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Boundaries: What I learnt in in-patient treatment.

Updated: Oct 4, 2020

Late 2017, I checked myself into psychiatric hospital. It was a voluntary decision. I had to re-evaluate the spiralling path of my mental health. My anxiety and depression were unbearable, and I found myself needing extra support. Despite wondering if I had made the right choice about treatment, I did learn a few good things like boundaries.

We all sat in a semi-circle in the room in front of the counsellor, who was standing in front of a whiteboard, marker in hand. She asked us to describe what we defined boundaries as. Each person gave a similar answer, to the last. It went something along the lines of knowing when to let people in and when not to.

Almost everyone agreed that even though we should have boundaries, we often either create bigger, impenetrable boundaries or we just let them crumble entirely. There was no real happy medium with anyone. Most of us had been hurt so badly we created impossible boundaries, or boundaries that were near impossible to not break. I knew and still know, that that is a problem I have in general. Healthy boundaries.

But before I even begin to try to explain what healthy boundaries look like, let me give you an understanding of the other kinds of boundaries (or lack thereof) that were so eloquently and visually explained to me (and the group). For the purposes of this exercise, I want you to imagine a house- if the counsellor made me do this visualisation, then I will make you too (I am not “suffering” alone). The person (this can be you) is the house. With each example, there will be some differences with each house, but differences that point to boundaries. Got it? Okay, so let’s take a look at the houses, shall we?

Boundaries House 1: waaaaaayyy to many boundaries

Introducing house number one! House number one is like any other fine-looking house, but with some major add-ons. House number one, you see, has burglar bars on every window, and on every door that is an entry to the house. There is a sensor alarm installed for anyone who dare break into house number one, guaranteed to ring loudly upon detection of an intruder. There are sensor lights just outside the perimeter of house number one; warning off any possible intruders.

It doesn’t stop there. Just around the lovely (or not so lovely) garden is a fence. Electric fencing to be exact, which is taller than the world record holder of “Tallest Person Alive”. Just behind the fence, the garden houses a large, fierce dog, who’s bark will make you think twice about approaching house number one.

Boundaries House 1 explained:

House one, is a representation of a person who has extreme boundaries. They don’t let anyone in at all! I’m sure you know someone like this, if this isn’t you. This person would rather not have anyone in their life, than be hurt by anyone. They have gone to extremes to make sure that they will not get hurt.

Chances are they have been hurt and have decided to not let it happen again. This person pushes people away to not feel any pain, to not be persuaded into dealings they don’t like, or as a form of preservation. House number one is an unhealthy approach to creating boundaries. Some might disagree, but how can you connect with others, find friendships and real relationships (romantic or otherwise) without occasionally letting people in? You must try hold back on the “security” measures sometimes, to see who it is that might be worth keeping around.

House Number 2: like, noooooooo boundaries at all.

Introducing House number two! House number two is quite like house number one. However, there are some obvious differences. House two, you see, has no burglar bars on any windows, doors or any entry points of the house. There is also no gate in sight. What you do see is a lovely paved walkway leading to the door- which is wide open. There are no guard dogs and no security systems in place. You can easily make your way through the house- anywhere you choose with little to no restraint from its owner.

Boundaries House 2 explained:

House number two person is vulnerable to intruders. This particular person has not learnt to have healthy enough boundaries. They let just about anyone in, even if they have been hurt. Perhaps the kind of person that can’t say ‘no’ and stand their ground. They allow any character into their lives, even if they aren’t comfortable with them. Much like house one, house two can equally be hurt. The difference is, one has been hurt and allows no one in their lives, and the other is so hurt but allow any person in; even if they know they could still be hurt.

House Number 3: healthy boundaries and shit (not literal of course).

House three is now ready to be viewed! But hold on, there is a gate with this house. Next to the entrance of the gate is a bell- so they know who may want to come inside. Beyond the bell, is a paved walkway. The door is closed, but just outside of it is a sign that says “please knock” accompanied by a pleasant welcome mat. There is a guard dog, but it sniffs at you curiously as you wait to enter. The surroundings of the home are lovely, but it is made aware that at any point you disobey the rules of this household, you will be asked to leave.

Even when you enter this house, you are still made aware of the areas of the house you can enter. With each room you can enter, you get to know the house itself, bit-by-bit. Whether you like this house’s interior, is not the point. You are getting to view the house as-and-when the owner allows you to.

Boundaries House 3 explained:

House number three is the ideal house. It’s not perfect. Sure, there are times when visitors who enter, seem to be good and are not. House number three, though, learns from this but is not bitter and only stays vigilant of those who seem like others in the past. In house three, you know where you stand. If you are allowed in the bedroom, that means you have earned the right to see such an intimate space form house three, but if you are only subjected to the confines of the living room and not much more, then mild social endeavours are acceptable but you are not in a trustworthy enough space to go further.

You see, house three is the house we should want to be. We should be able to let people in just a little at a time before they get to see our bedrooms (messy or not). Your house is essentially parts of yourself that you are willing to let people into. Without or with too many boundaries, you could either feel alone and unloved (ultimately hurt) or used and abused and still hurt. There is no real winning for house one or two.

I am still learning my own boundaries, to be honest. It is only at my most uncomfortable or even comfortable moments where I realized where my boundaries lie. Sometimes, we have to do some things that make us uncomfortable in order to know if we like them or not- and where our boundaries lie.

What I have also learnt is that many of us have been taught unhealthy boundaries : whether it be kissing and hugging that relative you didn’t want to, or eating your plate clean, or even how people speak to you (sometimes at you). Boundaries can take time to establish within yourself and with others, if you are unsure. What boundaries have you had crossed, and have you been able to deal with them? Comment and let me know.

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