I often talk about the importance of boundaries, especially when I am at work. I often say to my clients, whom are all very young, is to keep your hands to yourself because someone else may not want to be touched or vice versa. In this fashion, it seems very clear cut, very black and white to define consent and what it means to you and another person. Boundaries get slurred and blurred over time. Everything becomes gray matter. At what point do you give consent? At what point is it taken away? Where is the line that is drawn in the sand; where does it start and where does it end?
I am a hypocrite when it comes to boundaries. I always tell others to create them, like in my work environment, and then ignore my own request and have no boundaries when it comes to work, family, friends, relationships, etc. The only thing I know that even resembles boundaries is compartmentalization, which I do in order to separate one aspect of my life to the next.
I have noticed that most people have boundaries with other people in that they shield or protect themselves from others for one reason or another. For example, one has boundaries in order to get a point across, to protect themselves from something they dislike, or to teach a lesson or skill. Like with my work kids, I teach boundaries to teach a skill. I get my point across that I do or don’t like something and I protect myself by giving them the proper tools to succeed.
One of my autistic girls is very affectionate and touchy feely. Especially during COVID-19 times, touching others is a no no. But she likes to grabs people’s waists to scare them or to poke them “for fun”. I personally do not like to be touched by anyone other than family or my significant other. So I taught the concept of consent; that she needed permission to touch me, not to just go and grab me. It’s a work in progress. I explained it to her like this: Imagine if I pulled your hair and took out your favorite hair bow. You probably would want me to ask you first if I could have your bow, rather than touching you without your permission. She agreed and I said it’s the same situation when you want to grab me; you gotta think about how the other person feels.
Physical boundaries such as touching a person with or without consent and working off the clock or doing home stuff on the clock seem like clear cut boundaries to create and set. However, we must set boundaries emotionally in regard to other people to protect our integrity and our emotions. This is the one I have a real challenge with.
When your views don’t align with someone else’s or a person appears to be or is toxic in action or in personality, we must do everything in our power to protect ourselves. That is what boundaries are for. There is a saying that goes like this: I want you to eat and eat well, just not at my table. This essentially means that you want someone to prosper and live well, just not in relation to you or your inner circle. This saying is used in regard to old friends; someone who you used to be close with and have either suddenly or gradually grown apart with.
I struggle with this personally because I have a “friend” of mine who has set boundaries with me, but hasn’t told me about said boundaries. I only got the hint when she got married and I wasn’t in her wedding party and got the major kick to the head that my own sister would be her maid of honor and not I. I cried to her, asking why this could be, considering we had been best friends for nearly a decade. We had grown apart due to college and what not, but I didn’t see how I could just be tossed around and away like a rag doll.
She told me, not directly, but in a nicer way that how I was living my life was toxic to her and her soon to be husband. She chose my sister to be her maid of honor because she had played match maker and got my friend and her husband together. I asked why I couldn’t have been a bridesmaid and she said there was too much drama between my sister and I (this was after my sister had just gotten married and we were in a huge, blowout fight for similar reasons). She said there could only be one and she chose my sister over me. I left that night in tears and we didn’t talk again until her wedding.
Once Diego and I got back together, her and her husband came over for a game night. I felt as though she only talked to me and was there because she cared about and was friends with Diego, not because she was also friends with me. I texted her yesterday for her address so that I could send them a Christmas card and she sent the address with a heart next to it. I honestly don’t really know where we stand considering she is finishing up her last semester of her bachelor’s degree and has a nearly perfect GPA.
I understand that she’s busy, but part of me, the bipolar, irrational part of me wants nothing to do with her if she thinks I’m toxic. I’ll hide in a hole and disappear if that’s how she views me. I know the truth. Today is my three month’s clean of gambling and my third week of my job and I’m turning my life around. If she can’t see that, screw her. She’s not perfect either. I feel as though I have been so public and honest about my adversities that it gives others the platform and ability to scrutinize me more than most. If that’s how others view me, fine.
That’s the irrational part of me.
The other part of me wants to be back to our old selves, which I suppose is now 4 years ago. But I think it’s too late. Yeah. Too little, too late.
So what now, you ask? I live in a small town and it’s hard to make friends when people know all of the skeletons in your closet. Like I said, nobody is perfect and nor do I regret my hardships or adversities, but how can I establish boundaries with others if my friend count is virtually next to none?
How do you remove the boundaries that others set on you? I think the only cure is communication. Communication with the other person to get to the bottom of how they truly feel about you. It’s hard to hear, just like it was hard to hear that I was the toxic one. I guess my empathy toward others gets in the way of setting boundaries that truly need to be set with those most important in my life.
My mother is the figure in my life that I needed boundaries the most with when she wasn’t sober. My sister, I felt, created really thick, too thick boundaries with my mother to protect herself from. harm whereas I had none. I felt empathy toward my mother; that her drinking wasn’t her fault, it was a disease. Her behavior was undoubtedly toxic, yet in a way I was enabling her by taking care of her drunk self; something you don’t realize when you’re a child.
My father also enabled my mother with his boundaries. He was physically not there to stop her from acting on these behaviors as a way to protect himself emotionally. I didn’t care about my emotions being hurt, which is why I had no boundaries. I felt her pain; she had no one and needed someone so desperately. I sacrificed my innocence and my childhood to take care of my mother. I sacrificed a lot by not understanding how to set and create boundaries.
I don’t want others to experience the hurt I have felt by not having boundaries, but at the same time, if you have your borders so thick and tall, then you lack empathy toward others. It’s a balancing act; having boundaries neither too thick or too thin. I think it’s important to establish the boundaries you have set with the person you have boundaries with, unless it is harmful to you or someone you know to tell said person about your new found boundaries.
Question: How and whom do you set boundaries with? Are your walls, thick, thin, or medium?