On Where to Draw Boundaries and Lines in the Sand…

Quite a few people reach out to me in the hopes of gaining some understanding of what their mentally ill loved one is going through. One of the most common strings of questions I receive goes something like this: “Where do I draw the line? How will I know when enough is enough? Where does compassion end and accountability start for destructive behavior?”

There is a simple answer. The line is drawn wherever you want to draw it. That’s as complicated as it needs to be. No one but you can decide what you are willing to deal with. No one but you can decide where your compassion needs to end. You are the only one that can make that decision for yourself, based on your personal circumstances. And if you’re confused and unsure? Get off the internet and talk to a certified mental health counselor about the situation.

There are no internet articles that are going to be able to replace that important knowledge and neutral, third party perspective.

And it would be lovely if the more vocal, compassionate people of the world would stop pushing the romanticized narrative that martyring oneself is a good and noble choice. It’s not. It’s short-sighted and destructive. The stains, wounds, and scars of staying in an abusive situation, regardless of the cause, do not just disappear after. They may linger and continue to be destructive even decades later.

Then you have the generic, blanket advice to clearly state one’s boundary and enforce it. Okay. And if the other person is a skilled manipulator who can gauge how to coast just below that boundary to be destructive, but without overstepping? What about people who have been in emotionally abusive relationships that have been conditioned by an abusive partner to bend their boundaries?

Blanket statements can cause a person to give up far too much information to someone who may be adept at wielding that information as a weapon to harm. Anyone who’s been in an abusive relationship knows that honesty is an impossibility in that kind of situation. That person knows that what they say or do can, will, and often be used against them.

Always be wary of who you discuss the issue of boundaries with and treat their words with skepticism. They are not you. It is so easy for someone sitting outside of the situation to tell you to keep going through hell because they believe it’s the compassionate or right thing to do, when they aren’t the one suffering. That’s not their decision to make for you.

And in my personal experience, having listened to the survivors of these situations for years now, women tend to get the worst end of that. For men, it’s typically, “She’s crazy. You should dump her.” For women, it’s typically, “You need to be more supportive and understanding. It’s your job to keep things together.” Which is total bullshit on so many levels.

Draw the line wherever you want. You are the only one that can decide what you are willing to suffer through. No one else is going to live your life 24/7. No one else is going to have to deal with the consequences of that choice. You are your own person. No one has the right to tell you how compassionate you should or shouldn’t be.

Anyone that would criticize you for choosing your own survival and well-being is not worth listening to.


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13 Responses to On Where to Draw Boundaries and Lines in the Sand…

  1. MWR481928 says:

    This was such an honest comment. So true and real. Thank you.

  2. Gracy says:

    I totally agree 👍👍👍

  3. Sheila says:

    Once again you nailed it, Dennis.
    Thank you!

  4. Tammy says:

    I wrote you months ago after I moved the live-in boyfrind out of my house. He used me to no end and I finally created boundaries that he is no longer allowed to cross. Now I’m faced with not knowing who I am anymore after the year and a half ride through hell. I thought once he was gone, and its been a few months now, that I would start feeling back to normal. I’m actually realizing the toll it took on me and feel completely lost and broken. I don’t trust my judgement anymore to pick healthy partners. I supported him in every way. He gave nothing to the relationship really and I kept trying to get him in a better place, emotionally, financially, etc. I’m a hard worker and own my own place, good job, etc, and I thought I would be relieved but I’m completely lost these days. This is not like me as I was living alone 14 years before he entered my life and I did very well and was really happy for the most part. The question I have is, am I grieving the relationship that just was never meant to be? Meaning, grieving what I wanted it to be? Because I feel I can’t be sad about what it actually was, because that was hell. I had hopes that just didn’t manifest. I should be thanking God he’s gone but instead I’m so sad for how it didn’t turn out like I hoped. He seems la-di-da.. Like he could have taken it or left it. He easily moves on to the next person who will take care of him. Im left picking up the pieces. Any thoughts you have on this will be much appreciated.

    • Dennis says:

      Hello, Tammy. That really sounds like a situation where you should talk to a therapist. Being in an abusive relationship of any kind takes a drastic toll on a person’s sense of self and well-being. It can absolutely have lasting effects. Therapy should help you sort through the emotional baggage that came with the relationship as well as help you find your sense of self and well-being again. I think it’s normal to mourn that which you had hoped would come to pass, but when it affects who you are as a person, that’s something where you need to explore things more with a certified professional that can help you put those pieces back together and find yourself again.

      He probably is la-di-da. Abusers and manipulators are like that. They pretty much only care about themselves and what other people can do for them.

      Do look into counseling, Tammy. Given your description of the change in who you were versus who you feel you are now, it’s really a place where a good therapist will provide the best benefit and quickest path to recovery so you can move forward and find your happiness again.

  5. Tammy says:

    Thanks for your response Dennis. I will contact my counselor and get back in to see him. I was seeing him before when all this was going on and it got me to the point of getting the boyfriend out of my house. I learned a great deal about boundaries but wasn’t prepared for the after math. I thought when he was gone my troubles were behind me. I didn’t realize the damage that I am now having to work through.

    Thanks again for all you do for us readers.

    • Dennis says:

      You’re welcome, Tammy. The point you made in your comment is the primary reason I am so against the generic narrative of, “Always be compassionate and understanding” that advocates and even the mental health industry puts out, at times. They aren’t thinking about dealing with the aftermath, sweeping up the emotional damage that can linger for YEARS after being involved in a relationship that may turn out to be toxic or abusive. No one has any right to FORCE another person to shoulder that burden. It’s unfair and not right.

      And you are welcome. Thanks for following my work!

  6. MM183918 says:

    I am in the same box and cant seem to get out of. I lost my two precious sons over mental illness and im heartbroken. Its very painful knowing you did what u could and wondering why this had to happen to me. My mental state is not in good because of it but im glad i have a wonderful husband to took me away from all these nightmares in my life. It makes me cry reading all thede encouraging thoughts from people who lost their love ones with mental illness.
    Its true theyre physically there but mentally, spiritually and emotionally most definitely is gone….

  7. samantha says:

    in my experience, being a martyr can also be hurtful of to the person who has bipolar disorder. If you can’t really be there and work through the ebbs and flows, communicate, learn not to take things personally , set healthy boundaries etc… but you claim to, idealize being there when you’re not capable and otherwise push a story line into your relationship that this has to work….it’s not fair.
    I tried it.
    And I found not only did I hurt myself (and grow in many ways) but I also hurt my partner. I wasn’t really capable of supporting him the way he needs to be supported by friends and family and in spending too long pretending that I was, he took a lot of the brunt of that. He felt terrible when my expectations weren’t meant, or stressed out (maybe even triggered) when I need to take “breaks” from the relationship. You have to consider your partner and what it’s like for them to be in relationship with someone that’s not really able to be there. In my case, I wasn’t able to set healthy boundaries…but whatever the case, if you can’t be there in a supportive way that builds your partner up, it’s best for BOTH parties, if you move on.

    • Dennis says:

      Thank you for taking the time to share your perspective. I don’t have much to add, just want to say that this is the exact perspective I try to instill in other people. The traditional tropes of love and relationships really do not work well when mental illness is involved.

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