Take a look at that illustration of Red Riding Hood.
She’s really changed, hasn’t she? A big part of that was learning to be her own protector. She went through quite a trauma with the wolf, and some big changes were necessary to prevent it from happening again.
Isn’t this new image of her more appealing, and more inspiring of respect and awe, than the images of her wide-eyed and skipping naively through the forest? Her innocence was adorable and touching, but the time came to replace it with wisdom. She learned there are those who deserve her trust and her heart and her vulnerability, and those who don’t. If you are deserving, she will not fight you off with that sword — she will let you in and treat you with kindness and share her heart with you. You see, Red’s got boundaries now.
I’m not saying there was anything wrong with Red before, or that it was her fault she was victimized by the wolf. What I am saying is there are predators in the forest who would gladly take advantage of her as she used to be. That’s just reality. The world isn’t the way we want it to be — it is the way it is, whether we like it or not.
It’s true that love is blind…but we don’t have to be. We can love and see clearly at the same time. It’s not easy, but the two do not have to be mutually exclusive.
So how can boundaries help you do this?
If you have healthy boundaries there are certain things that you just won’t tolerate from others, like lying and failing to keep promises, both big and small. You will also have expectations of other people, including mutual respect, expectations of emotional and physical safety in a relationship, and loyalty.
The bottom line of Part One was that we all need boundaries, which serve to let positive things into our lives while keeping negative things out. Boundaries aren’t just for psychopaths and manipulators — they’re just as useful and necessary for nosy neighbors, meddling mothers, and boorish bosses.
Firm boundaries keep you intact. They keep you in alignment with what you have decided you want in life (so a key to good boundaries is knowing what you want. That sounds basic, but most of us don’t have more than a vague idea).
Loose boundaries make you like a jellyfish, a gelatinous blob that takes the shape of whatever container you’re put in. Overly rigid boundaries, on the other hand, can be like a brick wall, which keeps everyone out. After the trauma of involvement with a psychopath, it’s not unusual to go from having loose boundaries to having rigid ones in an attempt to protect ourselves. That can be fine at first when you feel the need to withdraw and figure out what happened, learn how to trust, build your confidence, define what you want, and get clear on what you will or will not tolerate in relationships. As long as you are able to do these things, you will reset your boundaries to healthier ones that allow you to connect with others while maintaining your integrity.
It’s no secret that psychopaths target those who put the needs of others first. As the psychopath I was involved with said to me (with disgust), “You are such a people-pleaser!” And I responded “No I’m not!” It amazes me now to realize how little we can know about ourselves. I certainly was a people-pleaser. Putting others first is considered a virtue, but in truth it can backfire. There are plenty of people willing to let you sacrifice yourself on the altar of virtue for their benefit, and to the detriment of yours.
When it’s so important to us to please another person, when things don’t go well we only look at ourselves to see what the problem is — we wonder what we’re doing wrong, why we aren’t “enough” to keep this person happy. We don’t think that they may be the problem. We don’t think about our own unhappiness and dis-satisfaction with the relationship, only theirs. And they know this and exploit it for all it’s worth. After all, if we knew what we wanted from a relationship before getting involved in one and if we were clear about what we expected the other person to bring to the relationship, we might have said “You know what? I’m not happy in this relationship anymore. It started out great, but things have changed drastically. This is not the kind of relationship I envisioned for myself. It’s not good for me, and in fact it’s become quite detrimental. I will not be involved in this any longer.”
If we’re highly empathetic and emotionally sensitive (and so more likely to put the needs of others ahead of our own) we’re at greater risk of becoming involved with a manipulator. I remember telling my therapist that people like me — highly sensitive and concerned more about other people’s feelings than my own — are the perfect prey/partners for psychopaths. Why? Because we bring enough emotion, love, and investment into the relationship to make up for their complete lack of it. We unconsciously “fill in the blanks” they create.
While we do psychological cartwheels trying to keep it together or fix it or figure it out, they just sit back and enjoy the show, which is the result of their undercover handiwork.
According to Natalie Lue of the website Baggage Reclaim, “…every day I hear from women who even in reading about boundaries and knowing the importance of them are afraid to actually have them. When you have little or no boundaries, it means that you will put up with pretty much anything in the name of being ‘loved’ and getting attention and validation; however, actual love and a healthy, decent relationship never requires you to have no boundaries.” She goes on to give examples of what she considers “core boundaries.” Here are some of them:
- Under no circumstances will I date someone who is married or has a partner.
