Overbearing Caring

I have been thinking a lot about healthy boundaries. What struck me was that people who are suffering from emotional disturbance are often too good at keeping strangers away, their problem is isolation and not overbearing community. When we talk about boundary setting, it is easy to presume that somehow we are about to be over run by busy bodies, or that everyone is trying to take too great an interest in our lives, of course this really isn't the case.
Boundary setting is normally very different to keeping strangers away. Boundary setting is nearly always the extremely difficult work of disentangling from a pre-existing relationship that has got out of balance. In most cases the recalibration has to take place within a family, friendship or professional relationship; relationships that are deep and valuable. It is because of the complexity and the meaning of these relationships that the process of change can very difficult.

For people who have or are suffering from mental distress it can be very easy for boundaries to falter. For many people, their experience of depression, anxiety or other issues will mean that they rely on a friend, carer or family member to a level that they would not in other circumstances. This is obviously helpful and necessary for a time, but what happens when the person begins to make a recovery and wants to regain their confidence and independence?

Because people who suffer from emotional distress are often sensitive and deep thinkers they can easily become overly concerned about the feelings of redundancy their carers may experience. Some people I have talked to have found themselves falling back into ?victim? roles with their carers because they began to sense their supporteres identity within the relationship was totally dependent upon their ability to be in control. This sort of regression is also common in families where adult children act out childish roles to keep their parents feeling useful and valuable. The trouble is that these roles are very unhelpful and the boundaries of the relationship need to change, they need to begin to move back to separateness so independence can be regained.

Of course, refusing to regress, saying 'no', and expressing that you are well and no longer need to be accompanied, takes courage and confidence. Sometimes it can be easier just to keep the status quo and express deep gratitude, even if you are being completely smothered. If you are being overwhelmed, you will also find that your carer may try and re-label you as vulnerable, weak or fragile. These labels are not helpful for you to accept as they reduce your confidence, assertiveness and self-esteem.

Remember that you can be grateful for someone's support in the past, without having to accept their support in the present. Try and think objectively about what sort of help would really enable you to gain confidence and courage, then try and explain what those things are to the person involved. If you feel yourself being swamped, you are not a failure, keep trying to be clear and confident, it may take time but it will be worth it in the end. Re-establishing your boundaries will really help you to recover your balance and increase your self-esteem. Identifying relationships that have become overbearing is an indication that you are growing and recovering. Well done.

Will Van Der Hart, 30/11/2007
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