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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