- I will not continue engaging in any relationship where either they or I don’t treat me with love, care, and respect.
- I will not date someone who controls the relationship on their terms – I must be in mutually fulfilling, balanced, healthy relationships.
- I will not allow lies to foster my interactions, whether it’s being in denial or listening to bullshit, being fed lies, or getting the truth distorted.
- I will not date an assclown – someone who is unkind/cruel, lacking in empathy, and who at best takes advantage and at worst, abuses me.
- I will not make up excuses for other people’s behaviour or make exceptions to my boundaries. My boundaries are non-negotiable!
Granted, a psychopath isn’t your garden-variety “assclown,” and what s/he excels at is manipulating his way across your boundaries and beyond. But if you enter a relationship clear in your own head about what you want and what you will or will not tolerate, you have set guideposts for yourself that can alert you when things are going awry, signs that can alert you to when you’re abandoning your values and desires and are instead going along with someone else’s agenda.
If you have boundaries, you will have a chance to protect yourself from being victimized. This is a good time to review the blog post “How to avoid a relationship with a psychopath,” which addresses why it’s *vital* to know what you want from a relationship before you get involved in the next one. A vague idea isn’t good enough, and in fact it’s downright dangerous. If you don’t know what you want, how will you know when you’re not getting it?
Natalie goes on to say, “Respect your own boundaries, so that either others do, or you recognise when they don’t. But do not make exceptions because you will keep lengthening your yardstick. This guideline also applies to when they ask you to make an exception to your normal rule of behaviour – someone who genuinely has your best interests at heart will not expect or demand that you do something outside of your normal behaviour.” I agree completely. When you willingly give up a boundary — which is really a value you have determined to be of utmost importance to you — it should raise a Big Red Flag. Chances are that you are being manipulated in some way. Stay true to yourself. If someone is a good person who truly loves and respects you, your boundaries will not be a problem (and it goes a long way in building trust!). If you feel like tossing your boundaries to the wayside and charging full speed ahead, take some time to ask yourself why that is.
Boundaries not only preserve your values and integrity, as if that weren’t enough — they also provide a way to evaluate someone’s true character. As Natalie at Baggage Claim puts it so well, “repetitive sums of actions which show a disrespect of you and the relationship are not mistakes; they’re his character.”
Here are some more examples of boundaries. You may want to adopt some as your own, to protect yourself from becoming or staying involved in a manipulative and harmful relationship:
- I will not become sexually involved with a new interest for a minimum of ________ months (some advise 3 as the minimum), in order to have time to assess this person’s character and to avoid creating false feelings of intimacy.
- I will not participate in humiliating, dangerous or illegal sexual acts because I am pressured to by my partner, nor will I continue a relationship with someone who pressures me to do so.
- I will not be involved with a person whose words and actions don’t align. I will believe his actions and not his words. I will not let anyone “talk me out of” what I know to be the truth. Doubt is my friend, but I will never doubt myself.
- I will keep control over the pace of the relationship. I will not see someone more than ___ times per week during the first ___ weeks or months. This will give me the time to evaluate this person’s character, and allow me to maintain my other relationships and interests. It will also give me the space to evaluate my feelings and what has occurred during the time I spent with this person.
Will boundaries really protect you from a psychopathic manipulator? Quite possibly, because s/he may decide to move on to an easier target, or because you may decide to move on. Boundaries give you a fighting chance — possibly your only chance — to prevent entanglement with a manipulator. And if the person does not end up being a manipulator, boundaries give you the ability to create a healthy relationship with a good person.
“Respect yourself if you would have others respect you.”
♥ Thank you for reading. Stay tuned for Part Three…
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21 thoughts on “Got Boundaries? Part Two: How Boundaries Protect You, and a List of Examples of Boundaries”
thank you !
i can relate to almost everything that you write about.
your emails give me clarity on how i have been manipulated and abused by my boyfriends and also by some friends.
You’re welcome, glad to hear it!
Hey, such vital and commonsensical advice on boundarys, thank you. After 20 years with psycho, my whole value system was turned upside down, all my fears became my reality, and my believes were trampled on and devalued, I had to ‘see’ things through his eyes. I ‘knew’ something was seriously wrong, but I thought it was me, of course he would blame me, he would never take responsibility. It is so insidious, they are pure evil. Identity theft is a crime!!
