As I’m reading through the book, “Where to Draw the Line: How to Set Healthy Boundaries Every Day” by Anne Katherine, M.A., I’m learning a great deal and gaining understanding of things I’ve suspected to be true for most of my adult life.
The author uses the example of someone who has their heart broken, to explain how we sometimes make a decision, usually an unconscious one, to guard our hearts so we never have to experience that kind of pain again, to protect ourselves. The author also mentions that being ‘failed’ by someone we’ve wholly trusted or boundlessly needed (such as a parent or caregiver) can be shattering to our psyche as well and bring about such a ‘decision.’
Regardless of what hurts us, or what age we are when it happens, the decision we make, to not allow ourselves to be hurt, in that way, again can determine how much of a risk we are willing to take in the future.
“When we withdraw ourselves from the possibility of a repeated calamity – by walling out certain feelings (or a certain intensity of feeling), or by not allowing ourselves to repeat such trust, need, or love again – we take ourselves into a fortress, a defended state of being. Even if the original loss happens when one is so young as to be not fully conscious, a defense can still be erected.
A defense can be a state or an action. We are in a defended state when we stand behind some sort of unilateral protection in order to prevent a feeling we can’t bear to experience again.
We take pride in our sentience, justly so, but instinct and survival have lives of their own seemingly separate from our great thinking brains. We can make a sincere decision to be more open or to let in joy – and our intention can be powerful – but if an approaching shadow looks anything like what hurt us in the past, we may fend it off without conscious thought.”
The author talks about how creating such ‘defenses’ can block contact with our ‘inner self’. While it can protect us from painful feelings, sorrow, grief, etc., it also blocks us from feeling joy, peace, thrills and heart-expanding happiness.
I think I’ve had an awareness of this concept or a somewhat ‘twisted’ understanding of it, as I’ve resisted setting boundaries because I have seen them, in the past, as being the same as ‘building walls’, somewhat unchangeable, permanent and non-negotiable. I think that has been my understanding because I watched my mother, sister and family members decide they didn’t want to deal with something or someone and simply removed it from their world, creating a wall to protect themselves from some perceived threat.
I’ve been accused of being a ‘glutton for punishment’ because I have no boundaries and I keep trying, with painful situations and folks who seem to always be surrounded by drama and stress.
I’m going to be 48 in a couple months and I’ve only just begun to understand the importance and value of boundaries and how they are supposed to work.
I’ve been ‘confused’, as I’ve experienced people ‘invoking’ boundaries that I couldn’t comprehend. Now I think they just didn’t understand what boundaries are supposed to be either.
For instance, 5 years ago, my third reconciliation with my sister ended, as she left my home accusing me of not respecting her boundaries, telling folks she had put boundaries in place but I didn’t like them and wouldn’t honor them. Honestly, I had no idea what the heck she was talking about.
I had gotten my sister a job working from my home with me. When we started the job, it was Summer time and I let her know that we would have to change our schedule a little when my son started school again. As a child with special needs, we’d found that an orderly, routine every morning was the most beneficial for the success of his day. I thought it best if another person wasn’t coming in and getting settled to start work during his prep time before school, especially when the room where we were working was between his bedroom and bathroom.
When the first day of school came, I told her she was going to have to come a half hour later than she had been, but that it would be fine with us if she stayed an hour longer in the afternoon. She had a fit. She stopped having dinner with us, stopped coming for Sunday dinner, refused our invitations to go out with us as a family, went into the room in the morning and didn’t come back out until she was ready to go home and she started leaving in tears every day, started telling people I made her want to commit suicide, I was abusing her, taking advantage of her and that she’d established boundaries and I didn’t like them, so she had no choice but to quit the job and put distance between us.
What exactly were her ‘boundaries?’ Did she consider not attending Sunday dinners, nightly dinners, or family outings her ‘boundaries?’ Cutting off social interaction was a ‘boundary?’ It felt more like a punishment. Now that I’m learning there’s a difference between boundaries and being ‘defended’, I can see that she was ‘defended.’ She put up a wall to prevent a perceived hurt from recurring.
I’m realizing that a lot of people do this. My best friend of 34 years won’t even go on a date with a man because she’s decided she has to protect herself from another possible emotional hurt, having had her husband leave and divorce her. Rather than setting boundaries she ‘defended.’
Now that I understand there is a difference between boundaries and defenses and that boundaries are for me, as much as, if not more than, others and that a boundary doesn’t have to be a permanent cutting off of contact, but rather a way to manage my own time, the amount of giving I do, whether I say yes or no, I feel a bit liberated.
As I shared previously, I’m really looking forward to getting further into this book, as it addresses how to set reasonable boundaries in a variety of settings and situations.