What is the difference between walls and boundaries? This all-important question came up for me in my therapy session today.
Boundary setting is something that I didn’t practice much at all in the past. As I explored this with my therapist, I’ve been one to say yes to most things, for fear of disappointing the ones I loved. combine that with a worry of what people thought about me, well that just led to me saying yes to far too many things.
I found myself describing the boundaries that I had during my marriage. Zero. My idea of love was one where you did anything for the ones you loved. I hadn’t learned boundaries as a child so as an adult, I didn’t know they existed until after I discovered Al-anon, when my husband’s alcoholism was no longer something just in my head. It was real, so very real and life was becoming unmanageable.
As life spiralled out of control in the peak of my husband’s alcoholism, I was left feeling empty, lonely and incredibly angry.
So up went the walls to protect me.
I didn’t know that I was putting up walls. I didn’t know that I needed to take care of myself, I was just trying to do the best I could to protect my kids, earn and pay the bills and to keep life together. The walls were going up and I was exhausted.
Walls were cutting me off from healthy connections with others. I had stopped communicating after I said some things that upset my husband. I didn’t feel I could say anything to my inlaws, for fear of upsetting them. I kept my feeling inside, for fear of what would come out, if I let it out.
The walls kept me safe while I tried to control the impact of my husband’s alcoholism on us – or so I thought.
One of the things that I’ve still been working through recently is leaving my husband. I’ve carried guilt for many years. What if I would have stayed? As I talked about this in therapy today, I realised that leaving was simply putting a boundary in place. I was no longer willing to live in an unhealthy situation. I was in survival mode. I had to be honest with myself about the impact it was having on me too, not just the kids. I had to be vulnerable and brave to leave, without knowing how I would make it work, how I’d support the kids. I just knew we needed to do something different to survive.
So what is the difference between a wall and a boundary?
A wall is a defence mechanism, a reaction that ultimately ends up limiting you in some way. It’s rigid. Walls keep people away and they isolate us.
A boundary is your personal guideline for how you expect other people to treat you. It’s an act of self-love.
Alcoholism and addiction is complex. It’s definitely not black and white. The decisions on how best to deal with our loved ones and also take care of ourselves aren’t easy. Perhaps with everything going on the walls were needed, but as part of my recovery, I needed to recognise the walls, and to replace them with healthier boundaries
Setting and maintaining boundaries is one of my biggest struggles. But now I am in a place where I have the courage to love myself, with boundaries and an open heart, which makes it all the easier to stick to them. If you are wanting support with boundaries, we have some resources that you can refer to.
Smiling Again podcast episode #16 Make Your Life Count With Boundaries
Self Care Ideas Download the guide