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What are you letting in?

July 15, 2011

I've had this happen to me, where I've gotten so reactive towards other people that I can't let anything good in. The irony is that I was so damaged and broken, I would also allow all the bad things in. My partners would complain about walking on eggshells. I would doubt their every good intention, their every act of love, and treat it like it was a problem somehow. I reframed their interactions -- changed what I thought was going on -- so that they seemed to be lying or coddling or they were humoring me, or somehow being dishonest when they reached out to help me.

I would transform every positive interaction into an attempt to manipulate me, use me, coerce me, convince me. I would push my partner away then blame them for being distant. I would hold grudges for weeks on things that I imagined they did wrong.

They had no power over me and I'd prove it by not allowing them to love me. I'd turn every conversation into a fight, refuse to be touched or held, scrutinize every word to find other meanings, blame them for purposefully attacking me, accuse them of causing my pain, and worst of all I'd push back as hard as I thought they were pushing at me.

I made my relationship a war zone as an extension of fighting an internal war that had no winner. And the only way to change the situation was to completely fix my boundary system.

Due to trauma and abuse, I had huge gaping holes in my boundaries that would allow abusers to manipulate me. I had not addressed these holes. I was upset they were there, they scared the crap out of me. People could waltz right in and grab hold of my feelings and wreck me. I didn't know how to stop them.

In a fit of hypocritical self-damaging and extremely passive-agressive behavior, I created boundaries wherever I could, to the point of hypervigilance and self-delusion. I put up sheilds and armor against positive interactions because I could not filter out the negative interactions. I became hypersensitive to everything. I wouldn't let people help me. I could only push people further and further away, and irrevocably harm my relationships with them.

In other words, I inadvertently created a situation where all my friends and lovers could do was hurt me. Either they'd walk in my gaping holes and trash me, or they'd try to help me and I'd percieve it as just another set-up to harm me -- like love was a bait leading only to pain -- and keep the people trying to do me good at a distance.

It's a basic truth that you can't change people. People can only change themselves. You can't help them, heal them, or help them affect positive change in their life without their permission. They can erect boundaries against being helped -- and that's exactly what I did. We see this with alcoholism and other addictions. You know they're hurting themselves, and you want to help them. But until they want help and are ready to fix their boundaries, you can't do anything.

We aren't taught this, but aside from physically harming one another, the same thing is true of negative interactions. People can't hurt us, make us angry, make us frightened, wreck our self-esteem or damage our self-image unless we allow them to. If someone can give you emotional pain of any type without your explicit permission, your boundaries are broken in some way. If we can turn a positive interaction into a painful interaction, then our boundaries are broken.

[There's another way to have a broken boundary where you love someone and trust them and do not filter interactions with them at all. This means they have the power to accidentally harm you at a moment's notice. You at least need a filter of "Is that really what they meant to say or do?" to protect you from mishaps. Being completely wide open is not showing them trust or surrender; it's daring them to hurt you by accident. No good can come of it.]

I'd have a very different life today if I had flipped my boundary situation around. If I had been able to understand that my lover's intent was to love me and help to heal me, and that slips of language or stumbling on triggers was accidental and could be defended against in a gentle way, and forgiven. I attacked people when they were trying to help me. I attacked them when they were showing me love. There's no excuse for that -- I now consider that a grave sin. And I wasn't able to forgive them for the imagined harm they did me.

Eventually a relationship crumbles when communication fails, when shows of love are met with fear and pain. When a partner is obviously in distress, and you're continually shut out, attacked for trying to help them care for themselves, and you spend all your time picking your words carefully to try not to set them off and then failing over and over again. There's just no way to sustain a healthy relationship when one partner is insisting on making it a war zone.

It's a good idea to look at your behavior and try to objectively examine what you're allowing in - what affects you - versus what you're pushing away. You know a healthy boundary when an inadvertent slip has no affect on you. You might take note at the slip, ask for a correction, but you're not upset, angry or harmed in any way.

I hope that this helps people catch themselves when their boundaries are inside out, before their relationship is damaged beyond repair. I have more information about boundaries and related information on cording. If this article rings true for you, you may also want to check out our article on Gaslighting New in case that has been used against you on-purpose, thus creating these backwards boundaries.

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