Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sometimes Setting Boundaries Hurts

Sometimes setting boundaries hurts. From Melody Beattie's The Language of Letting Go and sessions with my wonderful therapist, I have learned that one of the most important undertakings to implement in our healing process is setting boundaries.  But what does that mean?  And how is this accomplished? Setting boundaries is defining what you require in a new relationship to meet your needs, and also what you are not willing to accept. Setting boundaries means not taking on other individuals' dramas and crises.  And finally, setting boundaries means not accepting others' constant criticisms and judgements of who you are.

Setting boundaries in new relationships

We have to set healthy boundaries in new relationships to take care of ourselves. This is especially important for those of us recovering from domestic violence.  We cannot afford to fall into another similar situation or waste time in a relationship with someone who is emotionally unavailable. After all we've been through we must break the cycle, and we definitely deserve better.  We deserve to be in a relationship with someone who is going to love us with all our faults and accept us for who we are.  A man should be focused on meeting our needs as much as we are focused on their needs. I realize that relationships are about compromise, but we should not compromise on having our needs met.

I have had to apply this practice myself recently.   I made the difficult and painful decision of letting someone go. It hurts and it's sad.  I dated a wonderful man for about three months.  He was caring, sensitive, funny, and smart.  He thought I was beautiful, smart and interesting.  We went hiking and ran together, tried out new recipes together.  It was a beautiful, magical three months.  But unfortunately, he was dealing with his own recent breakup and dealing with his own issues of separation, finances, and child custody.  He was essentially emotionally unavailable.  I'm not sure how he was able to start a new relationship with me at all.  He kept asking me to be patient.  And I tried for a while.  But the relationship begin to be more painful than pleasurable for me. My needs were not being met.  I was focused on his needs, because I knew what he was going through, but no one was focused on my needs.  I started to feel needy and bitter.  Finally, it became apparent I needed to let him go to save myself.  It was extremely painful for me to find someone so wonderful and then having to let them go.  It was like capturing a beautiful, exquisite butterfly in my net then having to release him to fly away.  But I did it for me. 

Setting boundaries in taking on others' drama 

Setting boundaries is also about learning to stop taking on other peoples' dramas and crises.  Others have their issues to deal with, and we have our issues to deal with. Let them worry about their issues, and us worry about ours. After all, if you are healing from abuse, codependency, divorce, or addiction, aren't your issues enough to deal with at the moment?  In healing ourselves, we need to focus on us.  While this may seem selfish, it is necessary.  We cannot continue to give and give to others who simply suck the life out of us.

The hard part of setting boundaries is when these people are those who care about us and we care about them.  It is often our well-meaning parents, siblings, and friends who are the drama creators.  In my case, it is my mother.  Unfortunately, due to baggage she continues to carry from her childhood still at age 65, she is extremely pessimistic thinking nothing will ever work out as planned, everything will fail.  And often, this way of thinking is a self-fulfilling prophecy.   But that's a whole other story.  For her, everything is a crisis.  If it's not a crisis, she figures out a way to make it crisis, then she calls me up and somehow I'm supposed to get in a tizzy myself and solve this made-up crisis.  I've only just realized that I don't need to submit myself to this additional anxiety.  And unfortunately, I've begun to limit my contact with her.  I know this hurts her.  But since setting my boundary and making her aware of my concerns, I have been much more at peace in dealing with my own issues.

Setting boundaries in not accepting others' criticisms

We must also learn to stop listening to others constant criticisms and judgements of who we are.   The people around us are entitled to their opinion, but that does not mean we have to listen to them.  They don't define who we are.  We have the power within ourselves to define who we are and who we will become.   And don't be afraid to tell these self-imposed criticizers and judges to take a hike.  Maybe not so blunt (I'm still working on how to politely do this myself), but kindly ask them to take their opinions elsewhere, we don't need them.  And if that's not possible, we can simply limit our interactions with them.
As with the drama queens, the criticizes and judges are often our family and friends.  My dad is the criticizer.  For some reason, my dad feels the need to constantly critique everything.  Me, my house, my car, my yard.  During his visits, I am subjected to a constant barrage of criticisms on everything from "Donna, you are too sensitive.  You let everything bother you" to "Donna, you need to mow the lawn, you need to take the trash out." from the moment he arrives to the moment he leaves.  I am so constantly on edge that I cannot simply enjoy being with my dad.  My dad is 71, and I realize I don't have many years left with him, so I would like our visits to be pleasant.  I've been told by my mom, my dad, my ex to simply let it go, to not let it bother me.  But it does, and I'm tired of dealing with it.  I have told my dad that if he is going to constantly criticize me and my house when he visits to simply not come.  After all, I am over 40 years old, and this is my house.  My dad is old school, and I know he doesn't like me voicing my opinion. But I have to admit, he is trying to be more sympathetic to my needs and to tone down his criticisms.

Setting boundaries is hard and sometimes painful.  The pain will be short-lived, but the peace you find will be long-lasting.  Whether you are healing from loss or not, everyone should practice setting boundaries.  Especially moms (okay, so I'm a little biased).  We are the caretakers, the nurturers, the planners and the organizers.  If we don't take care of ourselves first, how can we care for our families?  How can make things happen? And especially survivors of abuse, disease, trauma, addiction, or divorce.  We must focus on our needs first in order to heal, learn, grow and become stronger.  We have enough on plates without taking on other peoples' problems.   We must be willing to set boundaries for our own survival.  It's not selfish, we deserve it. 


  1. I am new to your blog, but I can really identify with what you are saying. Your last paragraph, I feel, says it all in a nutshell. Good luck to you.

    1. Welcome, Linda! Glad to have here and thank you for your comments.

      Take care,