Shedding a Little Light on Boundaries

I had Juno on the Netflix queue this week. I saw it when it came out in the theaters and I remember being smitten with it. Maybe it was the fact that Corey and I were on what seemed to be an actual date back when our relationship was in a grey area, or the fact that we ended the night by riding the carousel downtown in the rain. I wanted to see the movie again because I knew there had to be more to it than that.

With a lot of things weighing somewhat heavily on my mind, I was excited to watch something a little goofy, but for a second it became too real.

There is a scene where Juno has returned home from dropping in on the prospective parents for the adoption of her child, and her step mom goes on a long rant about how she can’t just drop in and “hang out” with married men. Why? “Because there are boundaries.” Juno shrugs and walks away unfazed.

I feel like I’ve been on something of a moral magical mystery tour lately. In the words of The Dude, 

Some shit has come to light here, man!

It is interesting, growing up, and the more time passes the more I start to think that maybe there is something a little off about my behavior. And I mean, aside from, you know, being somewhat crazy.

Boundaries, what does that even mean? My therapist has brought it up, but I have a tendency to confuse boundaries with the idea of assertiveness.

Personal Boundaries are an established group of rules or guidelines that shape what a person will or wont do, establish safe ways for interaction with others, and how one will respond when someone steps beyond what is safe or reasonable. Some people believe it is personal boundaries that define each of us.

The lens is slowly shifting. I would say that as a 26 year old adult, I’m finally starting to see what Juno’s step mom is getting at. I do see something inappropriate there, and to some degree I see myself in Juno.

When my therapist asked me to describe any trouble I was having with boundaries, I couldn’t come up with one example. Honestly, I don’t think I really understood the concept, just that something was wrong.

Apparently one can have soft boundaries, where the issue becomes being manipulated by others, or losing a sense of self around other people (basically, letting that sense of self merge with whoever is around so that one believes the other is just an extension of themselves).

People can also have rigid boundaries, that act as a wall and wont let anyone get too close emotionally or physically. This is apparently really common for people who have been subject to (any kind of) abuse.

There is also something in between called spongy boundaries (I think this is the kind Spongebob has…) where the person kind of bounces back and forth between soft and rigid boundaries, typically unsure of what to let in and what to keep out.

Your normal, healthy kind would be flexible boundaries, where people can choose (what a concept) what to let in, and what to keep out.

Lately that general feeling of wrongness has started evolving.

I feel like I have a realistic set of guidelines about what I will or wont talk about in this blog, but every once in a while I get a real shock to my system and can really begin second guessing myself when I get negative responses after discussing certain topics.

Some of the things I have to say can appear very unfiltered, but they still are. You can be sure that I’m not trying to add some kind of shock value, or create debates, or instigate fear. I genuinely think that many of these topics can be of use to people, can help others identify what is going on in their own lives, and can start a dialogue that could help others solidify their own beliefs and treatment plans.

When it comes to general human interaction though, I am at something of a loss for knowing where appropriate ends and inappropriate starts. Usually I just don’t open my mouth unless I feel like I have something worthwhile to say, and I only delve as deeply as what someone will ask about. Beyond that, I become the spongy person described above, and my interest in intimate conversation vs. being at a distance from others alternates probably as frequently as my moods do.

I can readily identify that there is a big issue for me though, in regard to boundaries, and when I read about people who believe that people they’ve been emotionally intimate with are just an extension of themselves or that they lose their sense of “self” around others… for those of you who know me it may sound a little surprising but I feel that way a lot.

It seems like in life I can be trucking along, doing my own thing, when everything suddenly gets turned on its head. It isn’t until everything I know (and am used to) becomes shattered that I’m able to sweep it away and figure out what to build there instead. That moment, watching Juno the other night, was one of those shattering moments.

I’ve been mulling over the concept of boundaries for a few months, but it wasn’t until I saw something that appeared to be reflecting my own actions that I recognized the problem.

I think it can be very easy not to notice issues (like this one) that could be potentially causing big problems in life, especially when they have to do with a behavior you’ve had your whole life. This one has caused some enormous problems for me, and it still took this long to recognize. It took a few months, but I can walk into my therapist’s office with some genuine examples of problems I’m having with boundaries next week. Hopefully she can provide some healthy advice in reply.

9 responses to “Shedding a Little Light on Boundaries

  1. Interesting – I really don’t know where I fall on the spectrum of boundaries. I’d like to think I’m pretty flexible, but I’ve found time and again that I have a really lousy sense of this kind of stuff.

    I’m still waiting for real insights to emerge from therapy. Except that I recently realized I have way more going on in the irrational irritability category than I was admitting. Go figure…

    • Sarah @ bi[polar] curious

      I wouldn’t attribute this insight to therapy, as she didn’t bother to explain the concept to me or anything. Really all I did was make a few social blunders recently, watch a movie, and then googled it. Viola! A recipe for true insight, I suppose.

      Realistically it took at lot longer to come to any conclusions than I expected, as this topic has been a recurring in my life with therapists for 5+ years at least.