We moved out 10 months ago, we are 500 metres away, but this week I think I’ve taken 100 steps forward, I’ll be meeting him in court but I will be the lil Red in the illustration :) It was a long, exhausting, winding road, and I know I’ve a bit to travel, but I know 2 things, what he is and what I’m about to become. And that’s in no small part down to you and your wonderful, informative, smart and funny website, and brilliant book which I gave to my pal and it’s spurred her from baby steps to a sprint! Thank you xx
“Identity theft is a crime!!” Love that. It is a crime.
YOU HAVE TAKEN 100 STEPS FORWARD?! That is truly wonderful! Yes, you will be the New Lil’ Red in court, won’t you?
Thank you so much for your very kind words. I am so happy that the website and book have helped you! And that the book has also helped your friend! It brings tears to my eyes xx
I have been with a sociopath for the last seven years plus. Married for four years out of the seven. I tolerated abuse, infidelity, lies, deception….. All nonsense. I am between the depression & acceptance stage. However, sometimes I am like in a snakes & ladders game. I reach acceptance, go back to bargaining & spiral to denial…… Again to anger….. It is tough. I am 102 days since no contact. Believe me it helps to keep the wolf away. I want to share my story. It is so bizarre. Who will believe that me an educated professional went through all this. I am disoriented. But after knowing I am not alone….. I have courage. P.S. If I had not googled liar, abuse, infidelity and finally Sociopath & Psychopath probably he would worm his way back into my life & again the cycle of assessing, seducing, ruining. It happened so many times….. I am recovering hopefully… Cannot say for sure. When I am better shall share my story. I do not know where to begin though. Remember I have just got off the merry go round ride?
Congratulations on your 102 days of no contact! You are a strong woman. Recovery is like a snakes and ladders game — 2 steps forward and one step back, and then 1 step forward and 2 steps back, over and over. But the forward steps will begin to outnumber the backwards ones, and you will find yourself making progress. You’re right, you have just gotten off the merry go round (after a long ride) so give yourself time. I’m glad you found out what he really was and that it’s helping you to stay away. Stay determined and believe that you will recover completely, even if you don’t know exactly how that will happen. That intention will be a big help to you along the way. Best wishes to you! Please let me know how you’re doing.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts about psychopaths.
I would not do any favors for ANYONE psychopaths always want something. Set a boundary of no favors for six months.
An interesting tidbit about favors is that when someone asks us to do a favor for them, we like them more than when they do a favor for us. Maybe that’s why you’ve experienced being asked to do favors. Thanks for bringing this up!
Admin, I understand boundaries are important, but I can’t help but feel you’re saying it was somehow my fault that I was victimized. I don’t think anything could stop a psychopath from victimizing someone. They’re way too good at what they do and frankly I don’t think anyone stands a chance. Psychopaths are evil or maybe they’re an alien life form. Plenty of confident, successful people have become victims!
Candice, I understand what you’re saying but I want to assure you that this blog is free of victim-blaming. I experienced plenty of that, and I felt like I was being victimized all over again. At the same time, I most definitely do not want to be victimized by another psychopath (or any kind of manipulator), so I’m willing to look at what might have made me a good target. They don’t target everyone, after all — they pick and choose and go with who they think they can successfully manipulate. Everything I write here is with the intention to help prevent another victimization.
Also, I would caution you against believing you are powerless. That’s bound to leave you scared and unable to trust others and your own judgement. When you see them as some sort of supernatural being — evil or an alien — that has superpowers, you leave yourself at their mercy without any way to protect yourself. They’re skilled manipulators but they’re not supernatural beings, and in fact their “game” is pretty simple — it follows the same pattern in the majority of cases, and that pattern is the Stages of the Psychopathic Bond. I think being aware of those stages, aware of how they accomplish them, and doing what we can to protect ourselves, will make a difference to prevent a re-occurrence.
i love your blog it has helped me a lot with this topic of boundaries. i like all of us have been at one point devastated by my sociopath and have been trying to heal for 2 years now. ive opened my own group on daily strength trying to spread the word and help others too and i keep trying to figure out the ways i needed to change and boundaries are my down fall. i just didnt even ever realize i had NONE. always giving, trying to be a good soul when really i had zero self esteem or respect. im working on it and this article has helped put things into perspective and really made me think. i appreciate your way of writing and saying it like it is its been a lot of help, thank you. ks
That’s great that you’ve started your own group! I’d love to hear more about it. I was just like you, I didn’t have any real boundaries. I knew what they were, but I never really gave it thought or defined any boundaries per se. And truthfully, I don’t know what good it would have done, not having had the experience with the psychopath — he would have been able to dismantle any boundary I had, and I would have never seen it coming. I wouldn’t have thought of boundaries as “protection from manipulators” because I was clueless about all of it. I’m glad to hear the blog is helpful to you. Thank you for your comment.
