Boundaries

I must admit that I did not know the definition of the word “boundaries” until four years ago. Of course, I knew about geographical boundaries such as those between nations and states. I also understood the boundaries as the limitations we place upon ourselves by defining ourselves according to our careers, religious affiliations, relationships, and abilities.

I had heard the word “boundaries” bandied about by people talking about their personal problems on talk radio and  during podcasts. Popular advisors and pop psychologists used the word in self-help books and newspaper articles as if everybody already inherently understands what boundaries are,  just like everyone knows what nighttime and daytime are.

I’d read or heard about boundaries but I didn’t know what they meant, but I wasn’t curious enough to look it up. To me “boundaries” was just a generic buzz-word that some people said when discussing difficult life events.

Then I became personally acquainted with a self-proclaimed expert of psychopaths and narcissists. In a matter of months, she subjected me to a crash course on sociopathy and narcissism. I was immersed in a sea of buzz words she sprinkled into her conversations. I found out then, that there is a large subculture of victims and counselors who focus on narcissism, psychopathy, and co-dependency. There was a lot of talk about people like Ted Bundy and Donald Trump. This was the atmosphere in which my acquaintance told me her definition of personal boundaries.

She said boundaries are the personal limits and guidelines that an individual sets up for interactions with people and the levels of intimacy we have with others. These limits are subjective according our personalities, attitudes, opinions, beliefs, and past experiences with others. Some of us are good at “enforcing” boundaries and some of us are not.

Why wasn’t I taught this at a younger age? Somehow I missed learning this in college psychology 101. This would have cleared up a lot of questions I’ve had about my interactions with family, friends, and employers. According to my expert acquaintance, I have been a doormat for most of my life. She said that the reason so many aggressive narcissists have come into my personal circle is because I had set “poor boundaries”. This was partially due to me not knowing the definition of boundaries.

This set off a wave of soul searching along with Internet searching. I watched videos by Dr. Sam Vaknin who describes narcissists from the first-person perspective. Ross Rosenberg explains such behavior from another point of view. A major player is Richard Gannon who has recorded dozens of videos and regularly hosts seminars regarding “narcissists” and “psychopaths”. There are plenty of other experts who inform the subculture of victims and people who are interested in these types of subjects.

My on-line research about narcissism and codependency coupled with my daily interactions with my expert acquaintance caused me to do a lot of overthinking. I began to suffer “mild” anxiety and one panic attack. A “crazy moment” from my acquaintance triggered an epiphany.

It was while we were driving to Omaha in an SUV she had rented for one of her monthly shopping trips to Costco. She had promised that we would visit a Goodwill Outlet Warehouse as a favor or payback for my regular help with loading and unloading purchases from Costco. I eagerly looked forward to the Goodwill visit because I’d never been to one of those warehouses.

About half-way to Omaha she flatly announced that we would not be stopping at the Goodwill. There was to be no discussion about it because of time constraints. Naturally, I was shocked into silence. I mentally mulled over her decision and repressed the anger I felt.

I must have been silent for quite awhile. She then glanced at me and mentioned how quiet I seemed. Was I getting sick? Then she “jokingly” said something I’ll never forget. “You know how sensitive to germs I am. If I ever catch anything from you, you realize that I’m going to have to murder you.” Boom! Then she laughed an ominous sounding laugh. None of this came from a place of healthy humor, nor did I find her statement even remotely funny.

During the rest of the trip to and from Omaha I kept a wary eye on her while mentally piecing the meanings of other past events with her together. Once again, I had fallen under the sway of an aggressive, controlling person.

The following day, we definitively ended our friendship. I have not seen nor heard from her since then. The sense of relief I felt after the parting was liberating. I felt reborn. I also realized our very flawed friendship had taught me an important lesson about boundaries. So even though I’m glad I walked away from that friendship alive, I’m thankful for her stark lesson that taught me why boundaries are so important.

It was wonderful to step back from her drama and piece together my life again. Now, I’m much more careful to evaluate potential friendships.

Ciao
The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders something from psychologist Dr. Adam Grant. “Being a nice person is about courtesy: you’re friendly, polite, agreeable, and accommodating. When people believe they have to be nice in order to give, they fail to set boundaries, rarely say no, and become pushovers, letting others walk all over them.”

About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
This entry was posted in Friendship, Health, Hometown and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Boundaries

  1. Cindy Gelpi says:

    I admire you for taking the definitive steps to end that friendship. When I have experienced a friend taking advantage of my kindness and bullying me in that way, I tend to just slowly remove them from my life. Unfortunately, they never realize why and don’t have to self-reflect and see how their behaviors negatively affect others.

  2. Alien Resort says:

    I too have done the doormat thing. Hopefully experience will keep me better aware and prompt early action.

  3. Kudos to you for knowing when to step away from said friendship (or shall I say relationship). When we feel defeated or down being around someone our instincts warn us and whether we choose to listen is another thing altogether. The moment that the bomb was dropped about not holding up her end of the bargain screams selfishness. That would have pushed me over the edge instantly. Your calm demeanor was admirable in such a situation.

    • swabby429 says:

      Thanks for the comment. I wish my calm departure would have been better planned. A better description is that I was so sad and disappointed that anger was not possible. Any hope I had had for the future of the friendship was wiped out. My earlier research informed me about my “friend’s” red flags for narcissism. When the red flags were magnified and confirmed, I knew I was in harm’s way and had to leave. It was with regret, not anger that I left.

      • I can totally understand your position. You were wise to heed those red flags as some individuals are simply toxic to be around. Regret is an interesting thing and I suppose it’s with the sense of what could have been in this situation. You were a supportive friend to her, you sadly didn’t receive the same in return. Your well-being was at risk at some level so departure of the friendship was a healthy decision on your part.

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