Sunday, April 13, 2008

Boundaries And Inappropriate Behaviors

Boundaries are not wall. They should be flexible.

Boundaries are not rigid. They should be adjustable.

This doesn't mean they should collapse at the first sign of resistance from yourself or other people. Boundaries, especially when you first set them, will be tested by others who aren't used to them being there, by others who don't like your new boundaries at all, and by yourself to see if you really mean what you say.

Boundaries are not being selfish. They should protect us from the inappropriate behaviors of others. Sometimes, boundaries also protect others from our own inappropriate behaviors. One boundary that I have set for myself is that I cannot try to fix other people. No matter how much I may think that I know better, I cannot tell another person how to live their lives and how to make their choices. I don't have that right. No one does. In codependent relationships, fixing was often something that I tried to do in the past.

When I first heard about boundaries in Adult Children of Alcoholics and Al-Anon, I was confused. I had no idea what they were talking about. I grew up with incest and alcoholism in my family. The two worst alcoholics were also rageaholics so there were no boundaries.

Codependency was rampant in my family because of the alcoholism. Everyone tried to fix everyone else. Rage and silence lived in the same house. Fear was always around waiting and feeding. Everyone tried to placate the alcoholic. No one paid attention to the children. We were fed and clothed and taught to not feel unless it was rage which better not be expressed unless you were the alcoholic. We were taught to live with abuse and inappropriate behaviors because that was normal in our family. I grew up as the oldest of three children. My dad was the third oldest of the 13 kids in his family. I grew up with an extended family of cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents. My grandfather was the violent alcoholic head of the extended family. Every weekend was spent at the house of my grandparents. The only time my grandfather drank was from Friday evening when he got off work until Sunday evening when he ran out of money to buy more beer.

Growing up with the incest and alcoholism, which really is a family disease, I didn't know that living with people who exhibited inappropriate behaviors every day wasn't normal. It was normal in my family. Not knowing what is normal is a characteristic of adult children of alcoholics.

Because of the abuse, I had walls that I hid the real me and the wounded me behind. Walls are not boundaries. Walls are rigid. Walls are solid. They kept you out and also kept me a prisoner trapped in the abuse. In hiding from you and life, I was just existing, getting through each day, just going through the motions of surviving and not really being touched by anyone or anything, a prisoner of my own fears. If I let you get too close, you would hurt me. The walls that protected me also kept me a prisoner of fear and despair.

Someone in Al-Anon recommended that I read two of the books written by Melody Beattie called Codependent No More and Beyond Codependency. I saw so much of myself and my family in those books. I also learned about healthy boundaries and how to use them. I recently recommended these books to my friend who is new to Al-Anon. They are wonderful resources to having healthy relationships with others and with yourself.

The first step, for me, in setting boundaries was to let down my walls. This wasn't a one-time occurence. In learning to do boundaries, it is a back and forth process of letting down the walls, getting scared and putting the walls back up, noticing that the walls are back up and letting them down again going back and forth until you feel safe without the walls. In the beginning, it is like a pendulum swinging back and forth until the swings became less and less until you finally find balance near the center.

You know that you have healthy boundaries when they protect you from abuse and inappropriate behaviors without you hiding behind walls. You know that you have set healthy boundaries for yourself when you recognise that you are no longer abusing others with your own set of inappropriate behaviors. You know that you have healthy boundaries when you are no longer abusing yourself with your own inappropriate behaviors.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for the inspiration and the flow of energy to write these words and to share them with others.


Pat R said...

Patricia - I understand what you're saying about boundaries and what is healthy and what is not.

It's taken me a lifetime to let those walls down and let go. I too have tried to fix situations but have learned it's something you can't do for someone else.

I wrote about a life situation in a post called Hooking Up - Finding That Connection that helped me understand this and bring closure.

Now, I'm learning that these things happened but I'm letting go and they're not "my story" anymore. I'm learning to no longer let them define who I am.

Patricia Singleton said...

Pat, I just left a comment on your article Hooking Up - Finding That Connection. It is a lesson that took me a long time to learn as well.

Pat R said...

Patricia - thank you for your comment on my post.

I think what we're both learning in Eckhart Tolle's book is teaching us about these boundaries and letting go.

Patricia Singleton said...

Pat, we are truly blessed to live in this time and age of spiritual revelations.

Frank Butterfield said...

Patricia --

Thank you for the courage and willingness to write about your story. Sharing this profound insight is very powerful. There may be some who do not understand the difference between boundaries and walls.

You did an amazing job of making it very clear why boundaries are fluid and malleable yet very clear. And that walls are just what we use to hide behind.

For myself, the walls I built in childhood have been difficult to dismantle. But that has been easier and easier as time goes by.

I found that creating clear boundaries first (and standing behind them when others didn't like them) enabled the walls to come down faster.

For those of us who learned early that we couldn't trust anyone else, boundaries are a way that we teach ourselves how powerful trust really can be.

Thank you so much for your insight!!

All the best!
Frank Butterfield

Patricia Singleton said...

Frank, thank you for your words of encouragement and for adding more value to my words by sharing your own experience with setting up boundaries.

happy said...

Hi Patricia and Frank,

I still have walls inside me from unhappy childhood. How should I dismantle it. (I don't trust people and myself)

Anonymous said...

I still have big walls from childhood. I don't trust people and myself. Can you offer any help

Patricia Singleton said...

Reading about what is healthy is what has always helped me to recognize and change my own walls to healthy boundaries. The applying what I learned is a lot harder and takes time and much practice. It takes time to go from using walls to having flexible, healthy boundaries.

The book that helped me the most besides the two that I mentioned in the article above is called Boundaries and is written by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. The book that I found on is called Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No, To Take Control of Your Life. It may be the same book or a newly reviewed version of the book that I read in the early 1990's. I also read most of John Bradshaw's books that were out at the time.

The best advice that I can give you is to be patient with yourself and just take setting your boundaries one day at a time until you get good at recognizing your boundaries. It will happen over time. Expect others to test every new boundary that you set because they don't believe that you are serious and can really change. You can. Don't give up. You are worth it.

Patricia Singleton said...

Happy, your comment is very similar to that of Anonymous who I just answered. Read the reply that I just posted for Anonymous.

I can't tell anyone "how" to do their work on themselves. What works for me may not work for you. What works for you may not work for me. I can only share my experiences and hope that it might help someone else to grow in their own journey. If what I suggest works, great. If it doesn't, don't give up. Just keep looking and searching until you find what does work for you.

healing_within said...

I am learning boundaries but like you am coming to see they are there to protect and not separate us from others.. ..I think it takes much time to know what is healthy and what is not a healthy boundary > Sometimes there is a danger that we create boundaries that keep out even good people and then that defeats the purpose of creating the for therapeutic reason.. I know I have been building boundaries for quite some time and most of them are still standing.. I have seen places where I forgot to put boundaries and have now repaired that. I am so happy you put the link on twitter again. as I am trying to make healthy boundaries.. joy

Patricia Singleton said...

Joy, I am glad that this post is helping you. I had walls in the beginning that kept everyone out. I had to, with experimentation, take down the walls and learn what was healthy boundaries. It took some time.