Personal boundaries

Boundaries, you say? Never heard of ’em, says I

Of course that isn’t really true. I’ve heard wondrous things about boundaries. Johnson State College of Vermont  has this .pdf on Developing Healthy Boundaries for its students through the Counseling Services Department. (Isn’t the internet a lovely thing?) According to this document, if I can learn to set and maintain personal boundaries, then I can become a safe person for myself and others.

Apparently setting and maintaining boundaries makes me a safer person with others – for them and for myself. This is a very important thing for me. Even though I know, in my intellect, that I’m not actually unsafe when the various members of my family are around: Keith, LaLa & her SpiritLove, and Marco, I still feel quite anxious and fearful.

With Keith it’s a fear of triggering his anger and displeasure – even though there are seldom any personal attacks or any true physical threats, just the intensity of the anger that manifests is overwhelming for me. The silent anger emanating from him just sets me on edge and, even though I know that I know that I know that his anger is not mine to manage, I still feel like I have to do something to soothe it and make him feel better, so I can be comfortable and feel safe.

With the “kids,” I have difficulty establishing and maintaining boundaries because of guilt, fear, and empathy. There’s the mommy guilt from all the years of dysfunction Keith and I have lived in together and how it impacted their personalities, character, and life choices. As they’ve moved into adulthood, I’ve been able to let some of that guilt go, or so I thought. I now realize the guilt is there still, it’s just disguising itself as fear. The fear is that I don’t get to be in their lives because of the things they believe about me from their experiences and perceptions of our mutual past. So, whenever they are around, I’m hardly able to state a boundary, much less enforce one. This is less of an issue with Marco. With him, I tend to be very guarded and closed off, which breaks my heart because I just want to hug him and hold him and tell him how much I love him and how proud I am of him. I’m starting to feel the same way with LaLa.

Really, the only person in my family I feel safe with is Luna. I’m getting much better at setting boundaries with her. Of course, she’s only five and she’s still a bright, happy child who expects the best out of the world and the people around her.

Empathy for these people that I love also plays a big part in my inabilty to follow through with boundaries. I over-identify with them and what they are going through, what they’ve been through, and give them too much leeway as a result. This is especially true with LaLa. I know what it was like for me to be young, pregnant, and alone. She’s not alone, exactly. However, I suspect that on some level, I’m overcompensating for what I didn’t have, and it has less to do with what I think she may need and more to do with what I wish I’d had.

It is beyond frustrating to me that when I’m with other people: friends from church, a counselor/therapist, or even on a phone call with my cousin, I can be so, absolutely clear about what the boundaries are and what they need to be, not just for my safety, comfort, and functionality, but also for what I want for Luna, yet, when the time comes to be as clear on the boundary with these people, and to a lesser degree with others, I suddenly become a mute or inarticulate invertebrate.

I understand the principle and the practice of setting boundaries. What I do not grasp is why I seem patently incapable of translating that knowledge and understanding into practical application in my life. The document says:

If this is not familiar behavior it will feel awkward and
unnatural at first, but anything worth doing is worth doing badly at first.

For me, it isn’t just something that feels awkward and unnatural. I feel immobilized, incapable of action. I freeze. If I start to state a boundary in that circumstance, I am not able to maintain eye contact, I stammer, my speech gets slower, my thoughts start disappearing.

Somehow, I have to figure out what that is about. I’m starting to believe that if I can identify and understand what is causing that inabilty to state and keep a boundary, then I can overcome that barrier to my own sense of safety and start becoming a safer person for myself and others.