Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Setting Boundaries, con't.

From The Forum, Sept 2000 p.28:

"You cannot set boundaries and take care of someone else's feelings at the same time."

One of the reasons that alcoholics and co-dependents are such a perfect fit, is that our character defects click together like tongue and groove panelling.

Your average healthy person would respond to the alcoholic's minor acting-out with a raised eyebrow, and a removal of themselves from the room (removing the audience has a definite cooling effect upon the performance) we, on the other hand, are much more likely to attempt to soothe, and smooth, and change, and ease, at whatever cost to ourselves. We want to achieve the impossible - set boundaries while taking care of the other person's feelings. We cannot do both. We must put ourselves, our sanity and serenity, first.

I've gone through various stages of boundary-setting. Initially when I'd try to set a boundary, if the other person responded with any negativity whatsoever, stated or imagined (I'd be examining their facial expression to see if I could garner any clues) I'd cave immediately, and then be furious with myself, resentful with them, and frustrated with what I saw as the shortcomings of this darn 12-Step program.

When I expounded upon those supposed shortcomings to my first sponsor, she dryly suggested that in order to see if something worked for me or not, I needed to give it more than 30 seconds, before taking it all back for fear I'd anger the alcoholic or upset a friend or acquaintance.

I then went through a stage of enjoying the anger that my setting a boundary would provoke from the alcoholic - it gave me a sensation of power. I was like 2 year old in an adult body - saying "NO!" just for the pleasure of it. The novelty of that soon wore off, and I was left with the same old problem - how to set boundaries so as not to upset the other person, but still achieve my goal of being treated decently.

I have had to accept that in some instances, this is just not possible.

In the best of all scenarios, the other person would listen carefully, then smiling, thank me, and promise to never deliberately trample my boundaries in future.

Right. (I can think of maybe two people who would be able to do that, and I'm not one of them. Maybe three. Two have been in 12-Step for twenty or so years, and the last is just an amazing human being, who has suffered so much pain and sorrow in her life that she is on another level from most of us when it comes to tolerance.)

In order to achieve a result, we may have to break long-standing habits of putting someone else's needs before our own. We have to summon from within ourselves, the necessary courage to say "No."

I was talking to an acquaintance yesterday about this very thing - she'd gotten herself into a situation which was causing her much stress and worry, all from not being able to say "No." She's very kind-hearted, and through wanting to be helpful, had allowed someone to take advantage of her kindness.

I taught her two sayings which have been enormously helpful to me when setting boundaries:

"I'll have to get back to you on that."

This gives me time to think, because my first instinct is always to say yes, wanting to be agreeable, and then later, upon thinking it through, wish I hadn't.

"That's not going to work for me."

This is just a longer, more polite way of saying "No." It's direct, but it softens the blow for some reason.

I don't need to explain why I won't do whatever it is, I don't need excuses, I don't need to justify. I have the right to refuse. I have the right to say, politely, "I feel as if you are trying to manipulate me into doing something I don't want to do."

This last statement can have the interesting effect of causing the manipulator to immediately reverse direction, and begin assuring me that of course I have the right not to do it, and they certainly would never try to make me do something I don't want to, and yada yada yada. That's fine too.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. I need to be reminded of how to enforce and maintain my boundaries. To be strong and not get trampled.