Coming to Terms with Enforcing Boundaries

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Starboard Song

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Coming to Terms with Enforcing Boundaries
« on: August 17, 2018, 12:15:11 PM »
It is 1941 and a young man -- a boy only last year -- is boarding a bus to leave home for the first time. Within the year, he will kill two men -- men who grunt and curse in German -- in brutal hand-to-hand combat. Our environment forces us to strange decisions, and tough behaviors. And we all of us understand this when the stakes are as high as that young soldier faced.

But when an abusive and destructive person repeatedly tears at the fabric of our self-identity and self-worth, we sometimes feel guilt enforcing even the simplest of boundaries. When a BPD MIL wails like Gollum on a rope, "It hurts us! It hurts us!" we feel un-Christian. We could  analyze the situation: "is it normal to act so distraught and hurt because you were asked to call before a visit, or to not use racial slurs in front of the children?" But the Christian thing to do, it feels, is to ameliorate suffering wherever we can. And this person says they are deeply offended and insulted. That your behavior -- having modest standards for decency or personal space -- has injured them.

Well.

Let's review our options. I'll take the first one right off the faith table.

Unacceptable Option 1 - Passively Allowing Suffering
Allowing an abusive person to continue to erode the ability of your family to prosper at peace. Allowing an abusive person to sow discord, and generate pain that is not only temporary, but alters personalities of yourself or those you love, limiting their ability -- again -- to prosper at peace. This simply cannot be the choice of decency and faith. It cannot be that we are called upon by faith to complacently allow anyone to do such damage. So we take that off the table and we consider other options.

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Boundaries are about us. They are about what we will or will not do or engage with. This is indistinguishable from all the other choices we make that are either directly moral, or are about strengthening or stabilizing our environment: giving space for peace, and decency, and prosperity. So when we anguish over whether it is moral to limit visits to once per month, or whether we may rightly insist that our PD FIL not drink in our home, we aren't anguishing for ourselves: we know what we are about. It is about them and their incessant wailing and gnashing of teeth.

We are struggling with our concern for the pain and suffering of the presumably PD person, this person who wails and tugs and yanks at even the lightest leash. It is their complaints ("you won't even let me give your toddler unlimited amounts of soda! This proves you never loved me!") -- it is these complaints that cause us to seek scriptural or other faith-based support for our actions.

So fine.

Let's look at our real options -- because passive acceptance is immoral -- from their point of view. What is the choice they face?


Option 1 - Expulsion (NC)
We can exclude such people from our lives in their entirety: we can deprive them entirely of our kindness, support, and insights. We can further tear apart the family by drawing a hard line: a line against which even some friends must choose sides. We can leave this person alone, full of ever more rage and ugliness than before. And they will have to loose that rage and ugliness on other members of their community, and hope others -- not even bound by kinship -- are more solicitous than we were.

Option 2 - Boundaries
If they would prefer, we can instead establish boundaries that limit our exposure to their abuse. Our boundaries will not directly control them, but will control what we will and will not do or engage with, as our faith demands. We can establish such boundaries to maximize our family's ability to prosper in peace. We can hope to train the better angels of this destructive person by moral example, and by a quieting of the passion and the drama, for truly it takes two to tango. We can thereby avoid the pain and anger, for them, of complete rejection. And we can maintain, for them, the ties that allow for aid and comfort at the ends of lives.

These are their choices.

If our moral anguish, if the reason we doubt the righteousness of boundaries is because of the anguish it seems to cause, then I propose looking at the only moral options that exist, and choosing from their point of view, the path easiest for them.

This doesn't make all the challenges go away. If boundaries cannot be safely administered, or reliably enforced, then that option is unavailable to them, and this PD person must go straight to NC without passing GO and without collecting $200. That's where my in-laws are now, still pulling Chance cards and hoping to reenter the game.

But if you struggle -- as I did -- with whether it is moral to even enforce boundaries, I think this analysis is helpful.
« Last Edit: August 17, 2018, 01:17:39 PM by Starboard Song »
Radical Acceptance, by Brach   |   Self-Compassion, by Neff    |   Mindfulness, by Williams   |   The Book of Joy, by the Dalai Lama and Tutu
Healing From Family Rifts, by Sichel   |  Stop Walking on Egshells, by Mason    |    Emotional Blackmail, by Susan Forward

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coyote

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Re: Coming to Terms with Enforcing Boundaries
« Reply #1 on: August 17, 2018, 02:29:41 PM »
IMO it is immoral not to establish boundaries and protect ourselves. God gave us this time on earth to enjoy his bounties and creations. To allow another person to deprive us of that enjoyment is the real sin I think. Just my 2 cents.
How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.
 Wayne Dyer

The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem. Do you understand?
Capt. Jack Sparrow

Choose not to be harmed and you wonít feel harmed. Donít feel harmed and you havenít been. -Marcus Aurelius

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Starboard Song

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Re: Coming to Terms with Enforcing Boundaries
« Reply #2 on: August 17, 2018, 02:35:47 PM »
Agreed, coyote.

