Coping Challenge: Boundaries, Safety and Fear of Rejection


In past posts, I’ve talked about boundaries and my view of relationships in general being finite or having an inevitable end.  Growing up, I never had boundaries; did not know they existed.  As an adult in therapy, I learned about boundaries.  I learned how they are created and why they keep me safe.  I also learned that boundaries keep the people around me safe too.  These lessons also taught me that maintaining and respecting boundaries goes both ways.

An individual cannot expect others to respect his or her boundaries if she or he does not respect others’ boundaries.

Not everyone is comfortable with the idea of boundaries or understands how healthy and important having/mainlining boundaries is for a balanced life.  Abusers and perpetrators hate boundaries and do everything they can to ignore them or make them disappear.  Boundaries are invisible protection that keeps abusers and perpetrators from getting or doing what they want to their victims.  Boundaries help build resilience to bullies and other forms of intimidation too.

This is why I did not have boundaries growing up.  And any time I tried to set and enforce boundaries, the abusers in my life punished me; ignored and violated them anyways; pretended to understand and then undermined my efforts; and all around made it clear that I could have them in my life on their terms or keep my boundaries and be rejected by them and everyone else.

Boundaries and Friendships

As a child, adolescent and young adult, I wasn’t allowed to develop and maintain real friendships with anyone.  So my view of any relationship was based on the ones I had with my family (description above).  So I behaved with people I wanted to be friends with the same way I did with family.  That meant a lot of people thought I was nice, malleable, sweet, and easy to manipulate/take advantage of.  When they got to know me and realized I was not really malleable, sweet, or a pushover, I got rejected.  That would trigger me into flashbacks and shame and panic attacks; reinforcing the lessons and negative self image from childhood.

So, on one hand I knew I would always lose friends because there was something wrong with me.  On the other hand, I never knew what I did or what happened to cause the break in friendships and other relationships.  And when I asked, no one told me.  Or people would say I am too pushy, that I don’t respect them, that I am annoying and do care about their feelings.  Which confused me more because on the inside, the secret places no one else at the time got to see, I did care – maybe too much – and truly want to help and understand what was going on.

It wasn’t until I started sessions with my current therapist that I realized part of the problem was switching personalities whenever I got stressed out.  My alters and I have been working together for a long time even if we haven’t always been in direct communication with each other.  One of our greatest strengths is being able to assess a situation and switch personalities so that the one best qualified to handle the stress is in charge.  And the lightning changes in mood and personality can be hard for others to handle especially when the typical dominant personality is unaware that any of this is is happening.

Epiphany and Conclusion

Three weeks ago, a long time friendship got thorny.  He was upset because of something that had me reinforcing my boundaries.  On a personal front, he was having difficulties and under a lot of stress even if he wouldn’t admit to it.  That led some of our discussions to be fraught with anxiety on my part because I never knew if something I said would cause him to blow up at me.  And later, whenever I was happy about something and went to share with him, he would say something negative or in such a way that it sounded complimentary but was actually insulting or shame inducing and had me questioning my choices.

And when he started ignoring me and being rude, I realized that he expected me to come over and apologize for reinforcing my boundaries and being myself.  That irritated me and made me feel angry.  I realized then, that I was not going to apologize for being myself.  And I was okay with him acting childish because I didn’t let him walk all over me.  But then I was worried about why I wasn’t triggered.  But I had other things on my mind.  Like deadlines, troubleshooting other issues with my work, packing and going on vacation, etc.  So I put this away for a while and waited to see what would happen.

This week, back at work, nothing has changed with his attitude.  But something changed inside me.  I realized that our friendship was over.  And that it ended because I protected myself by reinforcing my boundaries in a polite way instead of backing down and letting him have his way.  This felt good because I did not get triggered into shame.  I got triggered into confusion and anxiety because my parts were confused and worried about how this would affect mutual friendships, etc.  It also got us thinking about past relationships and why they ended.

The reason was always the same: I stood up for myself (or an alter stood up for us) and maintained a boundary the other person kept violating.  And that person got mad and walked away.

Because as much as I don’t mind being flexible and accommodating, I will eventually reach a point where I (or an alter) take a stand.  Sometimes I lose my temper and get angry.  Other times, I simply let my actions speak for me.  And I continue to treat the person as always.

So I have to ask myself (and the alters), is this really rejection and loss of friendship?  Or is this removing unsafe people from my life?