Getting your boundaries in place

2017-11-02 13:51
Gad Avnon

Gad Avnon (File)

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In my last article, I explored a few significant issues that are almost always present in co-dependent relationships.

Some of the responses I received showed that irrespective of our social, cultural or financial situation, those principles are present, and therefore it becomes imperative to apply some structure, to minimise the negative effect of such relationships.

Two responses stand out from among the others. In the first situation, a young wife discovered that her husband is a substance dependent. This loving wife concluded her heart-breaking story by saying: “I lied for him, I borrowed money from friends and family in order to cover up for him, all the time thinking that my love for him will be sufficient to change him. I now realised that I became the co-addict, and I don’t know how to break the cycle.”

The second situation, once again, has most of the ingredients of the “dreaded triangle” drama of a victim, a persecutor and the rescuer.

This time it involves the daughter, who is addicted to alcohol and gambling, the mother who usually acts as the persecutor, and the father, who is the knight in shining armour and who comes to the rescue of the daughter, whom he calls “his poor little girl”. She is actually 24 years old, a university graduate, and extremely intelligent.

It never ceases to amaze me how often the family relationships are such; that boys are protected by their mothers, and girls are protected by their fathers. Unless the parents are able to project a united front, the addict will use the parental conflict to his or her “best” interests, which are destructive and often create a ripple effect on all other relationships within the family.

In both of those cases, and many others, what could have been healthy relationships, deteriorated to a daily battle zone. Yet, unlike any other war, in this one there are only losers, no winners.

Fortunately, there are remedies that can and should be applied in order to move from a lose-lose situation, to a win-win one.

The all-encompassing term to those remedies is boundaries.

Often, when I first mention the term, many people have a very inaccurate perception and understanding of what it actually means to have personal boundaries. They imagine restrictions, a whole lot of do’s and don’ts.

To start with, these invisible protective structures are mine and mine only. Therefore, the management of such is my responsibility and mine only. These don’t come to restrict me, but to protect me.

These boundaries that each one of us needs to put in place come to assist us in the first place to manage and control our own thoughts, attitudes and behaviours. On the other hand, they help us control the effect of other people’s behaviours.

One has only to read the newspapers and realise that many of the violent incidents that are being reported are simply the symptoms of out-of-control behaviours. Road rage, sexual assaults and the frequency of family violence in its many ugly and horrendous expressions, are all part of lack of boundaries and the chaotic life that many of us lead as a result.

The three most basic boundaries that are a start to a life lived well are Yes, No and the Truth.

It is only when I can say yes because I choose to, and not because I fear the reaction of others, that I am back in control of my life. Many of us face situations when we really want to say no, but we compromise and said yes, all for the sake of avoiding conflict. It is often evident in families with one member who is in active addiction.

They ask for money and we give it to them, knowing what it is going to be used for. All because we fear their reaction if we say no. At that point we become enablers, all for our own benefit. However, it is not exclusive to these families. When we agree to cheat our customers against our conscience when we cut corners or mismanage resources that we were entrusted with, we are operating outside of the basic principles of truth.

Saying no to others often goes against our social conditioning. From a young age we are told to give our toys to others and to be accommodating at all costs. We grow up fearful of rejection, confrontation and becoming extremely vulnerable to the opinions of others.

When we start setting boundaries, the responses and opinions of others become somewhat neutralised, and we become less affected by them. Our freedom of choosing the appropriate responses is in line with our conscience and is totally vested in having our personal boundaries in place.

Those among us who are struggling with addiction and any other out-of-control behaviour have a desperate need to learn to respect the boundaries of others.

Addicts just take and take and take, and expect others just to give and give and give. Both parties are at fault, both parties need to review the structure of the relationships. Looking at nature, there are two very significant types of relationships — symbiotic and parasitic. Any human relationship that is lacking specific identifiable boundaries, runs the risk of becoming parasitic.

Take a few moments all by yourself and examine your unique situation, and ask yourself the following questions:

• Does your happiness depend on other people approval of you?

• Do you often say yes, when you wanted to say no?

• Do you habitually sacrifice your needs for the sake of others?

• Do you try to solve other people’s problems for them?

• Do you care too much and can’t detach?

• Do you often feel like a victim?

• Do you often lose your temper, eat too much, procrastinate, or feel emotionally bankrupt?

If you answered yes to more than two questions, you are probably having some boundary problems and as a result you might be involved in co-dependent relationship.

There are two books that I strongly recommend for everyone to read:Boundariesby Dr Henry Cloud and Dr John Townsend, and Co-Dependent No Moreby Melody Beatie.

Please take the time to read these books and assess your situation. It matters little how far your relationships have deteriorated, these can be mended. Never lose hope.

• Gad Avnon is the founder and director of Harmony Retreat. He has a BTH.Hon and is currently completing a masters degree in psychotherapy and conselling, majoring in addiction treatment. He can be reached at gad@harmonyretreat.co. za or 084 417 2227.

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