What Having Boundaries is All About

What boundaries are NOT.

What boundaries are NOT.

Okay, so finally I have found a topic on which my thoughts don’t continuously scramble away like a bunch of scared chickens the moment I try to reach for them! Three cheers for that!!

The topic my thoughts seem to stay together for is that of boundaries. In my post Dealing with someone who has BPD – dos and don’ts as I see them, suggestion #8 was: have reliable boundaries.

I just realized that what I mean by “having reliable boundaries” is probably not self-explanatory. Especially as there seem to be many weird ideas around regarding what boundaries are or are not.

Quite often I have encountered people who understood setting up boundaries to be synonymous with “I make rules you have to stick to”. For the longest time that was what I understood boundaries to be, too. And for just as long I had trouble respecting them. For example the so-called boundaries other people put on me included:

  • Don’t self harm!
  • Eat properly at mealtimes!
  • Don’t verbally abuse people!
  • Don’t run away!

See a pattern there? They’re all rules that tell me what to do or not to do. That’s often what people consider having boundaries to be: Making up rules and enforcing them. But guess what?!

  • I self harmed a LOT.
  • I didn’t eat properly.
  • I was extremely verbally abusive.
  • I ran away.

All those so-called boundaries just begged for that. They beg for someone to say “well, make me, if you can!” and finding ways to sneak around them. Because they all have an implicit “or else” attached to them. Which makes the Borderline part of me feel incredibly insecure. Or else what? Or else you won’t like me anymore? Will kick me out? I just NEED to find that out and know for certain. So I crossed all those lines people drew in the dirt and called “boundaries”.

It was only after I moved in with my family and lots and lots of reflecting and talking that I finally understood that that was not at all what having boundaries was about. Those rules were just that: rules. Artificial rules set up to control my behavior. But that’s not a boundary. That’s a dare.

So what ARE boundaries then? In my family I learned that boundaries are something people *have*, not make up. I’ll give you an example of my mom’s true boundaries on the same subjects that the above rules covered. They are:

  • I will put you under supervision and investigate if you self harm without letting me know beforehand. If your destructiveness gets out of control, I will do what is necessary to keep you and everyone else safe. If that means that I need to physically restrain you until you can control yourself again, I will. If that means that I need to call in help, I will.
  • I don’t tolerate not eating. I will investigate if you don’t eat.
  • If you can’t help verbal abuse of yourself or others, I will want to find out what’s up.
  • I take the liberty of temporarily locking the doors if I can tell that you are emotionally upset and at risk of running and I will want to learn what’s up.

Notice something about those boundaries? They aren’t telling me what to do or not to do. I can not possibly break them. My mom’s boundaries just tell me what she will tolerate or not tolerate and how she will react to certain behaviors on my part. If I don’t like her boundaries, we can talk about it, and she can explain why she has them and why she enforces them. But I can not possibly break one.

I can openly say that I don’t like all of her boundaries all of the time. The eating boundary, for example. On some days I dread mealtimes because I know that if I won’t eat, she’ll want to talk. And beforehand it often doesn’t feel like talking would help, even when it usually does in the end. But even when I really hate her boundaries at that time, I can not do anything to break it, because they are not MY boundaries, but hers, and she is sticking to them.

So what are boundaries? They are statements about what you will or will not tolerate and how you are going to react to situations. Others have no choice but to accept them or live with what you will do if they don’t. They don’t tell others what to do, but tell others what YOU will do.

People who have healthy boundaries make me feel safe, because there’s no element of threat there. Just certainty and orientation that lets me know where I stand and what I will meet if I do x, y or z. Rules feel like others want to control me. Healthy boundaries feel like they care.

Happy Saturday everyone! 🙂

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. aimeecatherine
    Dec 08, 2012 @ 23:01:38

    That’s helped me think about boundaries I give my self and my alters. Made me think about not trying to have dos and donts so have a special notebook now to write or draw or scribble in when we are testing a boundary. Great post x

    • Lola
      Dec 09, 2012 @ 09:12:05

      Thank you, aimeecatherine! 🙂 I’m glad if my words helped you a little in figuring out ways to establish healthy boundaries! Good luck with the notebook, that sounds like a great idea!

  2. Crisstian S
    Dec 09, 2012 @ 05:47:49

    You’ve explained a lot, Lola. It is not so easy to figure out what your boundaries are until someone crosses one. You hit it dead on when you say, “They don’t tell others what to do, but tell others what YOU will do.” Sometimes figuring out boundaries is the hardest thing for me to do. I’m what Dr. Henry Cloud would call a boundary-less person. Now I realize that my BP actually needs me to have boundaries so she can know what the results of her actions will be.

    • Lola
      Dec 09, 2012 @ 09:15:36

      I struggle a lot with recognizing my own boundaries, too. But yes, I think everyone who’s BP will be in a better place when there are healthy boundaries there that provide security. Maybe asking yourself which behaviors you can reasonably put up with and what you can’t or don’t want to, and how you want to (and are going to) react if those behaviors occur could be a starting point? (Haha, not that I am the best person in the world to talk about how to figure out ones own boundaries! 😉 )

  3. finallyamanda
    Dec 09, 2012 @ 11:06:38

    Hey just wanted 2 tell u I changed my blog. Now it’s startingfresh2013.

    • Lola
      Dec 09, 2012 @ 11:24:00

      Thanks for letting me know! 🙂

      • finallyamanda
        Dec 09, 2012 @ 17:38:09

        I’m like obsessed with ur blog lol. So ur welcome! I was just assuming u read mine as much 2 lol

    • Lola
      Dec 09, 2012 @ 19:42:56

      That’s a sweet thing to say, thank you! 🙂 And I appreciate knowing you changed your blog. Wouldn’t want to miss it. Good to start over in an optimistic fashion, too. Optimism is important! 😀

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