There is a proverbial saying that “Good fences make good neighbors,” and it’s true.
Part of knowing ourselves is know where we leave off and where other people begin. Often, in an effort to make friends or be needed or loved, we tend to bleed over into (or onto) other people. Or, sometimes in reaction to rejection (perceived or imagined), we build big, bad, scary walls instead of lovely, loving, and healthy fences (boundaries)—with gates in them.
What are healthy boundaries? The concept of “boundaries” has become a buzzword in therapy-talk. Books—lots of books—have been written. Let’s clear some clutter.
First, healthy boundaries are not walls that cut us off from other people. A wall is an example of an “unhealthy boundary.” We are not meant to live in isolation. This unhealthy attempt at creating boundaries can express itself by extreme physical withdrawal (hiding out) or by building emotional walls through intimidation, anger, or attempts to control other people.
We see this a lot in victims of trauma or betrayal. For example: “If you (the betrayer) don’t go to seven meetings a week, read two books a week, and see a therapist every week, you’re out of here.” This is an example of an understandable, but ultimately wrong-headed, way to regain a sense of control in the betrayed person’s life. It’s wrong-headed because (a) it is moving the locus of control to the other person’s willingness to be compliant (a strategy sure to build—or increase—resentment) and (b) it is rooted in fear—fear of being hurt again . . . understandable but not healthy.
Remember your 7th grade grammar and the difference between an “indicative” and an “imperative”? Indicative statements state what is—Imperative statements demand action.
Fear-based attempts to control one’s environment by controlling another person are usually phrased as an imperative: “Do this or that” followed by a threat “or I will do this or that.”
So, what would an “indicative” strategy look like? How can those who have been wounded regain a sense of control and set healthy boundaries? It’s especially hard—and especially necessary—for those who have been traumatized by betrayal or addiction.
We will tackle this in our next blog.