You know that sappy-eyed look you get when someone is falling head-over-heels for you? You know the look. The soft, runny, weak, and worshipful, I’m-crazy-in-love-with-you-and-will-put-up-with-anything-because-I’m-a-doormat look, that annoys the shit out of you? Yeah, that’s the one.
You hate the look, because despite your being all consumed with attraction and lust over this guy, not to mention your wired, over-excited and neurotic behavior over whether or not he liked you, ( ie: trying-too-hard, laughing-too-much-at-his-jokes), it means you’ve found yet another sap who will put up with all your bullshit. So you back off, hoping things get better but they only get more intense. You get the questions and the phone calls in the wee hours…
“I love you. I don’t understand. Why are you pulling away?” he asks.
“It’s not you. It’s me,” you spew, and off you ride on your horse like the runaway bride.
Then you’re wondering “What’s wrong with me? Why am I so fucked up? Why do I keep attracting these spineless saps?
You’re plagued with boundary issues, and the thought of letting people get near you sends you into a tailspin. You know that look that makes you cringe? That look you so criticize? It’s not a look of weakness or sappiness. On the contrary, it’s a look of someone who has let down their defenses and made themselves vulnerable to you. It’s a look of someone who is embracing another person getting close to them.
A person with boundary issues can’t tell where they stop and the other person begins—which makes it pretty hard to differentiate between appropriate interactive behavior and a pontificating control freak sadistically putting you down. Instead of “using your words” when someone hurts you or offends you, you’ll more than likely question what you did wrong and apologize to them.
When you don’t set boundaries, you have no sense of yourself apart from other people, and you don’t know how to keep others out. Or, you don’t know how to make sure your needs are met because you’re always putting everyone else first. Case in point:
“I disappear into the person I love. I am the permeable membrane. If I love you, you can have everything. If I love you, I will carry for you all your pain, I will assume for you all your debts (in every definition of the word), I will protect you from your own insecurity, I will project upon you all sorts of good qualities that you have never actually cultivated in yourself and…I will give you the sun and the rain…I will give you all this and more, until I get so exhausted and depleted that the only way I can recover my energy is by becoming infatuated with someone else”
— Elizabeth Gilbert – Eat, Pray, Love
Are you a “permeable membrane?” Think you have boundary issues?
Does the mere thought of confrontation give you agita?
Do you think that if you confront anyone about the slightest thing, they’ll fly off the handle and beat you to a bloody pulp?
When asking for something you need, does your voice become softer, more tentative and apologetic?
Do you think it’s normal for a strange man to knock on your window at 3am with bizarre requests?
Do you jeopardize your own safety to help creepy window-knocking guy because of his puppy dog eyes and a plausible story?
Do you have magical freak attracting powers?
Do unstable people sense that you won’t be mean to them and manipulate you into listening to their bizarre stories?
Do you give sketchy people more leeway than you should and then find yourself caught up in their strange alternate realities and can’t shake yourself free?
Have you ever been stuck in a room with someone mentally off, and soon become convinced you, yourself are mentally whacked?
Do you still hang on to the damaged narcissist, even though he’s beaten your soul out of recognition and you don’t know who you are anymore?
If you answered yes to any of the above, then congratulations. You’ve crossed into the world of the boundary-challenged.
So where do these boundary issues come from?
What we know, we learn from our families…or fail to learn from our families. In a healthy family, members respect each others’ needs. Unfortunately most families fall way short of this ideal and cross that line into emotional trespassing.
Did you have an overbearing, overly controlling parent who never allowed you the room to blossom into your own identity—the parent who never respected your boundaries, and turned you into a fearful and distrustful human being? Maybe you had a parent who was more an overgrown child than a parent, or more interested in being your BFF and under-concerned about your welfare (Dina Lohan comes to mind) Were your parents overly rigid and untrusting as a means of hiding their own family dysfunction from the rest of the world? Did your father blame you for his miserable life? Did your mother force you to live out her dreams? Did your parents search your room for drugs when you weren’t around? Read your personal diary? Your private letters?
It wasn’t that long ago that parents thought of their children as mere reflections of themselves. Not as individuals with their own uniqueness but as blank slates that they can control—shape in the image of their own ideals. The idea that children have the right to their own feelings, opinions, wants, needs, bodies and souls is extremely modern.
If you’re ridden with boundary issues, you’ll have a difficult time having any kind of healthy relationship, because you won’t know how to choose your friends. Chances are, you’ll migrate to people with nastiness issues—the callous, rude, narcissistic and nasty. The kind of person who will ask what could have possessed you to buy that outfit…or worse, berate the outfit you wear out with friends on the eve of your birthday. Yeah, nice.
And God forbid you say “Bite me” or “Shove it up your ass,” which is really what you’re thinking. No. You’ll probe the depths of your memory, analyzing, cataloguing, and cross-indexing anything you ever said to this person that may have provoked them to insult your outfit. And even then, you’ll decide it’s better to just not say anything so as not to aggravate the situation. Then you’ll get down on yourself, get really depressed, feel like shit, and bury yourself in two king-sized bags of M&Ms.
Sadly, there are many people in this world who prowl around on a quest for those amazing, wonderful and preferably care-taker types who are gullible to their charms. They are masters at catching you off guard with their grandiose display of charisma, cheerfulness and perceived intelligence and adept in stripping you down to a sickened sense of worthlessness. Should you ever find yourself in the company of one such narcissistic SOB, trust your instincts. Get away while you are still sane.
If you want to cure your boundary issues, learn to ask for what you want. Stop projecting, panicking and worrying that the guy won’t like you if you are vocal about your needs. Being clear about your boundaries is a sign of self-respect. It’s how we establish who we are and how we want to be treated. If you don’t respect yourself, how do you expect someone else to?
Speak up and speak out. Loud and proud. Practice in front of the mirror if you have to.