Thanks for your blog and for this section on boundaries especially.
I had many problems with boundaries in the past for the dame reasons some other people have mentioned in your blog. Like you are a flexible sort of person, you like making exceptions for the people closer to your heart, don’t want to be too rigid on non important things, etc. At the same time, I have always had a high sensitivity to manipulation procedures because I was bullied with mind games applied to me when I was a teen, and that is difficult to forget.
The last guy I dated (who I think it is a borderline due to his ability to feel remorse, shame and his fear of abandonment, but manipulative nevertheless) pushed my boundaries on purpose, repeatedly. I mean, sometimes stupid ones, just to see how I reacted. He checked some of my open online network sites to check on me and what I said. He also paid attention to what I said and then he’d test me. For ex. I said that a coworker used to do this and that, and what a lack of consideration. He then would do the same sort of comment or offer to see if I would act differently with him. We broke up the first time because of his boundary crossing and me not wanting that. I had asked him why he kept doing that, that it was stupid, and he told me that to see how I reacted and if I would get angry – basically to see if he could get an emotional reaction.
We reconciled a few months later. I noticed that the day he insisted in going for a coffee was the same I had said no to a girl online. He pushed for that day, but I said no. That put me on the alert and made me pay attention to his behaviour. He returned really changed, for good, and many of the issues we first had disappeared. The only thing he did not change was his continuous testing of my boundaries and my statements (written or spoken) of things that are important to me.
I got him with the hands on the hot potato, so to speak, many times. I am also an empath and very psycho-sensitive, so sometimes I just have precognitive dreams or thoughts, which have also helped me. I confronted him about his testing, about me noticing that he would do this and that. He denied everything of course! Finally, we had a stupid discussion that escalated as soon as I mentioned the word boundaries. He softened and tried to please me and be conciliatory but, again, trying to see if I would low the bar and say B when I had previously said A. I kept firm. He broke up this time. He was gracious and caring and said great things about me, but pay attention to this: he did not mention how patient, caring or good person I was, that I have a great heart, that I was respectful or generous, he mostly commented on how amazing my mind and intellect are. At the time I told myself, he is dumping me because he cannot manipulate me.
Still, boundaries was the whole issue that pointed to his manipulative ways.
You know, what I find difficult sometimes is defining what a healthy boundary is, and what a fanciful stupid boundary, so to speak, is. Of course, respect and self-respect are core values that have to be in your boundary setting (like the things you mention in this article), but there are other things that are a bit less clear. And we are all human, have weaknesses and don’t want to be on the alert 24/7. I am the sort of person who likes list of specific cases, like this is a boundary you must, this is a boundary that you should, this is an optional boundary etc. What would be your must, should and perhaps boundaries?
I’m glad to hear that you recognized and confronted your ex’s behavior! It sounds like you have a pretty good grasp on boundaries and that enabled you to see that “boundaries was the whole issue that pointed to his manipulative ways.”
A far as defining what boundaries are ‘musts,’ ‘shoulds’ and ‘optional,’ (although why would we create boundaries that are optional?) that can only be determined by each of us. None of your boundaries should be considered ‘fanciful and stupid’ because after all you’re the one who created them. If you set a boundary, it’s because it’s about something that’s important to you.
Here are a few of my “must” (non-negotiable) boundaries:
~ Under no circumstances will I date someone who is married or has a partner.
~ I will not continue engaging in any relationship where I am not treated with love, care, and respect.
~ I will not date someone who attempts to control the relationship on their terms – I must be in mutually fulfilling, balanced, healthy relationships.
~ I will not be involved with a person whose words and actions don’t align. I will believe his actions and not his words. I will not let anyone “talk me out of” what I know to be the truth.
Those are definitely healthy boundaries, and there’s no way I would compromise on any of them.
