Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Leaps and Boundaries

I have been told that I don't respect boundaries whether they are mine or another's. That may be true. I have had a tendency to become enmeshed in another person's life where I feel what they feel, do what they do. When that happens I lose myself which leaves me with weak or no boundaries.

By having weak boundaries, I would morph into being what someone else wanted me to be. This is really a form of dishonesty which prevents real intimacy. It's not possible to be intimate with a person who can't express feelings, wants, likes or dislikes, or who can't be honest about those feelings. I think that this behavior was a way by which I learned to survive.

I didn't know what a boundary was until Al-Anon.
And once in Al-anon, I mistakenly thought setting a boundary was something I had to do to someone else. What I now understand is the only person I can really set a boundary with is myself.

For instance, I can't set a boundary in which I tell another what they can't say or do. I cannot tape their mouths shut or tie their hands. But I can learn to say no when I want to say no.

I didn't have "No" as a boundary for such a long time. It was difficult for me when I was younger to say no to those who asked something of me. I would either go along with what was wanted, lie about why I couldn't do it, or just avoid the issue altogether. None of these responses worked because I felt resentment, anger and guilt. Even if I did manage to convey a "no", it was always given with a long-winded attempt to soften the blow. I have since learned that "No" is a complete sentence.

Another problem I've had with boundaries is to not believe it when another told me "No". I would do what I could to convince them to change their mind, to do what I wanted them to do. That was what I would do with my parents as a child, and that childlike behavior carried through into adulthood.

That's why boundaries can be tricky. I have to look at my motive for setting one: am I doing it for my good, or to try to make someone else do something I think is good for them? Am I trying to change them or to punish them? I don't think these are good reasons to set boundaries.

I've found that my boundaries tend to be flexible. I don't like to establish a wall. I also don't want to constantly drop boundaries so that they are never in place. I read that a good boundary could be thought of as a being like a drawbridge that I can pull up when I need to do so.

These are some guidelines for setting boundaries:

1. Give up any expectations about the outcome

2. Clearly define consequences that don't disrupt my serenity.

3. Set boundaries and communicate them clearly.

4. Enforce boundaries consistently.

5. Set boundaries without regard for the relationship

And these are some of the healthy boundaries that I now strive to use :

Keep my Mouth Shut-- I don't need to engage in arguments with another.

Live One Day at a Time-- I don't want to project about the future or rehash the past over and over

Take Nobody's Inventory but My Own-- I don't need to browbeat another or try to convince them of my viewpoint. I just need to focus on my own behavior.

Focus on myself-- I pay attention to what I am thinking and feeling and reach out to others in the program when I am angry, lonely or tired.

I'm still far from being able to do all of these things consistently. But I have come to understand that having healthy boundaries is must better than not having any at all.


  1. boundaries as a topic was so meant for me today, and to make sure it sticks, I will also extensively journal on: "... go along with what was wanted, lie about why I couldn't do it, or just avoid the issue altogether. None ... worked because I felt resentment, anger and guilt.... "
    Thank you yet again, Syd.

  2. When I first came in the rooms, I too, learned about boundaries, choices, and the word "No.". I first put boundaries in by constructing a wall. As I became stronger inside, I no longer felt the need to have boundaries in stone. Progress...always progress!

    Great stuff today, Syd.


  3. Thanks Syd, that's a nice summary on the issue. "The only person I can really set a boundary with is myself." That's a new thought for me, which resonates right away. I appreciate it!

  4. Great inventory!

    Love and hugs,

    Anonymous #1

  5. Interesting post, Syd.

    Happy Christmas!


  6. My thought on setting boundaries is to first clearly define your own values. Your baundaries must coincide with your values or you will find yourself with boundaries incongruent with your life.

  7. Syd, this is extremely helpful to me, thank you for sharing it! I'm going to print and reread, often!

  8. This is as good as it gets.

    And I LOVE your title today.

  9. LOVE this!! I am going to copy the key points and past them to my blog, hope you don't mind Syd. Thanks, needed this support today.

  10. What a great post! Thanks. I, too, always had trouble with boundaries, particularly in my romantic relationships. I could be anything you wanted me to be. I wanted whatever you wanted. But eventually, I would resent you because I gave up everything I wanted and enjoyed, even though you never asked me to do any of that. I gave it all away myself.

  11. an excellent post Syd. thanks for the reminders, especially this time of year :)

  12. This is wonderful information for me and I was having a conversation earlier with a sponsee about boundaries. I should direct her here or if she can't go "on-line", then copy this out for her.

