A Practical Lesson on Boundaries

I was having a conversation with a friend recently—who we’ll call Jane—who has a friend in her life who crosses the line over and over.

We’ll call this line-crosser Megan.

Megan is known to give unsolicited advice that is more hurtful and harmful than helpful. She has a habit of reaching out to Jane when she is experiencing pain and frustration. Conveniently, by the end of the conversation, Jane has been made to feel that Megan’s pain is all due to Jane and her choices, and Megan temporarily feels vindicated of her own experience.

Witnessing this relationship between my two friends is of course much more simple than being IN it, but let’s dissect what I see as facts.

WHAT I SEE:

  • Megan is in pain. Often. The above toxic (and constant) dynamic in hers and Jane’s relationship is a result of Megan feeling all sorts of uncomfortable feelings like regret, loneliness, and disappointment and being ill-equipped to sit with those feelings.

  • The other end of that is that Jane feels it is her job as a “good friend” to be on the receiving end of whatever Megan throws her way. Even when it clearly is harmful.

  • Megan is working with what she knows, and she has not ever learned healthy processes for working through and/or healing her pain (most people haven’t, which is why we’re going to get to boundaries next), so she turns to PROJECTING those feelings onto someone she loves (also SUPER common).

  • Megan has never genuinely considered that her problems lie WITHIN herself. She genuinely almost always believes her problems are the results of OTHER PEOPLE’S actions/inactions. *Note, this is classic unconscious behavior.

THE SOLUTION:

Jane can set some new boundaries to rearrange the patterns in their relationship. Jane will never ever ever be able to change Megan’s behavior and unconscious patterns of friendship, nor should she try. The best she can do is draw the line and enforce it so Megan can teach herself not to cross it.

BOUNDARIES ARE:

You drawing a protective circle around yourself and using actions rather than words to send the steadfast message, “Everything within this circle is sacred, and I am unavailable for the projections of your own drama, pain, and unconscious intent to harm.”

They are also a healthy way to shift the patterns in a relationship! When you shut and lock a door between yourself and someone acting out, someone can knock and bang and scream as much as they choose, but you are safely behind that door, not engaging and mostly unaffected. Over time, when the door is shut, the other person learns to walk away or deal with their frustrations elsewhere, because you are literally not available during this time..

BOUNDARIES ARE NOT:

Revenge against another person. Meant to hurt someone you love. Meant to punish someone and keep them OUT. The focus when setting a boundary should be self-preservation and self-love instead of punishing someone and keeping them away. If you genuinely value yourself, then you will not make yourself available to unnecessary harm from others, and that is the intent of a boundary. People hear “boundary” and think, “oh but she’s my best friend- I need to be available!” etc etc.

Here’s what I believe: healthy relationships are when you meet in the middle, each person taking FULL RESPONSIBILITY for their OWN baggage and growth. You lean on each other and share feedback, respectfully, and if it leaves you feeling bad about yourself, you recognize the dynamic is off and you take the responsibility of righting it (whether through conversation, boundaries, etc). And remember, if someone you love finds herself on the receiving end of a newly established boundary, she’ll adjust her behavior to respect what you need, and if she doesn’t, that friendship was likely going to dissolve anyway. You’re doing your relationship a service, to shift it in this way when necessary, because it will give you the opportunity to grow through a transition together and come out stronger.

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