I don’t know if you’ve read part 5 yet, but here’s a quote: “Boundaries are about what we value. They’re about what we have decided is very important to us. We create them to protect those things. We create them to ensure that we will get what we need and want in life. Because of this, they also protect us from getting what we don’t want and they protect us from those who care more about their needs than ours…”
I think if your boundaries reflect what is important to you, you don’t need to analyze the whole thing so much or attempt to break them down into categories.
I hope that helps. I would also suggest reading a couple of the suggested books and Dr. Simon’s series of articles on personal empowerment: http://counsellingresource.com/features/tag/series-on-personal-empowerment/
Thanks administrator for your insight, no I will check the articles you mention. Just quickly, would you say a person that says as characteristic of his personality to be “difficult to read” is in fact a manipulator? I mean, I can be hard to read at times but I would never say that this is one of the things that describe me.
Hmmmm… good question. I don’t know if describing oneself as “difficult to read” automatically makes someone a manipulator, but it is sort of strange. While some of us may be difficult to read, we may not know this until someone tells us. We probably think we’re communicating clearly or at least are trying to do so or would like to do so. By saying “I’m difficult to read,” it sounds like he knows it and instead of doing something about it, he might be using it to his advantage, and will probably use it as an excuse when you misunderstand him or when you confront him or just ask him to clarify or explain something. As in, “I could see how you would think that, but it’s not true — I’m just difficult to read.” How does that sound to you?
He told me that he had been told. However, then he showed manipulative ways.
In a way he might have been manipulated or bullied in the past and armor himself so he would not be read an he was warning me about he being difficult to manipulate. Or he has some sort of disorder or his personality is very much hidden or close down so one cannot see the real him and what what his intentions are. But, if you are clear in your actions and talk, why would matter being difficult to read? I found that odd.
Funny enough he, who clearly played games with me, accused me of being manipulative when I told what I expect from a man and his behavior, and what things were important to me in public. Also, at the beginning of dating he used to say vague sentences that he left vague on purpose so I could interpret some sort of attachment or interest -higher than it was- on his part. I thought that this was the beginning of the playing. Being the matter of fact person I am, I told him that this was saying nothing and leaving me to create a reply in my head that would suited me and told me nothing explicit about his real intentions. He loved my answer and way of thinking and proved my point himself.
I was intrigued to know if you psycho-ex was hard to read or other manipulative people are also difficult to read. .
“But, if you are clear in your actions and talk, why would matter being difficult to read? I found that odd.” I agree.
“Being the matter of fact person I am, I told him that this was saying nothing and leaving me to create a reply in my head that would suited me and told me nothing explicit about his real intentions.” Excellent! Good for you. So many of us fill in the blanks and never even realize that we’ve done so.
My ‘psycho-ex’ seemed like an open book, at least in the beginning, and first impressions tend to last and color interactions that happen later on. Since at first he came across as exceptionally open and honest and vulnerable, it was hard to see him in any another way. I wrote about this in the “hidden vulnerabilities” post: ” First impressions often remain even after the evidence on which they are based has been totally discredited.”
I would say they are all very difficult to read, the reason being that there words and actions are very different, which is innately confusing even if we don’t consciously realize it. That’s a big reason why we don’t know where we stand, why the relationship feels so complex, and why we’re always off-balance with them. There’s something terribly wrong, but we can’t quite put our finger on it…and of course all the while they want us to think WE are what’s wrong.
I have a lot of trouble saying “no” to people – men in particular. This comes from when I was 13, when I was molested repeatedly by my psychopathic stepfather for a year (while my mother was pregnant and breastfeeding). Every time I said “no” to something, he took immense delight in beating the crap out of me.
Ever since then, I have had problems with keeping boundaries. I’m getting better at it because I’m seeing a therapist, but I still have problems when people do any more than poke at my boundaries/resolve. It really doesn’t help that my current boyfriend just ignores me when I say no sex.
What I’m trying to get at is the fact that some people need help when it comes to having boundaries, whether it be from a friend, family member, church pastor, etc. For me, I know that if anyone ever pushes too much, my best friend will beat the crap out of them with a crowbar as soon as I tell her.
You might try writing a post on things people should go to the authorities about and ways to go about reporting them such as;
-assault and battery
-other such things associated with manipulative relationships
Here’s a boundary for you to put in place immediately: I will not be involved with a man who ignores me when I say no to sex.
The next logical step is to end your relationship with this rapist TODAY.
Then, keep going to therapy, keep learning about yourself and working on your issues. Do not get involved in another relationship until you resolve them.
All the best to you.
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