What I Learned from Setting Boundaries

Thanks to Alicia for this beautiful post on what she has learned from setting boundaries.

For more information on setting boundaries, we encourage you to read What Can I Do About Me? by Rhyll Croshaw and refer specifically to the chapter on p 57 entitled “Boundaries: The Most Loving Thing I Can Do.”

When I was 11, my mom gave birth to the cutest baby boy in the entire world.  He became “my” baby, and I dressed him, played with him… I took him to my friend’s house so we could both play with him.  His blond curls and bright eyes were irresistible.  The older he got, the more fun he was.  He was the ultimate third wheel on movie dates -he kept my boyfriend and I from getting too close by being the coolest distraction EVER.  It was during this time that he got really into Zorro.  He wore a cape and mask always.  He had a sword.  He could quote “The Mask of Zorro” with PRECISION.  Come to think of it, our entire family could.  We became closed captioning pros because no matter what movie we watched, Zorro was being acted out in the background by a blond toddler.

Have you ever heard a toddler with a fake Spanish accent?  It’s probably one of the greatest things in the entire world to listen to.

“The Mask of Zorro” has become a weird kind of comfort movie for me.  I watched it so many times with that cool kid… sometimes I put it on just to hear the lines and remember what life was like when I walked into church with a kid wearing a black mask.

I still have the movie memorized, and when I think of boundaries, all I can think about is Antonio Banderas in a training circle.

He wears a necklace representing the training circle for years without realizing exactly what it was.

(I think that last line, “Perfect.  Do it again” pretty much sums up how boundaries feel.)

As I worked in that first outside ring, I learned that boundaries weren’t about OTHER PEOPLE.  Boundaries were about ME.

Setting boundaries has been – and sometimes continues to be – one of the scariest things I’ve ever done.

I used to think it was because other people were scary.  I can’t manage my husband’s reactions or behaviors and that made telling him what I’m not okay with really intimidating.

What if he yells?

What if he hates me?

What if he’s right?

Something I learned while setting boundaries early on was that they aren’t about HIM at all.  They aren’t about any other person but Alicia.  It didn’t FEEL that way when I spoke them because I was so terrified that whoever I was setting them with would think I was __________________ (mean, impatient, controlling, you name it).

The first time I heard anything about boundaries, I was terrified.  I didn’t think I was allowed to set them, speak them.  I knew my husband would be upset, and I’d spent YEARS trying to keep him from being upset with me… with anyone and anything at all, really.  I knew when he was upset, I would be scared and possibly hurt.  Setting boundaries felt like setting myself up for pain, and that felt like a really, really BAD idea.

But as I thought about it…

It would feel really good to actually SAY THE WORDS, “I have a right to feel safe in my marriage.”

And to add, “If I don’t feel safe, I will do something about it.”

My first boundaries were prayed over, typed out, read to my counselor and then read to my husband.  My hands shook.  I couldn’t look Danny in the eyes.  I kept my eyes on my paper.  My cheeks flamed.  My heart pumped. I was so grateful that my boundaries were printed out for me to read because as I read them, I wasn’t reading them.  My mind was spinning.

I was terrified.

I found myself wanting to make him OKAY with my boundaries… to MAKE HIM FEEL LIKE I was still nice and I still loved him and I wasn’t mean.

Reading those words out loud was scary, yes, but it also did something surprising: it gave me permission.  They were a sort of challenge, actually.  It was as if I could hear myself saying, “Okay, Alicia, you READ them… you SPOKE them… now will you LIVE them?”

And I didn’t want to let myself down.

I had been let down by so many people, including myself, and I knew that  while I couldn’t help the fact that others would continue to let me down, I could at least STOP LETTING MYSELF DOWN.

I moved into the second ring, and there I learned that boundaries weren’t an addiction thing… they were an Emotionally Healthy Person Thing.  I began setting boundaries with everyone -not just my husband. The longer I went to meetings and the more counseling sessions I went to, I started to see that boundaries were a real life thing that emotionally healthy people did.

This was revealing to me.

setting boundaries

Things that are revealing and ground-breaking to me are generally simple, obvious things to other people.  I feel almost silly sharing them, but I can’t deny that I’ve been in a very DARK place where obvious and simple things evaded me completely.  Seeing light shine on them has been miraculous and I want to SHARE THE MIRACLE with everyone, even if everyone already GOT IT.

I found that keeping my boundaries gave me permission to live the life I chose, and this gave me encouragement.  So I kept doing the boundary thing.

