Wherever you live, it is obvious where your home ends and your neighbours' begins. There is a fence or a wall, some sort of boundary marking the division between the two properties. When you mow your lawn it is obvious where your responsibility stops and if your neighbours' garden is overgrown or full of weeds, it is not your problem. Each of us should ideally have the same clear boundaries around ourselves - there should be a space where we end and other people begin, but depending on the experiences and perceptions that have shaped who we are, that space may not exist or if it does exist, it may be easily penetrated. People with poor boundaries, either take on responsibility for other people's actions, or at the other extreme, they are irresponsible and expect other people to bail them out constantly.
Boundaries are important, not just for healthy relationships, but for living a fulfilling life, as well. I have lived my life up until now with no boundaries at all, care-taking and people pleasing my way through life, and consequently people have used and abused me and treated me like a doormat. I have made up my mind that my ex-husband will be the last person to treat me with no respect, and from now on, my boundaries will be monitored and enforced.
People with no boundaries tend to either take on the accountability for other people's issues (like I did) or be people who want other people to take responsibility for them (like my ex-husband). My ex-husband is so irresponsible, when I look back at our marriage it is almost surreal. He ran up huge credit card debts (and still is) without it ever crossing his mind that he would have to make payments, he bought a $2000 water feature on a whim, it never entered his head that his car needed to be serviced and maintained, or tyres needed to be replaced. He never seemed to realise that bills arrived and were paid. His lack of boundaries meant that he was unable and unwilling to take responsibility for himself and I believe now that his idea of being in love is having someone to 'fix' all the problems that he continually creates. He never had to be accountable for all the financial mayhem because I 'fixed' it. He never felt the consequences of his behaviour because I protected him from it. My lack of boundaries meant that my life revolved around saving him from himself in order to feel loved.
Using the lawn mowing analogy - a clearly defined boundary between your property and next door means that it is obvious where you mow up to and at which point your neighbour's responsibility for garden maintenance begins. Imagine if you did start mowing your neighbour's lawn too - you are now taking responsibility for his problem. If you continue to mow both lawns, you will start to feel resentful that you are putting yourself out while your neighbour is sipping Pina Colada in his hot tub. But the neighbour never had a choice - you took responsibility for his lawn, so it is now your problem, not his. You have disempowered your neighbour, he no longer has to be accountable for the state of his lawn. This is exactly what I did in my marriage - my ex-husband and I were completely enmeshed in a tangle of my codependency and his impulsive, addictive lifestyle and there was no clear boundary between the two of us. I felt resentful, exhausted and anxious as I took responsibility for everything and he just kept creating more problems for me to 'fix'.
We were two people, attracted by our mutual lack of boundaries - we both believed rescue was the same thing as love. Now I can see the big picture, it is obvious that by taking on the responsibility for his life, I disempowered him. He told me that she gave him back his 'self worth', she told me I was 'controlling'. It is interesting also that when we started our relationship, he was clearly not over his first wife, but the same language was used - she was 'controlling', I made him feel 'alive' and like 'a man' where she was smothering and didn't allow him any freedom. Six years later, I am now the controlling, smothering psycho ex and the new woman has all the answers. It is interesting that they don't live together, which means that at 50 years of age, this is the first time in his life that he has lived on his own. I know that he is running up credit card debt again, because he was using my address. If the new woman has healthy boundaries, he might finally have to take responsibility for his actions. If I had healthy boundaries, I would have said, "Stop blaming the fact that you have to pay child support, man up and deal with the problems that you have created." If he had healthy boundaries, he would have taken charge of his issues and not expected me to take responsibility.
People like me, don't have boundaries because we are scared of rejection, abandonment, being alone and not measuring up to other people's expectations. We accept that other people treat us with little respect, and we put our own needs last, because we are desperately seeking approval and we don't want to upset anyone. These thought processes and attitudes are formed as we are growing up - I know I was always trying to please my parents and nothing I did ever seemed good enough. I learnt from an early age that my identity and sense of self weren't important, and in fact if I expressed myself it caused conflict. To maintain my family's fragile emotional equilibrium , I had to respond to everyone else's needs and suppress my true self. Decades later, I repeated these same patterns in my marriage. My husband was drunk every night without fail, but it never entered my head to tell him this behaviour was unacceptable. I enabled the behaviour by home brewing and buying him beer. The first thing that I did in the morning was put all the beer cans from the day before in the recycling. The house would reek of cigarette smoke when I got home from work, because he couldn't be bothered going outside, but instead of talking to him about it, I just bought air fresheners and scented candles. That was my fix for the behaviour. There were times when I did see him looking at porn on the computer, but I chose to ignore it. If I couldn't fix it, I pretended it wasn't happening. He lied, he cheated, he manipulated and humiliated me, but the fear of rejection and abandonment stopped me from saying 'NO'. I was too scared to honestly look at the situation and see how terribly I was being used and then when he had got me to finance the setting up of his new life, with his new woman, he abandoned me anyway. Boundaries would have prevented me from allowing a man like that anywhere near me, in the first place.
We have a responsibility to ourselves for self-protection and if we don't treat ourselves with love and respect, we are creating an environment where we are inviting abuse from others. It has taken me 52 years to discover that my attitude toward myself is like a magnet for bullies, self-centred arrogant types, abusers, users, con-men, narcissists and all manner of other undesirables. By setting firm boundaries, I am letting the world know that I will no longer tolerate unhealthy relationships in any area of my life. Defining boundaries is part of the process of developing a healthy self-esteem and getting to know and be comfortable with yourself. We should all be our own best friend and relationships with other people should enhance the relationship that you have with yourself, not replace it.
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