When my FIL complained that I had blocked their email addresses (after yet another abusive rant), I told him I had no choice as a father and husband but to not let him write to us: "you were too undisciplined when you did so." His discomfiture from that truth isn't and cannot be my burden.

Regrettably, so many of us get stuck on the stake of their complaints, and have a hard time remembering that self-protection is a moral obligation as well.
Radical Acceptance, by Brach   |   Self-Compassion, by Neff    |   Mindfulness, by Williams   |   The Book of Joy, by the Dalai Lama and Tutu
Healing From Family Rifts, by Sichel   |  Stop Walking on Egshells, by Mason    |    Emotional Blackmail, by Susan Forward

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Sojourner17

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Re: Coming to Terms with Enforcing Boundaries
« Reply #3 on: August 17, 2018, 06:29:19 PM »
Starboard song,

thank you so much for posting this.  I think I will be coming back to it over and over again.  I struggle a great deal about what is moral for me to do regarding my mom and how I interact with her as well as the strictness of my boundaries.  I had to read through what you wrote a couple of times before I realized that you were writing about what THEIR options or choices were...they could choose to continue to bully through and end up NC or they could choose to accept the boundaries given.  At least it seems this is what you were saying. 

Ive been working hard at not reacting back when i hear from my mom.  Trying to take a few days before responding, if i respond at all, and thinking through the kindest way to reassert my boundary while still attempting to give her a nugget of something to grasp at that I am willing to engage with her on.  Its hard but i think right now its the best option...im not quite ready to go NC/dont feel this is  where things need to go quite yet.

Im going to be revisiting this thread often   :wave:
"Tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it..." - Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

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Starboard Song

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Re: Coming to Terms with Enforcing Boundaries
« Reply #4 on: August 17, 2018, 06:59:06 PM »
I realized that you were writing about what THEIR options or choices were...they could choose to continue to bully through and end up NC or they could choose to accept the boundaries given.

That's it exactly!
Radical Acceptance, by Brach   |   Self-Compassion, by Neff    |   Mindfulness, by Williams   |   The Book of Joy, by the Dalai Lama and Tutu
Healing From Family Rifts, by Sichel   |  Stop Walking on Egshells, by Mason    |    Emotional Blackmail, by Susan Forward

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Bloomie

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Re: Coming to Terms with Enforcing Boundaries
« Reply #5 on: August 17, 2018, 09:00:01 PM »
Quote from: Starboard_Song
But the Christian thing to do, it feels, is to ameliorate suffering wherever we can.
Coming to terms with the suffering and pain that can be part of enforcing boundaries with consequences with PD people has been central to assimilating this most necessary life skill in all of my relationships. Learning to consistently set reasonable and appropriate boundaries has demanded emotional growth and maturity from me and I am grateful for the peaceful space for human flourishing it allows.

Gaining a perspective that allows me to pause when there are cries of "you hurt me, you don't like me, you don't love me!!!!!" in response to kindly spoken protective limits and filter the compassion and empathy, the urge to soothe that immediately rises up in me, has been a long journey.

In the case of the pain of fractured relationships, or the pain that comes from us distancing ourselves from unrepentantly abusive people, then suffering has a purpose and is a necessary part of our environment that "forces us strange decisions, tough behavior". To ameliorate it, as coyote said in such an instance, is not a loving behavior to ourselves or others.

I love how C.S. Lewis puts it:

Quote from: C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.






"If you focus on the hurt, you will continue to suffer. If you focus on the lesson, you will continue to grow." Dr. Caroline Leaf

Bloomie 🌸

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momnthefog

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Re: Coming to Terms with Enforcing Boundaries
« Reply #6 on: September 20, 2018, 11:48:08 AM »
self-protection is a moral obligation

I am writing this down and putting it in a prominent place!

momnthefog
"She made broken look beautiful and strong look invincible.  She walked with the universe on her shoulders and made it look like a pair of wings."

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DJCleo

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Re: Coming to Terms with Enforcing Boundaries
« Reply #7 on: October 20, 2018, 12:44:55 AM »
This is purely amazing.

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DJCleo

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Re: Coming to Terms with Enforcing Boundaries
« Reply #8 on: October 20, 2018, 12:27:51 PM »
Iím still so much more at peace from reading this. Thank you. Iíve searched for such answers for so long.

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Starboard Song

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Re: Coming to Terms with Enforcing Boundaries
« Reply #9 on: October 20, 2018, 01:08:41 PM »
DJ, I am very glad. The denizens of this forum deserve and need more peace. It is how we preserve ourselves as kind and productive people for our families and communities.

My phone just auto-corrected "families" to "failures." That made me chuckle, given the context.
Radical Acceptance, by Brach   |   Self-Compassion, by Neff    |   Mindfulness, by Williams   |   The Book of Joy, by the Dalai Lama and Tutu
Healing From Family Rifts, by Sichel   |  Stop Walking on Egshells, by Mason    |    Emotional Blackmail, by Susan Forward