Boundaries and enabling

My therapist has rock-solid boundaries. It’s enviable, really, because mine have historically been pretty weak. But I’m working on that and have been for a while. My boundaries are a work in progress–specifically, learning about all the subconscious ways I allow them to be weak.

Today after discussing my usual issues about cancer, I decided to talk about the friendship that I ended. I asked how I could stop missing someone who was so bad for me. Answer: it will take time, given how long the friendship was, and to work on finding new friends. I’m already working on the latter and I think my new friend is going with me to a concert next month.

I asked if it was normal for friendships to focus a lot on talking about problems and she said that it’s not, at least not in healthy friendships.

But then she said something I had never considered: that I enabled all the behaviors I didn’t like in the friendship by not setting enough boundaries. If I didn’t want to talk about our problems, I should’ve said so. (Unfortunately, that would’ve left us little else to talk about since we had so little in common.)

It honestly never occurred to me that I didn’t have to tolerate hours-long message exchanges in the late hours before I went to bed. Some of those exchanges upset me so much my hands would be shaking and my heart rate wouldn’t go down for hours.

It was my choice to accept that and to not put boundaries around when I was available. It didn’t excuse anything my friend did or make it my fault, but it was my choice not to immediately end the conversation when it started going in a direction that upset me.

Even the way I continually went back to her some months later after a fight in which I still felt hurt by her sent a signal that I didn’t have good boundaries. I was essentially reinforcing that she could say whatever she wanted to me, no matter how hurtful, and that I would always try to move past it and reach back out again.

It was honestly so enlightening to hear all this. I was previously looking at my role in our friendship, looking for ways to own my part in it. I was more than willing to look at what I did wrong. But I never considered that the things I was doing gave her permission to keep doing what she did.

None of that means I deserved any of it. But it does mean that my boundaries still need a lot more work.

I’ve been scared about making new friends, both because of how damaging the friendship with her was and because of how badly bullied I was growing up. At least I got validation that it was okay to still have a hard time with the bullying I experienced, and that many people have trauma over things they experienced when they were younger including bullying. It’s normal that I can’t just decide to get over it.

But in terms of making new friends, the therapist reminded me that a lot of it is about what you bring to the table. She said that depressed people tend to talk about their problems more and that’s really draining to other people. I’ve definitely been guilty of that in the past and I’m embarrassed about it now.

She even suggested that if a friend is close enough, I can ask them to stop me if I start becoming too much of a downer. That’s definitely what I aspire to do. I have a different view of friendship now.

With new friends, I don’t know how much I’ll even tell them about my husband’s cancer or my MS. I don’t want to be that sad sack kind of person who’s so focused on my problems that it brings everybody down. In so doing, it will force me not to focus so much on my own problems.

I have to focus on my other interests and talk about those. And I guess I have to focus on them in my everyday life more, too. There’s a lot more to me than disabled wife of a cancer patient, but sometimes I forget that.

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