    Great post. Thanks Syd.

  13. Great post just the season for the setting of the boundaries.
    This is precisely the way to go about setting healthy boundaries. You begin by correcting the person, telling them how you wish to be treated, or stating what you are or are not willing to do. If this hasn’t worked in the past or if you have reason to suspect someone won’t readily comply with your wishes, then you also state the result– what will happen if the other person doesn’t respect your boundary. When you’re dealing with people who are not very empathic, who are quite self-centered or who don’t have good boundaries themselves, it’s particularly important for this second part of the process to be clear and firm without being aggressive.

  14. Thanks for this, Syd. Its really, really good info. I like what Dad added too...never thoguht about that aspect of boundaries, but they are not "one size fits all".

    You are a wonderful human being and I am grateful from all I learn from you.

  15. What is hard for me with setting these types of boundaries you speak of is this: Often when the need to set the boundary arises it takes me too long to figure it out. Sometimes I feel like I can take the time and other times I feel put on the spot and cannot even figure out how I But I am getting better at it. I think it comes from a growing up in a house where image was/is more important than what is going on inside. I love your posts Syd thanks. Deb

  16. Syd, I don't set boundaries around myself. I set boundaries to protect myself. My boundaries mean that I won't let an addict's behavior run over my life and control me. Just to be clear about 'no'. When I say 'no', my boundary now forces somebody else to change. It means I will not live with ... whatever it may be..abuse, lying, stealing, chaos, the darkness of addiction in every corner or my house. This boundary only changes me by allowing me to breathe and live. The boundary profoundly changes the lives of those around me. In the days when my boundaries were weak and ever-changing, all hell was breaking loose in my house. I didn't set firm boundaries until I was ready to move out and live in a tree house many miles from any humans just to get some peace. At that point, I set boundaries. And, come to find out, when you have firm boundaries, people have to change or move.

  17. Since I have started saying no, I found to my absolute surprise that it works! I never knew that before, because I never said "no" before.

  18. Oh holy crap, this is SO difficult for me to read. I even caught myself reading it with my right eye closed...and then soon I was skipping every other sentence. It hurts to read...So, I'm forwarding it to my e mail to print out when I am by the printer with my laptop. Obviously you've struck a nerve....and it's most likely a very good Christmas present for me. Thank you!

  19. I love the line that "No is a complete sentence."
    It makes me think of that verse in the book of Job. God asks where Job was when He ordained the limits of the sea: "And I said, ‘Thus far you shall come, but no farther; And here shall your proud waves stop’..."

  20. Very helpful post Syd -- growing up with am alcoholic mother, there was no consistent limit-setting.

    And as an active alcoholic I disregarded others' boundaries.

    Mary LA

  21. Nicely said. I don't create boundaries, I build walls.

    Blessings and aloha...

  22. I tend to be the "wall" kind of boundary gal, which isn't helping me at all.
    I become to rigid and stubborn and then to prideful to give in when i realize I'm wrong.
    Good post.jeNN

  23. this sure hit close to home... i struggle with this tremendously.

  24. it is amazing to me how "wrong" it feels to set self protecting boundries. something inside me was fashioned early on that self sacrifice is a nobel act - the balance i am finding is that serving others and sacrificing for tohers has to come from a place of strength - i can't keep giving and giving - if i am empty, anyway. what is more - i have had to learn that protecting someone esle is depriving them of a lesson they may very much need to learn.

    well, i got talky about that.

    Hang in there and do what is good for you.

  25. Good stuff, Syd. Boundaries are necessary for a healthy spiritual life for me, but not always easy to set, keep and keep my eyes on.

  26. Good suggestions! I have similar experiences too! :)

  27. WOW - I have been getting away from my program the past month and the past couple of days have been falling apart. This was exactly what I needed to hear and reminds me of why I need to "keep coming back" - thanks

  28. Syd, as always you are amazing at sharing the program and the work to get there. I thank you deeply and have so much gratitude for your blog and what you share.

    Much love,

  29. Here again I learn so much from reading your posts. I'd had "boundaries" in my mind through the holiday because I suspected my husband would manage to stay sober through the holiday then celebrate with a good drunk. I was right. So today I acted on the boundaries I'd been contemplating. And it felt good. I don't have to be a prisoner in my home. Thanks again Syd and Happy New Year!


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