Do you ever wonder how far unhealthy boundaries–letting another person define your sense of self-worth–can take you? I am reminded of a moment in my life that illustrates just how powerful unhealthy boundaries can be.
I was a very young adult, and hanging around a guy who I had known for several years. We had a connection, or so I thought; we seemed to be sympatico in most ways, and had an understanding of each other. In retrospect, deep down, I knew I believed I was a worthy person because, hey, if he wanted to be with me, I must be worth something. Ouch.
He sensed this, I think, and one day decided to test me, though he may not have realized it. I was at his place, and he was showing me all the projects he was working on. His roommate had a couple of young kittens, maybe 8-9 weeks old, which I adored; everyone who knew me knew I adored ALL animals, and shared an affinity with them.
At one point his demeanor became a bit curious, and I wasn’t sure what was going on with him. One of the kittens walked by nonchalantly, tail high in the air, and my friend looked at me pointedly.
“You know, sometimes I get off on stuff like this…”
Before I knew it, he had picked that kitten up by one of its hind legs, swung it in the air above his head, and tossed it across the room. The poor little thing landed with a thud, but amazingly was essentially unhurt.
What did Shari, the great animal lover and defender, do? Did I express my indignation at such a cruel deed? Did I ask him, “What the hell did you do THAT for?” I certainly should have.
Anyone who knows me knows the revulsion that welled up inside me at that point; but there was something even stronger than my love for animals; something even stronger than my sense of justice, and that was the unhealthy boundary that chained my sense of self-worth to another person. If I crossed him, he might not like me anymore, and where would that leave me?
I swallowed my disgust, forced a smile to stay on my lips, and continued my happy little visit with him. Those who know me may be experiencing major jaw-drop. I still can’t believe it myself.
I get sick to my stomach just thinking about this painful memory. Perhaps most unhealthy boundaries are not illustrated as dramatically as this, but they can be just as damaging to both parties.
Those of us who have struggled with this in the past may think we have it beat; we may think, “I would never do that again”; but speaking from experience, they can spring up any time during our lives unbidden unless we practice a daily dose of self-love and self nurturing. When we realize that we may be in a relationship like this, whatever form, the extrication process can be very painful; necessary, but painful.
Be honest. Be kind to yourself. Know that you yourself are worthy of love. Never let your relationship with someone else overshadow what you know to be true about YOU.