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Anyone who has gone from having no/weak boundaries to good, strong ones - how did you do it?(32 Posts)
Some people may remember my thread a few weeks ago. It had to be removed because of legal issues, but it essentially covered my need to leave my partner but my difficulty doing so.
I did leave him, almost as soon as the thread disappeared.
I realise that my difficulty in leaving is in part due to being a kind person with no boundaries as to where I stop and the people I love begin. I've known this for years - and have tried to fix it over and over again.
I'm single now, for the first time in many years, and am determined to tackle this.
Has anyone else struggled with poor boundaries and overcome and good to a healthier place in their relationships with other people? I grew up as a young carer, and from there went into an abusive relationship. So a history of putting other's needs above me. Had lots of therapy after that ended and felt into a good enough place to have other relationships, which were better but still disastrous!
I'm 34 now and I want to have a healthy relationship and a family eventually. For now though, I recognise that I have to stay single. I have good friends and hobbies and an engrossing career.
Where do I start? I am having therapy and it's great, but I just want to hear what other people may have done. I am trying to write what I think are my boundaries down, but I'm struggling.
Apologies for typos - hopefully it still makes sense!
Read 'Why men love bitches'.
Ignore the title but read the book, you will never be a push over again. I was very much like you and this book helped me with my self esteem and self worth.
In a word - therapy. Great to hear that you're in therapy too so definitely on the right track. Boundaries take time to build up, you're changing the habit of a lifetime.
I did a lot of actively building up my self esteem. I tried to notice every single thing I got right, even the tiny things - so for example if it was raining and I had remembered to bring an umbrella, I would say in my head 'good work babe'. obviously you would use words that feel comfortable for you. It helped to change my inner voice to a kinder one, rather than being a harsh critic to myself.
Reminding myself that I am my own number one priority was huge. It's a huge change in mindset if you're a people pleaser, but it helps to remember that you can't be a good friend / partner/ employee / whatever if your own needs are not being met.
It all gets much easier with practice
I read the book by Cloud and Townsend. It was a revelation to me that having boundaries was a healthy thing - it actually helps you develop good friendships and relationships. Nobody knows your needs as well as you do, so it makes sense that you get to be in charge of seeing those needs are met.
It's hard to think about what your boundaries are in advance, but you'll know when they're pushed because of how it makes you feel. Small example: the phone goes during dinner. I don't want to go and answer it, but I have some deep-seated belief that phones have to be answered. I feel drained straight away, can almost hear my thoughts whining, "I don't want to get that." I notice that feeling now, and I'm aware I have a choice, so at that point I shrug and leave it to ring while I enjoy dinner with my DCs.
Charlotte, you make a very good point about reframing boundaries as a healthy thing. What I now consider healthy boundaries would be interpreted by some as being selfish or controlling. I used to put myself under huge pressure to be all things to all people, thinking that was the way to be a 'good' person. I was often angry and resentful. I'm much happier and calmer now
Recent therapy is helping me realise I've suffered from repetitive relationship syndrome (yeah, its an actual thing, I've a link to an article I can dig out if you're interested) trying to mend psychological "wounds" (can't think of a better word) from childhood by repeatedly choosing problematic relationships which I then try to fix. Totally out of my awareness of course.
So I moved from marrying an alcoholic wife beater to an affair, to ten years with a well hung but passive aggressive manchild to another affair.
So I think understanding the patterns will really help; I can't praise therapy highly enough. But it's important to find the right discipline and therapist. I'd tried TA in the past because I've got a really quick mind and love talking, information, analysing and discovering stuff. However I just spent a lot of time (and money) understanding which ego state I was inhabiting and what my script was but bugger all changed; I just now knew why I was unhappy.
Since I've been with an integrative psychotherapist who immediately recognised I totally live in my head and will consistently challenge that, I'm finally feeling like a) I'm making progress and b) that my next relationship will be the first truly healthy one I've ever had.
