If you’ve been in a relationship with a narcissist you understand what it’s like to not have any boundaries. You might have had strong healthy ones at some point in the past but years of having the narcissist vault over each boundary wore you down, didn’t it?
You may have gotten free of the relationship but it is so hard to be free of the feeling that everyone else is more important and has more rights than you do. Everyone else is allowed to have boundaries but yours are fragile at best.
You may even think that you don’t deserve them.
Change Is Tough
I swore when I separated from my ex I would create and maintain strong boundaries. I imagined myself standing strong – lovingly but firmly refusing to give up the things that I felt strongly about. I read articles on healthy boundaries, I got counseling, and I prayed about it. I felt sure that I could be adult enough to stand up and tell people when they had crossed that line.
I am still a dismal failure at boundaries.
I will say something a couple of times, then I will get overwhelmed, then I will be frustrated, then I will cry, and then the cycle repeats. It isn’t just one person – it’s everyone. I have had enough conflict in my life that I think I just feel it’s easier to suck it up and move on that to demand that certain things be done.
I Expect Others to Understand
I don’t know about you, but I have the terrible tendency to expect others to see my needs and understand my feelings.
I am an empath. I read people so well that I can nearly always anticipate a need in someone’s life – almost before they know it themselves. I make it a habit to look for things that cause other people discomfort and I try to avoid those things. Because I am like that I tend to think others are like that, too.
The truth of the matter is that we’ve been trained to overlook our preferences, needs, and wants so that others will not be discomforted. Because of that we can have difficulty separating the important things from the not so important things. It makes it hard for family and friends to know when to accommodate us and when it’s OK to hold fast to their boundaries.
There is some part of me that says if they loved me they’d know how important this is to me.
That is a dangerous mentality; an unhealthy thing to believe. The truth is that they do love me but they can’t get inside my head. If I can’t logically sit down and explain what my needs are then I can’t expect my family to read my mind. If I don’t make my boundaries clear then I can’t blame anyone but myself when others crash over them.
I Have to Define My Boundaries
I have to define my boundaries in an obvious way, plus I have to be fair about it. It isn’t right to be inwardly frustrated about something for years, never say anything about it, then all of a sudden blow up and demand that the boundary be honored.
It’s also important to be reasonable about them. There has to be some give and take in any relationship. Insisting on having your way all of the time isn’t healthy but neither is it healthy to always be the one that backs down.
Know When You Need to Set a Boundary
When I don’t have boundaries I feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and frustrated. My chest hurts, I cry easily, and I end up resenting the situations that I feel are causing my problems.
When I feel all of that it’s past time to take a step back and try to figure out what need isn’t being met. Then I need to decide how I should proceed. I will be honest – at this point in my life my boundaries are fragile. It doesn’t take much to sweep them away. As much as I hate to admit it I am afraid of conflict.
I am working on it though. I am doing my best to put myself on the important people list. I am trying to recognize that other family members have different priorities and may not understand why something is important to me. I am trying to respectfully enforce my boundary before I hit that point of explosion. You know what I am talking about – that last straw.
Don’t Feel Guilty
This is the hardest part – the not feeling guilty part. It’s OK that I have reasonable boundaries and I can’t control how other people respond to them. I need to respect their feelings as much as I want them to respect mine, but I will not allow myself to feel guilty for having a reasonable boundary that someone else doesn’t like. It’s up to them to figure out what to do about their own emotions.
I have lost friends because I needed to maintain an important boundary. I felt bad, I was sorry to see them go – but ultimately I don’t need people in my life that refuse to acknowledge my boundaries. They don’t have to approve of them, but I am just as entitled to my feelings as anyone else is to theirs.
Yeah, It’s Easy in Theory
So how in the world do you go about creating and strengthening healthy boundaries?
Identify the need. I get stressed when people yell at me.
- Be calm and respectful. If you continue to yell at me I am going away until you can speak calmly to me.
- Enforce your boundary. I am not angry at you but you are continuing to yell (or speak in a way that is intimidating, etc.) so I am going to the coffee shop for an hour to give us both a chance to calm down.
- Then you just do it.
It is difficult at first but as you do it more it will get easier. I’ll tell you a secret, too. Most people do not try to ascertain whether their emotions are worth expressing or not. We have been unable to express our feelings, thoughts, and indignation at abuse without fear of repercussion. We have forced forgiveness when it wasn’t warranted. We have a habit of bypassing our hearts and spirits in the name of peace and security.
That’s just not normal.
You can find normal again. Join First Wives World and talk to others who are dealing with the same issues you are – you’re not alone.
*Image Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons, User: Shira Gal