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Clarissa's Blog

An academic's opinions on feminism, politics, literature, philosophy, teaching, academia, and a lot more.

Setting Boundaries, Cont’d

Rule #2: don’t engage in internal dialogues with the boundary violator. Once you start an internal monologue addressed at them, that’s it, you have allowed them to inhabit your innermost self. It’s a tough habit to break because internal monologues offer an illusion of finally being able to say everything you wanted. But it’s fake relief. All you are doing is taking apart your own boundaries.

The solution here is as simple as switching the internal monologues to a different channel. The moment they start, imagine you are holding a remote and pressing a button that powers on a different program. The channel you will be switching to needs to be something powerful and engrossing enough to distract you from self-justifying monologues. It’s hard as all hell but I promise that within a month of consistently practicing this, it will become second nature.

Rule #3: erase the phrases “but why does she?” and “I just want to understand why he” from your vocabulary. All they do is lock you in an unhealthy relationship with the boundary violator. He does it because that’s what he wants to do, and that’s all you need to know. All these attempts to “just understand” give you a fake feeling of power over the violator because they make you feel like you can solve the problem by the strength of your intellect. But this power is illusory. The real power lies in building up a boundary and protecting it.

You can’t change a boundary violator or convince them not to violate. All you can do is make yourself not useful and not convenient as a victim. And then they’ll go feed on somebody who is still inquiring forlornly “But why does she always?”

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15 thoughts on “Setting Boundaries, Cont’d

  1. Crystallizing chaos on said:

    This is really great advice! I’m definitely going to practice this.

    How does one decide what boundaries are healthy to setup? What’s the difference between setting up boundaries and being inconsiderate?

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    • Any boundaries are good as long as they are freely chosen by you and don’t impinge on the boundaries of others. Nobody is entitled to our discomfort or unhappiness. But they are entitled to choose not to pursue a relationship with us if they don’t like our boundaries.

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      • Crystallizing chaos on said:

        I guess this also answers my second question. I was going to ask – what do you do if you find that you’re a boundary violater?

        Why, from a pyschoanalytic point of view, do people become boundary violaters?

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        • They didn’t get the unconditional care and attention from their parents in infancy. So now they want to build deeply symbiotic relationships with people around them to get constant reassurance that they won’t go away. Boundaries return them to the desperation of infancy when they needed Mommy and she wasn’t there physically or emotionally. Like an angry infant, they can lash out in rage, throw tantrums, whine for attention, sabotage, make themselves sick, and even hit the person who tries to create a boundary.

          The problem is that no matter how hard you try, you won’t fill their need. You can’t be their Mommy. And they will always try getting closer and closer because nothing is enough, nothing fills the void. And they will always resent you for not filling it well enough. It’s a game you can’t win. So it’s best not even to try.

          If you realize you have symbiotic needs that you are trying to get people to fulfill, you have to find the loving and accepting Mommy in the only place she now resides: within yourself. Take a time to treat yourself like a needy infant. Shower yourself with love, acceptance, and gifts.

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  2. DWeird on said:

    Needed this. I have a friend who talks nonstop and does his best to turn every conversation to himself, and I found myself frustrated by how often I find myself thinking “But what’s wrong with him, exactly?”

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    • A thing to remember is that people with narcissistic trauma can be helped because they can never ever accept they might need help. It’s part of the trauma that they can’t see themselves as imperfect.

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      • Crystallizing chaos on said:

        What is narcissistic trauma? How does it arise?

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        • It’s very very hard to treat or access because it happens in infancy and people don’t have any memories about it. If an infant feels rejected by the mother, that’s when it happens. Often it’s something like the mother’s postpartum depression, which she is not even to blame for, but it can have that effect (not always, of course, just in the severe cases.) If mother was away because she was in the hospital or had another kid immediately after. Or there was a special-needs kid in the home monopolizing her attention. Or if she simply failed to bond to the child fast enough. If the pregnancy was difficult and the birth was very painful and she feels subconscious resentment of the child for that (which is not abnormal and not a condemnation). This is not about assigning blame because many of these things simply can’t be helped.

          If one feels they might have this sort of trauma, it might help to talk to the mother or other relatives who were present, in a very gentle way, without blaming, just to hear what was going on. Even just hearing about what went on can have a curative effect. I know that for a fact because I tried it. The good thing about the human psyche is that everything can be repaired if people set to it. It gets harder if nobody is available to talk because they are no longer alive or can’t be reached. But it’s still not hopeless.

          The only real obstacle is that people whose narcissistic wound is deep enough can’t bring themselves to recognize that it’s not the heartlessness of others that is causing the problems.

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  3. These posts on setting boundaries and traumas are simply fantastic — succinct and crystal clear!

    I am sure many of your readers would be delighted — I definitely would! — to hear more about your experiences and understanding of psychoanalysis.

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    • Thank you! It took me a long long time to arrive at clear and simple definitions of these things. Psychoanalytic theory tends to be confusing and long-winded so it all sounds like jargony blabber at some point. What’s needed is good popularizing so that people can find help without being scared away.

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  4. I wish someone had said this to me 30 years ago. Or more, even, though I’m not sure I would have understood it before that. It’s still helpful to be reminded, and great that you’re making these insights available here. You might literally save a life by doing so.

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  5. Crystallizing Chaos on said:

    What is the difference between an unhealthy, symbiotic relationship and a healthy one? It seems to me that being in any relationship at all implies that you want something out of it. For example, in a romantic relationship it only seems natural to want sex. When is a want healthy and when is it pathological?

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    • Many couples want and need deeply symbiotic relationships. It’s all good as long as both are happy and content with the situation. For instance, if both people need the kind of symbiosis that requires them to know at any moment when the other person is, read their emails and text messages, go through their papers and wallets, and be in their social media at all times, then it’s great and healthy for them. I, for instance, would die in such a relationship. But for many people it’s what they need and they are happy in it.

      BUT. If only one person wants this kind of symbiosis and the other feels uncomfortable and invaded by it, that’s when the relationship has become unhealthy.

      Just like sex, it’s all good when it’s consensual, and it becomes bad the second one of the people is forced, coerced, bullied, or begged into it against their wishes.

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      • Crystallizing chaos on said:

        Ah, that makes sense.

        It seems to me that a lot of words and phrases used to describe these psychological conditions have value judgments attached to them when used in a colloquial context. For example, I have negative associations with words such as trauma and control. Is this something we have to be careful about when talking about pyschoanalysis or are these words and phrases meant to be used in a negative sense?

        I’m not sure if I’m making sense anymore. As you said, it took you a long time to arrive at such clarity. I haven’t spent that much time thinking about these things.

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