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.