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Loving Someone with Mental Illness / Mental Illness

Can Boundaries Save Lives?

Since I started my work with several clients in Peer Support, I have found that boundaries can often be a central issue. The more I look into it, the more power I find in them. I wonder sometimes if they are such a powerful component to Recovery that they alone can perhaps make the difference between recovering and stagnating. So, how are they so powerful?

First of all, I should mention that solid, appropriate boundaries are hard to find. I don’t have them where they should be, and almost no one I know does. The skill of setting proper boundaries seems almost universally difficult and even lacking. But why are they so hard?

We love and want to be loved. We don’t want to fight. Loving someone is wanting the best for them, and often is related to being attached to them. Attachment is distinct from love, but that’s a topic for another post. Here, I will simply assert that saying “No” to someone you love is hard, and often feels like aggression. My parents once said “No” to my request to live with them. The main reason for that is that I wasn’t safe. I was violent and scary. It was January and this made me homeless. That’s a dangerous situation, but my parents had the boundaries and they wouldn’t let my manipulation drag them into being unsafe.

What happened next is a long story, but in one sentence, I’ll say that within a month of being homeless, I had entered into Recovery. I accepted my illness and decided to move forward with making a better life for myself.

I know many people who are faced with this hard decision. They have a child who is dangerous and scary, but they are afraid to kick them out and make them homeless. The fear is rational. There is no guarantee that their son or daughter will survive homelessness. They could die. But the good news is, they likely won’t. Often, harship helps peers come to terms with their decisions and how these decisions affect them. It doesn’t always, but I can almost guarantee that having no consequences for actions will only perpetuate the danger and stagnation.

So boundaries can help get someone into Recovery when they might otherwise continue in their dangerous and stagnating behavior. But what else can they do?

My parents have enough money that they can help me out a fair bit. They’re not rich, but they are able to contribute a bit. Mostly, they don’t. They might offer me a small loan from time to time. But I always have to pay it back, and they don’t always offer. I’ve learned from their boundaries to not always ask. I’ve learned never to take advantage of it. I’ve never taken to strong advantage of their financial support, because I’m familiar with their boundaries. If I abuse their kindness, their kindness will leave. I learned this the hard way, as well. My parents paid for college until I failed all my classes. They said they were willing to pay for classes I pass, but not classes I fail. I argued with them over this for a bit, but they would not be moved. Since that time, they have paid for several classes that I’ve passed. Sometimes they’ve been gracious if I failed a class, but never because I demanded it. Had I demanded such a thing they wouldn’t have done it. It was kindness, not coercion. I did much better in school as a result. While I still don’t have a degree, I am a sophomore in college and I learned a ton when I was there. I am happy with the result of my education.

My parents have never paid my rent or my mortgage. They won’t. I don’t even ask. I know the answer already. Sometimes, I don’t have the money and I’ll wind up taking loans, or even acquiring a bit of credit card debt which becomes a snowball of interest. My parents do not pay this bill for me. As a result, I work hard and I get the money when I can. Recently, I had some financial difficulties and I was afraid and I hid for a bit. But knowing that a lack of income would result in me losing my house motivated me. I’m working hard again. I’m still afraid, but I work. And now I not only keep my house, but I also have feelings of self worth.

Every single time my parents have had boundaries with me, they’ve helped. Almost every time, I argued for a bit. Boundaries aren’t fun. But they seem universally helpful.

I have been studying boundaries for a bit. I’ve interviewed people. I’ve done some reading. I’ve done introspection and looking at my past. I’ve talked to my parents extensively about boundaries because I want to learn. I intend to write much more on boundaries. I will make this an ongoing topic of this blog because I find them so important. I truly believe that without solid boundaries, I’d not be in Recovery right now. What if I weren’t in Recovery? I’d have been more and more dangerous in the last 16 years than I was to begin with. At the risk of sounding dramatic, I don’t know that it’s an exaggeration to say I might be either in prison or even dead if not for the boundaries people set with me. While boundaries are not the only factor in this complex equation, I think they are essential. I will research and share what I find.

Thank you for learning with me. I see an opportunity for even better times as I put this to use.

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