Boundaries

I was lucky enough to be able to see a therapist for a couple of months last year. After two visits of listening to me unload my sorrowful saga he declared I was codependent. He gave me homework after our second session. I was to buy and read Codependent No More.

For the next two months, in between reading my book and sessions with my counselor we talked about the importance of setting boundaries. Boundaries, per Wikipedia (because Wikipedia knows as much, if not more, than Google – and because I didn’t have the wherewithal to try to define this word myself), “are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify for themselves what are reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave around him or her and how they will respond when someone steps outside those limits.”

Seems easy enough, right? Develop your own set of rules and don’t allow people in your life to break them. Well, it’s easier said than done, especially if, like me, you have trouble telling people no.

Boundaries are something I’ve had trouble with as far back as I can remember. The most egregious issue I’ve had with boundaries is when I allowed a young woman to use threats and acts of self-harm, along with threats and attempts of suicide, to coerce me into a relationship, a marriage, and fatherhood (To be clear, I do not regret having my children.).

It took me years to realize just how heinously I’d been duped by this woman. It took a private session with our marriage counselor for me to finally put my finger on why I had such potent animosity towards her. She’d been manipulating me for years and my subconscious had finally had enough. It took some time before my brain and subconscious were on the same page, but once they were I escaped that marriage and vowed to never let anyone emotionally blackmail me again.

Again, easier side than done. Quite frankly, until working with my counselor last year, along with reading the “homework” he assigned me, I never quite understood what boundaries, nor their importance, were. He explained to me how to set boundaries and how important that was to my mental well-being.

I’ve been doing my best to set boundaries since then, but haven’t always succeeded. For instance, my ex-wife pretty much blackmailed me into taking the dog we once shared by threatening to take the dog to the pound if I didn’t. I love my dog and I’m glad to have her back, but I am beyond destitute right now and cannot afford a pet. My other responsibilities must come first. However, my ex was so desperate to get rid of the dog and her responsibilities to it that she offered to pay for everything. Sure, it sounds like a win, but I set a boundary and then let her cross it. I lose.

This morning I was forced into another attempt to enforce my boundaries. Two very close friends of mine had a bit of a disagreement recently, and it ended with one not speaking to the other. This morning, the friend who had been trying to reach out all week, only to have her words fall on deaf ears, pleaded with me to get involved. I informed her that I did not want to be caught in the middle of their tiff, and advised her to send an email to the other party laying out her feelings on the matter. In response, I was lashed out at, sworn at, and made to feel guilty because our mutual friend was talking to me and not her. I tried to explain again that I did not want to get involved, but I received the same vitriolic responses. I became fed up and told the other friend that she needed to answer the other and then went offline (I was at work), not talking to either of them for the rest of the day.

Moreover, in the past week the friend who completely trampled over my boundaries this morning has made multiple comments regarding self-harm and has questioned her sanity more than once. Sadly, because of past experiences I can’t tell if she’s genuinely sharing her thoughts and feelings or telling me those things in an attempt to manipulate me into remaining her friend. I understand she has a mental illness, but I will not be blackmailed by threats of suicide and self-harm again. I cannot. That is one of the most horrible fucking feelings I’ve ever experienced and I am not going to tolerate it again.

I am seriously analyzing my relationship with the friend who got so shitty with me this morning. She completely ignored the boundaries I set, caring only about her own pain and disregarding the potentially compromising position in which I could have become entangled had my intervention gone awry. Additionally, she often gets upset with me because, in her mind, I’m much more popular than her and more people like me than her. Lastly, she seems content to simply bitch about the problems she faces, never doing anything to address her problems. She dismisses all advice given to her, including my suggestion that she commit herself after admitting she was having thoughts of self-harm. Frankly, I’m fed up with all the drama. I love her dearly, but I don’t need this. I can’t force her to take care of herself and I also can’t watch her slowly self-destruct.

I am at a total loss as to how to handle this and have a crippling fear of my own judgement right now. I’m adrift and unsure how to proceed.

 

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39 thoughts on “Boundaries

  1. I hate it when I feel like I can’t trust my own judgment. I’m sorry you’re in this position, and I hope it gets better. For what it is worth, to me you seem pretty stable, lol. There comes a point when you can’t save someone else — they have to want to be saved and do it themselves. In my experience, if they don’t want to change, you’re basically beating your head against a wall. And neither of us likes headaches, I know.

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  2. At some point you just have to realize what your own limitations are. I personally hate it if someone tries to emotionally black mail me. I cut it off like a venomous snake.

