Boundaries are something that in essence, everyone knows about. You know that you probably shouldn’t greet a potential parent in-law with a hearty butt-smack and a wink. You know that it might not be advisable to give the widow a ‘wet willy’ at a funeral. You also know it’s probably not great to give your partner a slideshow presentation listing in graphic detail all of the socks you’ve lost to the Battle of the Tumble Dryer.
In other words boundaries are set by everyone, for a huge number of things, to ensure that what they do is appropriate for the situation. It is also being aware of the right amount of information to disclose with another person depending on your relationship with them.
To someone with emotional sensitivity, or Borderline Personality Disorder, this can be especially challenging as it can be difficult to even recognise that your boundaries are a bit whack.
One element of boundaries I have struggled with is oversharing. I had a recent ‘incident’ at my ‘Writing As Therapy’ group; we had to write a list of assumptions that we make about ourselves that may hinder our work life. The first thing I wrote down was ‘I don’t think that I will make it past 30 years old’, followed by a long list of more negative assumptions about myself.
In my head there was absolutely nothing wrong with this. It is something I believe, and we were asked to write down what we thought. It is also an assumption that I feel impacts my ability to find work, or a meaningful and lasting career. My group is friendly and understanding so I didn’t even have the faintest recognition that it might not be an appropriate thing to share.
When it was my turn I confidently read my list aloud to the group, and interspersed it with a few self-depreciating jokes and some chuckles at my own thoughts such as, “I think I annoy everyone”, or “I don’t think I fit in anywhere.” But I was met with an awkward silence.
I blinked at everyone and tried to fathom what I said that was wrong when the guy beside me cleared his throat and said, “See… That makes me feel sad and… uncomfortable.” My brow furrowed as his words bounced around in my empty head. He began to explain himself, why he felt that I shouldn’t think that etc. etc. But by then I wasn’t listening; I was struggling to hold back the hot tears burning my eyes, trying to stop shaking and breathing erratically.
Exit stage left.
Cue huge, raking sobs in the breakroom.
It just never occurred to me that it wasn’t an appropriate thing to disclose. Many people with BPD have probably had similar experiences. I have often found myself falling madly in love with people I’ve only just met because they smiled at me, or telling a stranger about an overdose or self-harm incident as if I was describing the weather outside.
However I always feel a sense of great shame or humiliation wash over me as soon as the person has left. I get filled with a uneasy feeling of being completely naked in front of someone else, as if I’ve just ripped all of my clothes off in a blind moment of thoughtlessness, and then the reality settles in and I realise I am totally exposed.
You see, people who’s emotional dial is set to ‘maximum overdrive 3000’ fear rejection or abandonment on a a seismic level. With the benefit of hindsight I am able to see that the majority of my oversharing is due to feeling that if I can lay all of my cards on the table immediately, then the other person can chose not to get involved. I can bypass the emotional investment being shredded from my very being when they inevitably leave me, because hey, I told them everything from the start.
Some people may see my ‘oversharing’ as just a refreshing honesty or being down-to-earth or unafraid of hiding my mental health condition. I guess in a way it is using extreme honesty to protect myself from getting hurt, but it isn’t without its consequences as I alluded earlier.
Presenting yourself to the world with such frankness leaves you feeling ‘used’ or exposed, and extremely vulnerable. However that is a testament to how desperate I am to avoid rejection. I am willing to tell you every single uncomfortable detail about my life and lay myself completely bare for your perusal if it means that I could possibly protect myself from future abandonment.
Another side-effect is people can be completely put-off or scared away by the openness of my disclosure after only just meeting. Boundaries in BPD are blurry and full of flawed reasoning. I am still learning what is appropriate and what isn’t, as each situation is different and calls for different boundaries, so unfortunately there are no set rules to follow.