Based on some recent talks with a trusted friend about establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries in my recovery journey, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about just what kind of boundaries I have. Would they be considered healthy or not healthy?
Let’s see if I can come up with some, in any capacity.
I know for sure that I have some boundaries. I put up a gigantic wall around myself, think of a mote surrounding a castle with walls as high as you can see. There is one bridge over the moat that leads to one entrance, and there are guards standing at the entrance into the inner me. If you can envision that, you’ve just seen how I operate when it comes to my personal space and my heart.
I keep people at arm’s length, even my “best friends”. There are literally only a few people in my life that I can admit really know me. When I say really know me, I mean know the inner workings of how I think and react and feel about any given situation in life. I’m so hell bent on not getting hurt that virtually nobody gets in. That’s not a healthy boundary, but it is one I have nonetheless based on my past trauma and completely jacked up past relationships.
Those walls are also a result of years of being bullied in elementary and middle school, and allowing people just verbally abuse me. I would just take it and rarely say anything; instead just walking away. That lead to internalizing, more of a decline in self-esteem than I already had, and becoming a serious loner.
Plus, I certainly can’t forget the judgmental mindset that my mom had and still has. If things aren’t done the way she thinks they should be done, it’s wrong. If it didn’t agree with her views and the church’s views, I shouldn’t want any parts of it. She didn’t physically abuse me, but the constant harping of how wrong I was living my life was enough to do me in and clam up. The wall gets built higher and stronger.
Since I started therapy and began reaching out in the survivor community I am getting better about opening up more, becoming vulnerable, and letting the draw bridge down. There are still guards at gate mind you, but at least some positive people are able to start working their way into my life. It’s a start, so I’ll take it.
Learning to say No. This is a big one for me. I was a doormat for decades; as a kid, teenager, and young adult. People would walk all over me and I could never say No. I’d do pretty much whatever I could to please them regardless of how I felt or how I was inconvenienced. I defined myself based on how others thought of, and that being the case I had to do whatever I could to make them happy. If somebody didn’t like me or I thought, I may have offended them I had to fix it right away of I couldn’t stand to be around myself.
When my 2nd wife left in early 2013, I quickly shifted to the total opposite of the “walk all over me spectrum” and started shutting everybody down. “Nope sorry I can’t give you a ride”, “Nah I don’t feel like helping out with your computer this weekend”, “I have zero desire to hang out with you and your family for the holiday”. That sounds brutal, but that’s how it was. I was done being taken advantage of (even though that wasn’t always their intention, that’s how I began to see it).
Keeping toxic people out – That’s a big one I’m learning. I can’t completely avoid toxic people and their minimizing attitudes, but I can do better about shutting them down before they get a chance to bring me down. I don’t need their condescending attitude, intentional or not, in my life. I need to rise above that pettiness and realize what I like, what I care about, and the things I do are important to me and that’s just fine. I don’t need their approval or to be their verbal punching bag.
Having said all that, I have such a long way to go to establish healthy boundaries. My old ones are still so strong and fortified, that breaking down those walls is more difficult than I ever imagined. Honestly I’m not sure I fully understand what healthy boundaries even are yet, but I’m learning and doing more research. In time I will get better at establishing them and maintaining them; which won’t be easy but I won’t give up.