that as people with BPD we need to learn to sit on ourselves and wait. We need to learn to take control of our emotional impulsivity and reactivity until we are able to get that storm under control and look at the situation after the clouds have cleared.  Again, I know this statement sounds simple, but it does take practice, because it’s not so easy to stifle what can feel like your world falling apart. 

The Law of Envy - We will never get what we want if we focus our values onto what others have. Envy is miserable because we're dissatisfied with our state yet powerless to change it. The envious person doesn't set limits because he is not looking at himself long enough to figure out what choices he has.

When you begin to establish what your values are, they shouldn’t be based on what you think someone else wants you to do. They should be based on what you want for yourself. 

The Law of Activity - We need to take the initiative to solve our problems rather than being passive. In a BPD relationship, sometimes one partner is active and the other is passive. When this occurs, the active partner will dominate the passive one. The passive partner may be too intimidated by the active one to say no. This law has to do with taking initiative rather than being passive and waiting for someone else to make the first move.

I like that they don’t specify which may be which, because there really is no telling. It’s individual to the relationship. Before I learned to communicate more effectively I was often extraordinarily frustrated because I would want others to just do something for me. I would want them to intuitively know what I needed without having to tell them because if I told them, then it would lose its “meaning”, it’s specialness. This is dysfunctional logic. We need to learn to take action ourselves. Like the old saying goes: If you want something done right, do it yourself. 

The Law of Exposure - We need to communicate our values and their boundaries to our partner. Values and boundary that are not communicated is a boundary that is not working. We need to make clear what we do or do not want, and what we will or will not tolerate. We need to also make clear that every boundary violation has a consequence. A boundary without a consequence is nagging.

                I’ve talked about communication before, and I know we’re not great at it. Hell, most people aren’t really great at it, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work on this skill. Good communication really is a skill. I know it feels like we have so much more to do but the simple fact is, our brains work differently. If we want to function in a way that is healthy with other people, we have to learn to communicate so we can learn to compromise and work together.

We also have to work harder on recognizing that our loved ones are allowed to maintain their boundaries. That it’s not an abandonment or rejection. Whether we want to think about it this way or not, when we let our tempers and anger rage out of control, when we yell and direct that anger at the people around us, that kind of behavior is abusive. It’s emotionally impulsive and reactive. We don’t set out to “be abusive”, but I think it’s pretty obvious how disrespectful that kind of behavior is. Even if we feel it’s justified. (This isn’t meant to be confused with situations where you’re defending yourself or actually in danger from an immediate physical threat).  You know what I mean, those screaming tantrums when we just can’t take it anymore, all those feelings bubbling and roiling towards the surface until you just can’t keep them down anymore and you just snap at the next little thing that triggers you. A reaction totally disproportional to the present situation you’re actually in. I know, that it’s because we’re so caught up in something that feels all-consuming for us. I know it’s difficult to keep in mind that other people have a different perspective because how can anything compete with the storm raging through our own hearts and heads. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need to learn how.  

It feels like having to admit there’s something wrong with us. That’s something that’s really hard to do. But the simple fact is that throughout our development we have had these maladaptive coping mechanisms and defense mechanisms ingrained into us. There’s so much shame and fear and anger and, everything, behind what we do, or try not to do, sometimes it is really difficult to keep things in perspective. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t learn how. Everyone should.

Admitting that things need to change isn’t shameful. It’s growth. It’s evolution. We’re not static characters that are created as one specific thing and that’s all we are forever until we die. As we live, we learn, our environment and our experiences influence us. We have the ability to incorporate things that are new and release things that are no longer needed. Relinquishing those old defective maladaptive coping techniques and incorporating healthier adaptive ones along with healthy boundaries isn’t admitting that there’s something wrong with us as people, it’s allowing room for growth in our lives as human beings.

All that said. Start small. You don’t have to take it all on, all at once. It’s okay to be human.


  1. I've been learning a lot from these posts on boundaries. Very useful stuff even for the non-bpd's.


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