  2. Ha ha I love this paragraph (hope thats okay). “It is interesting, growing up, and the more time passes the more I start to think that maybe there is something a little off about my behavior. And I mean, aside from, you know, being somewhat crazy.”
    It reminds me when I told my sister-in-law I’d been diagnosed with bipolar. Her response was immediately “Oh, welllll at least you know you’re officially nuts now!”

    Okay to serious stuff… Really interesting post. I myself struggle to see personal boundaries. I’ve been told I can go ‘too far with things’. To me it just boils down to ‘everyone’s personal boundaries are different’ & even then they shift depending on each persons mood. For example if I crack a joke at someone’s expense & they’re in a good mood they’ll generally take it in the teasing way it was intended. If however they’re in a bad mood & I haven’t picked up on it & I crack the same joke it might not be received well.

    Hope that made sense as I’m tired & off to bed now zzzzzzzzzzzz

    • Sarah @ bi[polar] curious

      I’m glad you had a laugh at that part! I always feel like it is a little risky making jokes in writing without the help of vocal inflection, but I try to be as true to my point of view as possible. And that means jokes. If I didn’t have a sense of humor about a lot of the things I’ve gone through, you can believe I wouldn’t have made it this far!

      I definitely agree with you about people’s boundaries being different, and that they can change depending on people’s moods. I know I’d like to improve the effectiveness of my boundaries, but I wonder how realistically I can do that? Losing a lot of my inhibitions when hypomanic or manic can ultimately mean losing those boundaries I establish as well, so I’m not sure if this is a futile venture or something I can actually change.

  3. Thanks for your blog- very interesting. I’m totally spongey.

  4. I think of boundaries as I would think of myself as being the center of a target, in a way. I’m surrounded by rings. The outside edges are the easiest for people to get into, and kind of make a long distance contact with me. Those are the people whose company I enjoy enough to make any kind of contact. I’m picky about the people I communicate with.

    Then, there is another ring, where I start to talk about more personal things, but still remaining mostly superficial. These are people that I communicate with on a regular basis, but am still too hesitant to let get any closer.

    Next, another ring. Those are the people that I keep at an arm’s reach. They may have had one or two intimate moments with me, where we divulge several emotions and secrets. However, I am not willing to incorporate them as a regular fixture in my life. These people have not given me any reason to believe that there is a genuine bond there, or that there ever could be.

    Last, there is the target range. Few people are accepted into this range. I don’t want to let anyone close enough to me to hurt me. The more people that are within that range, the more chances there are to harm me. I always want an escape route. I always have one planned. I always have some way of severance that is possible if I need to cut that person out. Most of the time, I find it difficult to trust even the people in that range. Sometimes, when I’m feeling particularly vulnerable, I’ll start pushing people out of that range, and holding them off.

    I would say that I’m flexible up until that point. That’s where it becomes incredibly rigid. Walls within a fortress, so to speak. If a person comes to wound me, in any way, shape, or form that is questionable in motive, that person is ejected. Period.

    There is a real truth in the rigid boundaries for an abuse survivor. (I refuse to use the word “victim”.) But, I don’t think it’s as clear cut as it’s made out to be. My relationships with people are extremely complex, and my social function is even more so. I can walk around, being very friendly without a hint that I am at all stand-offish. I will let people pass through certain rings, if they want to. But, if someone tries to get too close, too fast, I will cut and run.

    • Sarah @ bi[polar] curious

      That reminds me a lot of The Mask of Zorro (I was in love with that movie when I was a lot younger).

      I really admire the fact that you’re able to know that about yourself, because I really can’t say much of anything at all in regard to what my boundaries are. After reading the “types” I concluded I was spongy, but it is difficult to tell where I am rigid and where I am soft. It might be that the less I know someone, the more open I am, and the closer someone gets to me, the more rigid my boundaries become, which seems a little counter-intuitive.

      Anyhow, thanks for the insight, that kind of helps me think more about my own boundaries and where they end/begin!

      • When I was first looking at it, I couldn’t decide between flexible and rigid. There are some places where I am very rigid. With some people I exhibit a rigid boundary, like people that are obviously intoxicated. I do not want those people to be anywhere near me.

        But you’re right. Here, as Lulu before you, I stand as spongy. I am (mostly) and open book. But, in my life, as Em, I am living in different worlds everywhere I go. If a person at work were to cross a person I had been friends with for a long time, they would have some serious story time. It would shock the hell out of both of them.

        I don’t mean to do it, but it happens. I’m not playing a part, as much as I am accentuating some of my finer qualities where it is appropriate, and downplaying the others when it it appropriate.

      • Sarah @ bi[polar] curious

        Actually just based on what my therapist and I talked about yesterday, what you’re describing is good, flexible boundaries. Being able to create a set of “filters” for yourself around one group of people, and change those filters around a second group, for example.

        I think my trouble is in the filtered, middle part. I can very easily be entirely open or entirely closed, but when it comes to knowing where to stop (or how to) that’s where I tend to flub it. It is probably the reason I was so shy for a good chunk of my life, because being closed *always* meant almost being mysterious, and I didn’t terrify anyone with what I had to say (by accident).

        But I digress, anyway, I think what you’ve described is a good example of flexible boundaries. Yay, gold star!

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