Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Me myself and I: boundaries are for safety

Working extensively on my therapy and self healing, I have realized that one of the most important things to self identity is to create boundaries. Boundaries are about keeping yourself - or others - safe. Boundaries are standards for your behavior.

That's why boundaries aren't selfish. It is never selfish to keep yourself safe. It is also not selfish to express to others what you can and cannot do. Your boundaries may seem inconvenient for others, especially if they are used to overstepping or using you. That doesn't make your boundaries wrong.

Let me give you an example that I am dealing with. Read more for the whole post and two personal examples of boundary setting!

I am dealing with depression. For my own health, I am focusing on going to therapy and unpacking my burdens. While doing this, I cannot be responsible for other people's safety or mental health.

My boundary is that I cannot be in situations where I am responsible for other people that way. I can call another responsible or trusted person to help them, but I cannot do so myself.

In this, my boundary is about my behavior and my safety. I maintain my own safety while acknowledging my limits. I cannot keep others safe or care for them when I myself am falling apart. My behavior is about keeping me - and them - safe. It is not about asking them to do something. If they care for me, they will understand and want to help me with therapy or see that therapy is good for them. If they don't change their actions, I have a clear picture of how much they care for my safety while having a clear set of actions to take to keep myself safe.

That's what boundaries are about! Safety! And knowing where you stand with others.

Sometimes boundaries are about keeping yourself safe by staying away from people that challenge your boundaries. While you can't always remove yourself from difficult situations or people, part of taking care of yourself is preventing stress and removing abusive people. Because let's be honest, people that push boundaries like that, they are abusive. They are looking to take advantage of you by overstepping your reasonable boundaries. That's not good for you!

Heres another example:

I have boundaries about friendships. I have a "three strike" rule. That means when a friend does something inappropriate, dangerous, or purposefully oversteps a boundary, they get a strike. I should talk to them about this issue, ask them not to do it again and explain why it hurt me.  With three strikes, I have to realize that their behavior is negatively impacting me. My behavior around them is to limit how much they can hurt me.

In high school, I had a friend who was constantly overstepping boundaries. She would lie to me. She would ask to copy my homework. She would try to gossip about me to other friends. She once even tried to do so right in front of me, thinking I wouldn't understand because she was speaking a language I didn't know. Thankfully, the true friend she was talking to wasn't having it. Like a true friend, she approached me and warned me that the fake friend was trying to gossip about me. It ended up bringing us closer together, looking out for each other. Based on the fake friends behavior and tone, I already had a bad feeling but a true friend being honest confirmed and validated it.

When I started to set up boundaries around this fake friend - no, I won't let you copy my work, no I don't want to speak ill of our shared friends, no I don't want to hear about a thing (that I know you made up to make others feel jealous) - suddenly she started to accuse me of things! What a reversal!

Setting up boundaries about not gossiping or back talking with her was really a reasonable thing to do. When she ignored this and kept escalating her lies, I realized I didn't want that drama in my life. Because we were friends, she could say really hurtful things. I for my safety couldn't deal with that nor could I validate her unsafe and distorted view of reality, especially not by verbally hurting others. The friendship had to end!

So boundaries are important. They can be hard to enforce, but they are ultimately about your behavior. Good boundaries are about keeping yourself safe. Good boundaries are easily respected and aren't imposing on others; if a boundary about your behavior is impossible for someone to respect, they are trying to control your behavior.