Healthy Boundaries

In 1999, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia after ten months of unrelenting pain visiting doctor after doctor. I gave up my career as a professional court reporter. I gave up my household responsibilities of cooking and caring and I was fiddling with suicidal ideation. It was a very difficult time.

Fibromyalgia was a curve ball, a wakeup call, a time for major regrouping and redefining, and a time to learn about healthy boundaries. I used to overtell, overshow and reveal my cards to those in need, giving myself away without awareness of what I needed.

I would have done anything to help my daughter, demonstrating the unending hunt for a cure, driving at 2am to help her in pain, anything and everything because it eased the pain in my heart. Her doctor took me aside when she was about 12 years old, noticing how weathered and worn I was, and talked to me about acceptance, encouraging me to ease up my hunt for a cure because there wasn’t one. I was so angry. I heard him though and the conversation brought in awareness and a reality check.

I gave myself away in relationships granting other’s wishes to please them ignoring my needs.

I gave myself away with my children granting their every request to ease my guilt for divorce, for not being emotionally together and for my need to make up for terrible childhood.

Understanding my boundaries was another lesson hidden among layers of living. As a woman in the legal field, boundaries were talked about amongst women because women were often objectified instead of respected. I could spot the patronizing gestures and hear the sexual innuendos a mile away. Women stick together. I learned about boundaries from them.

I had no boundaries otherwise. I had to learn them with pain, with heartache, with fear and struggle. Through every difficulty there is learning. It may take time, real time to sift through the rubble but there is learning in every tragedy, trauma and struggle.

I love to demonstrate what a boundary feels like when I’m teaching, especially in front of a large crowd. I’m remembering the court reporter’s conference with over 500 men and women watching as I stood on stage with a woman willing to be part of the demonstration. I asked her to be aware of what she feels, besides being a little nervous of course. I was ten feet away and stepped closer, continuing to talk to the crowd and her about what healthy boundaries are. As I chatted, I took one step closer. I checked in with her. “How are you feeling now?” “Everything feeling okay?” I continued one step slowly after another until I came within three feet of her. Her eyes shifted to me briefly. I asked, “How are you feeling now?” “Everything feeling okay?” She responded she was fine. Everyone was watching. Great! One more step. Then another.

I could feel her physical boundary before she did. Her weight shifted and fear came into her eyes. I had hit the limit and was too close. She felt it. The feeling of her physical boundary was what I was demonstrating. The visceral alarm point became a real boundary now registered in her head as enough.

Emotional boundaries are important to pay attention to. Melody Beattie writes about “Drain Pain” in the excerpts below. I encourage you to read the full blog as it offers a lot of insights.

“Drain Pain occurs so slowly and subtly, we may not see it happening.” Following you’ll find a list of symptoms and the remedy for each: We leave our bodies – disconnect from ourselves. We’re experts at fleeing the body. We hover around ourselves doing everything except feeling what we feel and valuing ourselves. When this happens, we often feel numb, confused and afraid. We may also feel emotional (generalized) pain. The thoughts that accompany this condition include: I CAN’T STAND THIS ANYMORE. IT, HE, SHE OR THEY IS OR ARE DRIVING ME INSANE. This means it’s boundary-setting time again.
We complain about the same thing, behavior or person or problem for days, weeks, months or years but nobody hears us. The cure for this means listening to ourselves.
We know that something’s wrong but we aren’t sure what it is (because we’re not listening to ourselves). When we mention the problem to the Drainer(s) — the people or institutions in the first symptom above — they look at us askance and reassure us that nothing is wrong except us – who we are, how we feel and what we think is going on just isn’t occurring, they insist.”