As a recovering codependent with anxious attachment issues, boundaries are not my strong suit. A lack of boundaries kept people in my life, which is a protective mechanism for my severe fear of abandonment. It didn’t matter whether someone was good or bad to me, longevity of their existence to me overrode any concern of mine for myself. I don’t care if you hold a knife to my throat…just don’t leave me, okay? I grew up watching my mom get treated poorly over and over again by my dad, and she kept going back to him, ignoring (or unable to provide for) her own boundaries. Without a solid base on which to have healthy boundaries emulated, I grew up not understanding or respecting my own boundaries.
Unsurprisingly, a lack of boundaries allowed me to go through a few solid rounds of relationships with people who treated me like actual dogshit…because hey, at least they stuck around, right? I would ignore my discomfort and just give in, because if I spoke up, I would be alone (*cue abandonment sirens*). Why would I speak up about my discomfort if it just meant that someone would leave me? Of course, I would speak up about my concerns…I am not a complete doormat. But I would always be easily convinced that what I was feeling “wasn’t a big deal” or the situation making me uncomfortable would “eventually be handled”. And I swallowed my discomfort, not understanding that every give on my part was eroding my self-respect and causing a LOT of resentment I internalized with people in my life.
In my journey to understanding my boundaries, I…have no fucking clue what I am doing. I understand when something doesn’t sit right with me. I can feel it in my gut. Of course, I have to make sure what doesn’t sit right with me isn’t because I am experiencing a re-enactment of a trauma with someone who is a completely different person, with someone who I need to give a chance to play out a trauma-response differently….or perhaps I am overreacting, because without a foundation of what is a good boundary, how am I supposed to know that how I feel is socially, mentally, emotionally, or physically CORRECT? I can’t trust that I am making the “right” decisions, because people with abuse that runs in their veins don’t know what is acceptable or safe. So is a situation that makes me uncomfortable unsafe? Or is it a period of growth through discomfort? Am I creating an unacceptable ultimatum, or am I looking out for myself? And where does compromise come in? Because relationships require compromise…I can’t walk around insisting it be my way or the highway, right? But how long do we accept a compromise?
I just experienced setting a boundary for the first time in a healthy relationship…and it ended with me saying I couldn’t compromise anymore. I ended the relationship. I brought up my discomfort with a situation involving his ex, who he was not telling about me because he was afraid of how she would handle the news. He said he would tell her, eventually, when it felt right. I wasn’t asking for him to stop speaking to her, not at all. I wasn’t even asking for him to not hang out with her. I simply wanted her, one of his best friends, to know I exist, which I think is acceptable after eight months of dating me. He couldn’t give me a timeline of when he would tell her, but I compromised my boundary of not being hidden….for three more weeks. I wanted to give him a chance to tell her. After a brief conversation where I was attempting to readdress my discomfort in how he was handling the situation, he verified that he was putting her feelings before my own (or even his)…and that, my friends, was my actual boundary. That is not the behavior I would expect from a partner. So I ended the relationship because my boundary had been crossed, and he had no intention of putting my feelings first anytime soon.
Boundary setting is supposed to protect me, right? So tell me why me standing up for myself FUCKING SUCKS RIGHT NOW? I stood up for myself, speaking on a boundary that wasn’t even a ridiculous ask, and hurt myself. I ended a really good relationship with a really good man…and I am pissed at myself. My internal dialogue turns into a Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em match where my hands control both robots…
I could’ve kept quiet, I could’ve waited just a little longer, I know he cares about me…
But no, being hidden this long to protect her is ridiculous! Why should I be quiet about my relationship to protect her? Why is he choosing to prioritize an ex’s feelings over mine?
But he treated you really well, you two are great together, you have totally fucked up all of the progress you two made, he will never want to be with you…
So I spoke a boundary, and now I am alone, sitting in a hot mess of abandonment issues, regretting saying anything because I ruined a good thing. Is my boundary correct? I believe so. Does enforcing my boundary suck? Fuck yes. My boundary isolated me from an amazing man. Did I not compromise long enough? I don’t know. How are boundaries, which are supposed to protect me and protect others, this fucking painful? Without healthy boundaries emulated, did I totally fuck up handling this boundary of mine? Did I walk away too easily? How much should I compromise to keep the peace or keep the relationship? What about the little girl in me who just wants someone to choose her, to put her first? I guess that’s the adult me’s job….to choose myself…to put myself first.