Glad to hear you have some great friends and a fulfilling job (me too, very lucky and it helps me realise I can't be a hopeless cause if so many people care about me and have my back) and I wish you all the best
This is all great advice, thank you. It's clearly going to take a while and I need to practise a lot.
I have the Cloud and Townsend book, and have just ordered the other one.
I so have that thing around the phone - particularly if it's my mother
I realised that I often go to events because people expect me there, not because I want to. I am trying to fix this and just pulled out of something to have a night in with wine and Netflix. It made me feel anxious and like people will think poorly of me, but I am trying to ignore that...
Dollie cross posted and didn't see your post - thank you, that helps me feel hopeful!
I have also tried lots of therapy times and am now having some body based therapy and EMDR (for trauma, but helpful in other ways too) and I think it's the right thing for me.
My head is my own worst enemy. I am a psychologist so I spend all my time thinking about thinking.
Well done OP! When you have a decision to make, try to ask yourself 'what do I WANT to do?' rather than 'what SHOULD I do?' Us people pleasers tend to live in a world of 'should' and it's not healthy. Enjoy your night of Netflix
Depending on how much you have that anxiety will soon fade......
Ooooh, getting paid to think about thinking, why didn't I think (ha) of that as a career?
Also work on raising self-esteem, so that you value and respect yourself. I recommend The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem by Nathaniel Branden
And body based is very much part of my sessions too. Christ it's a revelation.
Dollie I am good at my job but it hasn't been the best thing for my personal life. If someone hit me in the face I would probably spend an hour exploring with them why they did it.....rather than smacking them back and running away
Self esteem is an issue - always has been. And the better I have got at pretending to others it's not an issue, the harder it becomes to face a tackle.
I try to yoga more and think less. Or even just play mindless exercises on the piano just to focus on something physical and in front of me.
Ironically, I distract myself with brain training [hmmm]
For me ( a real people
Pleaser ) I think it was the realisation that other people don't care about the situations as much as I thought they did. Eg if someone asked me to babysit I used to cancel my own plans to help them. Now I just say a polite ' sorry I'm not able to ' and they go and find someone else.
I started with small boundaries and it got easier.
I realised that I often go to events because people expect me there, not because I want to
I used to do this too until ,again, I realised that people really don't care that much if I'm there or not, they still have a nice time without me.
My favourite boundary that I've put in place is when I 'came out' to my wine buff friend and told her that I can't stand expensive wine . Now, after years of forcing myself to drink wine that I hate for fear of offending her , I can openly drink cheap Liebfraumilch , which my friend buys for me when I visit .
The easiest way to do it is to set strong boundaries the very first times you meet and interact with people. E.g. a date keeps you waiting more than 15 mins - leave and do something lovely alone instead. If a man puts you down, look him in the eye and say very calmly, "Don't talk to me like that again if you want to keep seeing me.' Some will run off straight away. Good - you want rid of the crocodiles as soon as possible. Others are unwittingly testing your boundaries, and will stick to whatever ones you set. And if they do test you again, stick to your word and ditch them.
Other good tests of whether a man deserves you:
How welcoming is he to your friends? I had a fairly high maintenance friend who a couple of exes ran a mile from. But DH could see she was important to me, and was always friendly to her.
Check how he treats you when you're ill. If he's kind, then he's mature and not expecting you to dance attendance on him all the time.
Mention a big plan - something you'd love to do that would take dedication and guts. Anything. Does he sneer or support? True support includes asking questions about it, noticing stuff on the news relevant to it, buying presents relevant to it etc.
Check how he reacts if you ask a favour of him. Not an unreasonable one - but would he help shift a piece of furniture or feed your cat while you're away for the weekend. If he's never available, you know he is a taker not a giver.
Be generous with your time or money or attention or help and see how he responds. He should recognise it and not take it for granted. If you don't get verbal thanks at least, move on.
I learned all this by comparing DH with the lesser men I went out with before him. Couldn't help noticing that he just was consistently nicer than any of them.