    The problem seems that the friendship on your side does seem genuine. You must ask yourself is the friendship from the other person also genuine? As a rule I don’t get mixed up in other people’s disputes. It always goes wrong and tends to make things worse. Your friend should respect your decision not to get involved. Respect is a very important part of any relationship or friendship.

    It sounds like this person needs to get professional help. If she is not willing to do so, I don’t know! Is there not some kind of help-line in your country which you could call?
    I agree with the comment from Steph above. If the person does not want to change….

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  3. You’re doing the right thing even though it may not seem like it right now. Your therapist is absolutely right. You have to set boundaries sometimes for your OWN well being. I’m here if ya need me, buddy. Just an email away. I know you know it too. 😉
    Deep breaths, my friend. Deep breaths.

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  4. TD,

    Thanks for sharing here.

    I’m glad you are on a path towards learning your boundaries and how to stick with them, and I’m sorry that you’ve been placed in such a hard situation regarding your friends. It’s hard to know what to do in situations like that… We love our friends and want what is best for them, we want to always help them, but we can’t do that to our own detriment. Sometimes we have to step away, for our own good, recharge, reassess, and then make ourselves available again at a later time – when the situation has changed, when emotions have cooled, when we are more prepared to deal with the requests being asked of us. And, there is nothing wrong with that.

    So, don’t judge yourself in this. You doing what you need to for yourself, is doing the right thing.

    Matticus

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  5. Just things to think about:

    1. What is it you WANT to see happen?

    2. What is it that NEEDS to happen?

    3. Why do you have to be the one to make it happen?

    4. What would you tell someone else in this situation?

    5. What is it taking from you emotionally, physically and mentally to take on these things?

    6. Depending on your answer to #5, what else is it impacting? Kids? Job?

    7. What would be the impact on you if you were to say no or let things go?

    These are just rhetorical, and probably don’t all apply in every situation. It probably sounds heartless to try to approach this logically vs. only emotionally but this is just another side to it all. Nobody can be everything to everyone, and you have to preserve what you can for yourself and your kids. Everything eventually adds up, which is why you have to push back sometimes.

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  6. I got a chill as I read this. I remembered a comment I made to you through chat about working late preventing me from SI….then I remembered that Google saves our chats and apparently, I do send random numbers in the night…weird, but no threats of SI, and no insults…good.

    We all want to do right by our friends. Sometimes they are closer than family because they are not forced together by this thing called DNA. That makes it difficult to let go.

    I understand your refusal to get involved as the go between your two friends. They need to work it out, especially if the tiff had nothing to do with you.

    Your second issue is tough. The fallacies of suicide are mind-blowing. Left a note, didn’t; comments were used for attention but they weren’t. In my attempt there was no note.

    SI is a bit of a different animal. It deflects or creates pain…or validates it.

    Have you reached out to your friend regarding your concerns of manipulation? It could quite possibly be that she trusts you enough to be a sounding board and doesn’t realize it is affecting you in this way. If she doesn’t know, it isn’t fair to her. If you’ve made it clear that her behaviour feels like manipulation, move on. Ignoring doesn’t count. She needs to hear it.

    The part about having more friends…popularity is so overrated. I prefer quality over quantity.

    This may or may not have helped, I hope it did.

    LJ

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    • No, I haven’t told I her feel like I’m being manipulated, but she knows my past. She knows my first wife manipulated me using suicide. We’ve spoken about it.

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      • Understandable. She knows about your first wife, but she isn’t your first wife and to project that onto your friend without discussion, how do you feel about that?
        You are a good person and hardly need a moral compass. You say you love her, but you also say you are putting up with her. That is fair to neither of you. Her ignorance is not causing you bliss, and you may want to let her know. Wouldn’t you want her to tell you if the situations were reversed, instead of her just popping out of your life? Wouldn’t you feel confused? I’m hardly an expert, but sometimes brutal honesty is needed to set a friendship straight. If you tell her and she doesn’t change, cut ties. Sending her to this blog post and saying “that’s you” doesn’t count. ;0). Confrontation as unpleasant as it is, sometimes needs to happen. *Hugs*

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      • Again, understood…if she doesn’t know specifically where she stands, it isn’t fair. People aren’t formed in a cookie cutter factory, and she is not your ex. If she turns combative, you can calmly tell her that these are your boundaries and she has crossed them and that’s that, and you are moving on if she can’t grasp that. You don’t need to be drawn into a fight. If she can’t understand, it is time to move on. Wouldn’t you want that courtesy? Again, I’m not the relationship guru.

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