In the third ring, I learned the importance of practice, practice, practice.  “Do it again.” The more I set and keep boundaries, the easier it is.  Practice makes everything easier, right?  But is it really practice?  I believe practice plays a part -a big part -but the practice itself isn’t the THING.

Living a life with boundaries in place cultivates something more rich than I ever could have imagined.

The fourth thing I’ve learned from boundaries is that I’M ENOUGH.

Through all of this being married to someone with a porn addiction, that’s what I’ve heard the MOST.

“Alicia, you are enough.”

It sounded true and false all at the same time.

Sometimes it made me cry to hear it.  I cried because I felt like maybe it was true and I would never believe it for myself.  Sometimes people said it I dismissed it completely -because if it were true, my life would be wildly different, right?

It turns out that the more I set and keep boundaries, I HEAR MYSELF.  I hear myself saying, “I’m not okay with being lied to.  Why am I not okay with it?  Because I DESERVE MORE THAN THAT because I AM ENOUGH.”

The thing is: I hear myself say that even if I don’t ACTUALLY say it.  When I set and keep a boundary, I let myself know I am enough. Anytime I don’t set and keep a boundary even though I feel that I need to, I send the exact opposite message, “I’m not enough.”

At this point, I jump back to the prior circle and practice, practice, practice.

The more I practice, the more I realize my worth.  I begin to care for myself better, stand up for what matters.  Courage comes, perspective shifts, and priorities are put right.  My gut exhales.  I exhale.  Self-care steps in.

I am enough.

I don’t cry about that anymore.

I don’t dismiss it.

I hear it and acknowledge it because it’s true.  I’m not better than or less than.  I’m not smarter or messier or skinnier or wittier or not as spiritual.

I just AM.

And I’m enough.

Knowing and feeling this makes boundaries less scary and more natural.

It turns out that the scariest part of boundaries isn’t other people… It’s me.  The scariest part of boundaries is opening myself up to the possibility that I am incredibly worth it and that I have the potential to take control of my own choices.  THAT is scary, folks.  In fact, the only thing that scares me more than that is living a life without being true to myself, standing up for myself, and living a “painted into a corner” life.

With my choices in my own hands, I have no one to blame.  That is also scary.

With my choices in my own hands, I have full ownership of my potential.  Terrifying.

Here’s my final -up to this point -boundary lesson: The farther out I am, the scarier it is.  As I dance in and out of the third and fourth rings, I find that owning my choices, my potential, and my enoughness is one of the best thing I’ve ever done.

And it’s my privilege to do it again.

Alicia is a country girl out of Arizona who loves to write, cook, drink herbal tea and hire other people to clean her house.  She has many interests and dabbles in anything she can get her hands on, and her family is always along for the ride.  She’s been married for 12 years, has three children and more pets than she wants to admit.

She’s been working a 12-step program for almost 6 years, and has been working the SA Lifeline model with a sponsor for the last 3.

3 thoughts on “What I Learned from Setting Boundaries”

  1. I am just beginning in the boundaries area. I do realize that I set up boundaries long ago without knowing it. Yet, I’m not a young mom with kids, my kids have kids that are married! I am over 60 and the “truth” that my husband has a sex addiction of masturbation all his life has destroyed me, my marriage, my life. I’m broken, hurt, feeling unloved. My children will not accept the truth. My husband was finally arrested for poking a 17 yr old girl. Her family accused him and us of grooming children with our animals and antique toys!! None of this was true. Yet after extremely much expense and loss of our future, the Psycho-polygraph came out that he had been masturbating since he was about 12! A hidden secret. Yet it came out in the way he talked about women. Teased incessantly. Argued and debated everything. Now after learning all I can I see it. He doesn’t. Our children refuse to see it. I am truly alone except for my 12 step group. I am now seeing a counselor. She has suggested boundaries. Learning about them and writing them down. I don’t want to face it all. I just want a good husband like he promised he would be. Will I ever heal? Can I save this marriage? Do I want to?

  2. I love the part of this article that says “I just AM.”

    Recovery has helped me get to a place where I have become conscious of how much of my life has been spent trying to prove what I AM or what I AM NOT to myself and to everyone else. Trying to be MORE THAN or prove that I am not LESS THAN. An entire lifetime of that. Entirely unconsciously.

    Living with boundaries helps me make choices that are true to the kind of person I want to be with the kind of relationships I want to have. Boundaries help me stay conscious and live a life that is deeper and centered, instead of trying to prove that I am of worth.

    For me, all of my dysfunction from my entire life–before and after sexaholism–always goes back to trying to prove that I am lovable and I am enough.

    Boundaries help me believe that it’s true and help me to relax into the I AM. And that’s enough.

    Thanks for this beautiful post.

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