A good tactic to use is if you're asked to go / do something tell the person you need an hour to think about it and will get back to them. This gives you time to decide if you really want to go or do whatever and stops you from automatically agreeing to something you're not comfortable with.
I am a similar age/background to you and have/am in the process of re-calibrating myself a bit...(due to abusive family, both parents severely mentally ill and violent and been NC for a long time)
My tips are to:
- Have a sense of your own schedule/interests/priorities. I'm seriously studying part-time as a mature student, and it is SO interesting how this has weeded out a lot of frogs (both friends and dates). An assignment deadline on a subject I am interested in and care about gives me a sense of urgency and purpose, and I think HAVING to do something means that users sort of drift away
(the users often are forced to come up with lines like "oh, can you not just leave it?" or even resort to personal insults like "you study too hard" or "you take yourself too seriously" or "why are you doing that?" and that's when they really show themselves and you can go NC)
- Watch out for anyone who is unhappy with themselves and looking for someone to latch onto to control or who comments negatively on your behaviour. I read here that in the initial stages of getting to know someone, it should just be about enjoying each others company, not "solving someone's problems" or "making a new bestie". I have two friends I feel comfortable with and trust, and it was about three-four years before I thought we'd really "clicked".
- I think the "circle of trust" concept from Baggage Reclaim is great.
- Practice, practice, practice. I don't think you'll get it right straight away, it will be a gradual process. Eg I have a potential friend who I might be socialising with this weekend. I'm mindful that she seems kind and we've had some laughs together but can be a little bit bossy/controlling (I've noted she seems a bit "stuck" in terms of things in her life and I wonder if she's projecting?) and that also has been late when we've agreed to meet before. If this weekend is a flop or she flakes it will just be "throwing good energy after bad" so I'll drift away, no drama.
- Growing up I had to act against my own instincts with my family. I think as an adult I'm almost "not judgemental ENOUGH" to people? (and society sends us lots of messages as a woman that we should be "nice" and "give people a chance"). It's like I see "underdog" and a switch lights up and I think I owe them something, and they take advantage (and someone being ill or unpopular or unattractive DOESN'T MEAN THEY'RE A NICE PERSON. If someone isn't popular, often it's for a reason)
So those older men who came across as vulnerable but were pervs, or that foreign student who I didn't have much in common with but claimed he felt so lonely and was suffering from social anxiety and needed friendship and support (but then by support he meant "will you come over to my room so I can try to rub myself up against you and claim that's part of my culture") or that woman with huge health/body image issues who ended up jealous and trying to control me? Be a bit of a shallow bitch. Feel free to say "weirdo, nah" in your head. (flameproof hat on) It isn't your job to solve X's problem. Enjoy the phrase "not my circus, not my monkeys".
I think part of the issue is that with a weird family background, often I' m "initially at a disadvantage", as in I have a good quality of life and like myself, but overall, I don't have a coherent social set-up or existing close-knot social group to fall back on? But I think stuff like exercising, having interests, being on a serious career/financial path all helps.
'and society sends us lots of messages as a woman that we should be "nice" and "give people a chance")'
So very true. Some men have been well trained to be people pleasers too but it's expected by society that women will be the caregivers and always be kind and 'support' people no matter what and don't be 'judgemental'. It can be hard to shed all of that but it's essential for getting healthy boundaries in place.
Congrats on getting out of the abusive relationship OP.
I have always had issues - I was a carer from a young age as my mother ill throughout my formative years and my father is an alcoholic. I had (and still have to a lessening extent) a fairly toxic relationship with my parents where they would emotionally blackmail me into giving in to whatever they wanted.
As PP have said, realising that you don't have to say yes to every demand is the key. The hardest thing for me was the first time I said no to my parents and stuck to it.
It is difficult and it won't change overnight, but keep a track of your small wins - choice of dinner, place to walk, film to watch - and the bigger ones will follow.
Good luck and
Place marking as so many insights and I'm a total people pleaser...
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