How to set Boundaries to protect yourself from manipulators
Joined: 24 Jun 2005
Location: Portland Oregon
I had a conversation with a family member about setting boundaries and he responded..."if you set boundaries, you will never get close to anybody!". This conversation forced me to see what might be a common misunderstanding of boundaries and told me that I should make myself clear.
Survivor coping mechanisms that are not effective.
1. Building Walls (Closed Heart)
2. Open fields (Open Heart)
When we share ourselves with another human being that we expect honesty and caring from, we leave ourselves open for one of the greatest traumas a human can experience. If we are a child with a parent who has abused us this open heart then that damage can follow us through our lives. If you are an adult survivor who had abuse as a child or in an adult relationship, you can heal. Even if you have not suffered "abuse"...you still need to set them.
The damage caused by the betrayal creates 2 main conditions: Walls and Open fields. These two things look very different but they have the same purpose and often co-exist.
The 2 Conditions that Exist when Boundaries do not.
1. Walls are angry responses to any attempt by anyone to get close.
We stand on guard above the main gate, pouring hot oil and firing arrows at the slightest movement towards us. Any provocation sends an angry volley at the perpetrator. We are ever vigilant...guarding and responding tense and unforgiving. We are tired sentinels who need sleep and we close our eyes for just a moment and the beast walks in.
Why walls are not effective: Walls are usually set to protect ourselves from people who look and act like the previous abuser. The are often lowered for a sweet talking newcomer that seems so different from the one that forced us to build the walls in the first place.
A caged heart beats harder and loneliness is the result. "This guy or gal is great!" "They don't do X..., Like that bastard did!". I will let them in and my sad heart can find peace. ( This is something I sense in threads like "did your N do x?" It is healing to discuss our frustrations but dangerous to build walls around these things...boundaries are much better)
The only problem is that walls look ugly to most well meaning people but are an invitation to an abuser. The most vigilant warrior needs sleep. The caged heart needs love. and the manipulator holds the key to the gate. Walls are false protection that often bring in even more skilled manipulators than the previous one. They simply require more skill to cross and a greater reward for doing so. Once they are in your walls, they have full control.
2. Open fields are an attempt to protect yourself with higher minded love.
We stand open-armed waiting for a person to cure. Our love will heal them and through this, their gratitude will bring your trust. Often we feel that our beloved will appear on the horizon to rush for us and carry us off into the golden sunset. The manipulator knows that the healer is easiest to manipulate. The lover will back down on fear of hurting the manipulator. One sad look and you are theirs. They bring a sorry story that opens your heart. You know that through understanding them...they will be better. Someone who has been through what they have will certainly understand me. I have been through hell myself!
With open fields there are no protections. All who come will be served...unless they do not have a sad story to exchange.
Often we alternate between the two.
This is a borderline pattern. Trust followed by mistrust...back to trust again. The worthy people in our lives get worn down and leave us...the unworthy feed on what is left. Walls built up, then torn down...So much construction and destruction...how can we rest?
Boundaries are the Solution.
Boundaries are the middle ground between open fields and walls. They are light, easy to maintain and become automatic over time.
What boundaries offer:
1. Protection and support of self so we can heal.
2. Low energy usage. They do not make us drain ourselves in order to stay safe
3. An early warning system against predatory manipulators.
They are as simple as "lines in the sand". They are verbal, enforceable and allow us to find people who are worthy not based on whether we are attracted to them but on how they respond to us and our needs. They teach other people how to build boundaries too. Most survivors are born healers and we should not give that away. It is a powerful capability. Every strong healer must also have strong boundaries.
How do we build boundaries and what are they?
A boundary is very simple in essence. It is a statement of feeling when another person does something that hurts you in any way (this includes pain that builds up over time). Boundaries must be global (They apply to all people in your life) and they must be enforceable (This means reasonable or you end up with "walls").
1. The first stage of building boundaries happens alone.
It is a list of things people can do that hurt you. For every item on that list tie in the feelings you had when it occurred. Note if you had delayed response or if it was a behavior that wore you down. This first part is the most time consuming. To this day, I keep a little notebook to write down thoughts related to hurts that I feel. We often have delayed reactions that make it easier for us to "blow off" the pain. Keeping track of them is vital.
2. The second step is organizing the list.
I fully recommend a counselor to help you with this. It is a process of discovery that helps you find not only root causes for your pain but ways of condensing the long list into groups related things. We need to "keep it simple". A complex list of boundaries is much harder to set than a simple list.
3. The third step is determining enforcement.
Again, in this stage a counselor is helpful. It is about finding reasonable enforcement around boundaries. You do not want to break a relationship off after your partner leaves the cap off the toothpaste 3 times in a row or your mother interrupts you during an argument. Enforcement says...I will endure this x many times. Each violation after I set the expectation will be dealt with in such a way. If they are ignored then the "NC" rule will apply.
Now that you have boundaries set...you need to apply them. If the first part was most time consuming, this part is most painful...at first. The liberation is worth it.
Applying our set boundaries
1. Boundaries are global
They apply to every person in our lives. It does not matter if someone says "That is stupid" or thinks you are "stuck up". When people say these things...think of how you would deal with their boundaries. It will quiet your doubt. Because boundaries are global., they are easy to remember and enforce. A set of different boundaries for every person would be unmanageable. We often have more than one abuser in our lives. The global nature allows you to honestly say..."I feel this way about anybody doing X...it is not just you"
2. Boundaries only vary slightly depending on situation
If the boundaries are well defined and reasonable...they should be the same in all situations. It takes time to get there. Monitor the times you need to bend boundaries and either alter them to be more applicable overall or keep yourself out of boundary bending situations.
3. Boundaries are firm
They are the value of our worth and nothing less. By giving in to others and letting them cross set boundaries...we lower our value not only in the eyes of others but in our own eyes.
4. Boundaries are expressed in clear and non-accusitory ways.
They must be spoken or written.
When setting boundaries, you should not be angry, stern or rude. You should put them in terms of how you feel...not make judgments on why someone did what they did. Boundaries are a simple statement that is said once and does not need to be explained.
When you do X, I feel Y and if it continues to happen I will need to do Z in order to protect myself.
Do not let an argument ensue. If it gets heated move away. The worthy person will listen and the manipulator will fight you.
5. Boundaries are a living thing
You will find that over time, by setting, expressing and enforcing boundaries that many people that have used you will disappear. Boundaries grow with you and become part of who you are. They enable you to be a better part of this world and find people that are interested in walking that path with you.
6. Boundaries and love are very compatable
If anyone accuses you of not loving them because you will not compromise yourself for them...They do not love you. They love controlling you.
You are not:
1. A co-dependant
2. A victim
3. A failure
4. A bad person
7. An enabler
8. An inverse narcissist
9. A fool
You are a person that has survived difficult situations and did your best with the tools you were given. Boundaries are a "Swiss Army Knife" that you now have at your disposal. You are a survivor.
Joined: 2 Nov 2004
Location: New Zealand
Joined: 9 Jun 2005
Location: 31726 Windsor, Garden City, Michigan, 48135
I keep myself wide open to be killed emotionally by anyone who cares to. I consider the pain worth the freedom and richness of emotion and love i experiance.
And as always, these are simply my worthless opinions.
My body is a channel that translates energy from the universe into happiness.
I either express information, or consume it. I am debating which to do right now.
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