Boundaries are Better Than Impenetrable Walls

English: Drystone walls near Bryansford Drysto...

Boundaries (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

When I came out of my tower of solitude, I had to learn how to live without walls. I found out that I had no boundaries for most of my relationships, since the tower walls kept everyone and everything out. Now that I’m letting people in, and letting myself actually feel my own feelings every moment, I have to establish safe and healthy boundaries so they can come in a little, but not so far as to be dangerous or toxic to me.

I am trying to feel my own feelings, and not be overly influenced by manipulators. I am learning to examine my feelings and decide if they are indeed my own, or some version that someone else has superimposed onto me, or some version that I have warped within me.

Abused children are not permitted to own their own feelings. Abused children are not allowed to be human. Abused children are objects, mere property, to be used by the abuser. It seems to be a common, shared experience then, that abused children lock up their true selves and feelings, deep inside themselves, as a means of self-preservation. This tactic may be helpful, but it is also confusing, if the true self is hidden so deeply, and so long, that we can no longer access her.

So I’ve stopped feeding the hungry manipulators in my life. In particular, I needed to build a boundary for my mom. I realized she was digging for emotional dirt on me, and then throwing that dirt back in my face.  Just a few weeks ago, I was ashamed that I had allowed her to still do this to me as an adult. The shame is now gone, and I accept how it happened. I so much wanted to completely forgive my mom for not protecting me from my abusive dad. I so much wanted to have an open mother-daughter relationship. So, I let her in – too far- and allowed her to cause me pain, doubt myself, and feel guilty for a world of wrongs that I should have never assigned to myself.

Now I have stepped back, accepted that she may not always have the best of intentions for me, and that she will not be gentle with my heart. In the past, this realization would have sent me running for my protective tower. But my tower is gone. Truly gone. So what to do?

I am not ready to push my mom out of my life completely. At this point I don’t think she is completely dangerous or toxic. Instead I have pushed her back a bit. She used to send 5-10 emails to me daily, and would either act hurt, betrayed, or worried, if I did not answer each one as they came in. If I missed too many, I would get a concerned phone call. She expected me to call her 3 times a week, and talk for an hour or two each time. I did not realize how she had put me in this devoted daughter role over the years, and that I felt guilty for not jumping at her calls. I did not notice that I used her for 100% of my social support, and that she liked that, and did everything she could to keep me there. She needed me to need her.

Steps to building this boundary:

Week 1:  I started answering my moms emails all at once, answering all 5-10 in a single response at the end of each day, or even the following day. The response was polite and truthful, but not overly detailed as they used to be.  I only called her once that week, and only for 20 min. At first she sensed the distance, and panicked. She called to see if everything was ok. She started digging for dirt, asking if husband was hurting me and making me so quiet. I assured her I was fine, but very busy.

Week 2: Her emails decreased, and so did mine. She sent me maybe 2 a day, and I sent her maybe 2 responses for the whole week. I did not call her at all. I did not actively think “I’m not calling my mom today” either, it was more like, I’ll call her when I want to, not out of duty or fear of hurting her feelings.

Week 3: This week, I only had 2 total emails from her, and they were light-hearted forwarded jokes, and simple polite greetings – not the usual deeply emotional, and negative ordeals she used to send. I called her today, and the discussion was pleasant. She did not ask why I didn’t call last week, and I felt no need to apologize or explain. (What? Seriously? I did berate myself for being a lousy daughter? ) She did have some comment about me being such a busy woman now, but it slid right off me, as I just agreed. I told her some of our upcoming plans, but did not discuss my feelings in depth with her about anything. Kind of ‘just the facts ma’am’. And she mostly did the same for me.  And when I hung up today, I did not feel guilty, angry, troubled, or anything. Just content.

I did it. I found a healthy way to keep in touch with my mom without allowing her to hurt me. I did not run away. I faced her and slowly pushed her out of my psyche until I felt secure. I’ve done the opposite with my husband, allowing him in further than anyone has ever been in before. And he is gentle with my heart, and fills me with love and hope and dreams for our future together. We talked last night, about how far we have come these past months, and just shook our heads in disbelief at how terribly we used to treat each other. Yes – each other – we both take full responsibility for hurting each other, and turning away from each other. We vowed to never let it happen again, that we will pull each other back, gently, if one starts to drift.

This new power to build boundaries is extremely exciting to me. That I can take ownership and responsibility for myself. That I can choose who to let in, and how far to let them in. And if I make a mistake, I know I will just let those feelings come and go, and reset that boundary again.

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9 thoughts on “Boundaries are Better Than Impenetrable Walls

  1. Beautiful post on building healthy boundaries. Glad to hear you mother is healthy enough to do this. My counselor introduced the idea of having gates. Gates allowed in those people I feel safe to let in closer. This helped me to build boundaries with people that are not safe and open gates to those people that are safe. This is a wonderful post.

    • Thank you Ruth. Yes, I seem to have gates now, and multiple layers of boundaries, that I, yes ME, get to choose who comes inside. I am not sure my mom is healthy enough for this, but she does seem to be following my lead. My history makes me think it is not out of respect or anything healthy though. Time will tell on that one. And her boundary will have to remain very firm and strong, as she constantly picks at it looking for the way back in.

    • Yes, it appears I am learning new tricks. I didn’t think it would work, I really didn’t, so I had to post my amazement. Of course part of me thinks she is planning something big in her time away for me. This just seems too easy . . .

  2. I love the photo of the stone walls! Good for you for setting the boundaries for your comfort zone with your mom. I used to try to protect my mother due to my fear of abandonment, no matter how old we are, which can kick in with mother-daughter relationships. It is good to let that fear go. She is your mom, whether you email 3 times a day or once a week! I’m glad she is amenable to your new found independence! Great post.

    • Yes, it sounds easy to just ignore someone, but the fear of abandonment, and the need for mom’s approval runs so deep and strong in all of us. I know she doesn’t like the new boundaries, but she seems to be going along with it. I don’t need her to like it, just to respect it.

  3. I’m amazed how well you have managed to build these boundaries and how well your mom reacted for the growing distance. To reach something like this is one of my biggest dreams.
    A really beautiful and inspiring post, thank you!

    I know the feeling when you are waiting for the other shoe to drop. If she plans something and does something unexpected, remember that you do have your walls now. And you have the possibility to close the gates.

    • I’m honestly amazed it seems to be working too. Makes me so hopeful. And yes, even if something happens, I will never fall as far as I used to. I just know so much now, and have come so far. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me!

  4. Pingback: Pushing back on Boundary Pushers | Roots to Blossom

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