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Boundaries, Privilege, and Anxiety

Posted: Thu Sep 03, 2020 3:28 pm
by MeditationBowl
Hi all,

This might be a little rambly because I'm not sure how to explain my question. Also not sure if this is in the right sub-forum. It's been on my mind for a while though, so I'd appreciate any ideas.

My chronic anxiety often makes it difficult for me to trust my intuition on a lot of things. It's really easy to slip into a mindset where I assume that I'm bad and people are upset with me and I've done something wrong, or else that something is wrong, even when nothing is (for example, I feel like I'm bothering everyone by posting this). A lot of the work I've done in therapy has been in countering those narratives and questioning the false alarms that my brain gives me.

At the same time, I'm otherwise very privileged in most ways and I've come to understand that I need to unlearn a lot of behaviours and ways of thinking. I know there may be things that I've grown up thinking are normal and ok that really are not ok. I find that I often need to doubt my own reality in a sense in order to question my prejudices and hold myself accountable.

So a lot of the time it feels like I have these two voices in my head, one saying everything is bad and I'm always wrong, and one saying everything is fine and I'm always right. Obliviously neither is true, but it makes it hard to do healthy self-reflection. I notice it a lot when it comes to boundaries. I constantly feel afraid that I'm not respecting others' boundaries well enough, but I also feel guilty when I enforce my own boundaries and I'm always afraid of others pushing past my boundaries. It also makes it harder to process stuff that's happened in the past where I feel like the 'safe' way to go is to assume that I was 100% in the wrong and not respecting boundaries and being unreasonable about mine, even when that doesn't feel quite right.

I realize that I'm going to have to do more work in therapy at some point for a lot of this stuff, but I would appreciate suggestions in the mean time. Suggestions for how to approach this in therapy would also be welcome. Therapy has mostly focused on getting past the "I'm bad" anxiety message, which is good, but I've struggled to move from there to identifying the ways I actually do need to change and challenging my sexism, racism, etc. Those two kinds of work have been mostly separate so far, and I feel like they need to come together, but don't know how.

TL;DR - I'm trying to get better at respecting and holding boundaries and challenging my prejudices, but I think anxiety is making me over-correct and just generally getting in the way of actually helpful self-reflection.


Re: Boundaries, Privilege, and Anxiety

Posted: Fri Sep 04, 2020 7:57 am
by Sam W
Hi MeditationBowl,

I feel you on a lot of this; anxiety can make it much trickier to do things like gut checks or self-reflection because there's that voice that automatically goes "BAD, everything is bad!"

When it comes on how to approach this in therapy, it may help to frame it as being about avoiding the extremes of thinking; finding the middle ground between "I'm bad and so is everything else" and "I'm totally fine and right all the time." That kind of polarized thinking is pretty common with anxiety, so odds are your therapist will have some tools for doing that. That's also a place where things like workbooks or apps can be helpful. They ask you specific questions and have structured exercises to walk through, which can make it easier to think without those extreme voices taking over the show. Do those feel like things you could talk about with your therapist?

I do want to mention your worries about boundaries. If it helps to know, someone who is very concerned about not pushing boundaries is unlikely to overstep them without noticing, because they're looking for them and paying attention to them. Too, if you do overstep, the fact that you've shown you want to respect boundaries and do your best to do so will make it easier for people to correct you, because they know you'll listen. So odds are good you're not currently trampling boundaries left and right. When it comes to your own boundaries, do you have a sense of why you feel guilty for having or enforcing them?

Re: Boundaries, Privilege, and Anxiety

Posted: Fri Sep 04, 2020 10:55 am
by MeditationBowl
Hi Sam,

Thanks for your reply.

I guess I feel guilty for enforcing boundaries because it feels like I'm imposing on someone else. Like, emotionally it feels the same as pushing someone else's boundaries. I guess maybe part of that is because I've been in situations where I've full on debated someone in order to hold a boundary, and it feels yucky to have essentially argued someone into submission, even if it was to enforce a boundary. That just feels like the epitome of the "rational" white man, and I really don't want to be that. I find it really it really easy to fall back into this kind of behaviour when I feel threatened and get defensive.

And before all of that, I know I argued with someone who was trying to hold a boundary with me instead of listening to them, which was beyond shitty of me (this is also why I'm scared of violating boundaries - because I know I've done it before). I've since apologized, but the thing is, it all feels the same. Even if intellectually I'm pretty sure I see a difference between when I was pushing someone's boundary and when I was enforcing my own, they feel the same. It just feels like conflict, or potential conflict. So when I'm trying to enforce my boundaries, I'm scared that I'm actually violating the other person's. It hasn't been so bad the last few years, but the fear is always in the background noise of my brain, and whenever I find myself needing to defend a boundary, it gets a bit louder.

This might make more sense with specific examples, but I don't want to get too specific on the public boards.

Re: Boundaries, Privilege, and Anxiety

Posted: Fri Sep 04, 2020 5:19 pm
by Mo
Sometimes a helpful way for me to think about a boundary is that it's a way for me to say to someone "Here's how to help me feel comfortable. This is what I need from you." That's a wonderful thing to provide for someone else! Just telling someone that isn't imposing something on them or pushing against their boundaries, but it is the case that a boundary you set might come in conflict with one another person's set. It does happen; people have different needs and desires.

For example, one person might say "I get anxious if a partner checks in on me constantly when I'm out being social with friends; if you get angry when I don't respond to your texts because I'm busy, that's a dealbreaker for me." Perhaps their partner's response would be "a previous partner died very suddenly when they were away from home, and it's really helpful to me to have occasional reassurance that you're doing fine when we're not together; I would like you to be able to respond when I check in once or twice on nights when you go out on your own."

I don't think either of those boundaries are unreasonable, but clearly they're in conflict with each other. Neither person is being rude or forceful by bringing up what they want, and having a conversation where they try to work out this conflict doesn't mean either person is being pushy or forceful. Sometimes when two people have boundaries that are in conflict, there's a compromise that can be made, and sometimes there isn't, but in general just introducing that boundary and opening the conversation isn't a problem. It sounds like you've had people really argue against your boundaries, like they're saying you shouldn't have them in the first place, and that's something different entirely; it sounds like you have the self-awareness to keep yourself from doing that to someone. Is that a helpful distinction at all?

Re: Boundaries, Privilege, and Anxiety

Posted: Mon Sep 14, 2020 3:22 pm
by MeditationBowl
Hi Sam and Mo,

Thank you both for your responses. The distinction between pushing past someones boundary and holding your own makes sense. I have a couple more questions:

When boundaries are conflicting and compromise is proving difficult, how do you navigate that conversation? I feel like saying to someone, "I guess we're just incompatible and our relationship/friendship/etc. has to end now" would be manipulative. Like, how do you express something is a deal-breaker without it coming across as a threat?

What does healthy compromise look like for boundaries? How do you tell the difference between a compromise that both people are actually ok with and one where someone is just trying to make the other person happy?

Re: Boundaries, Privilege, and Anxiety

Posted: Mon Sep 14, 2020 4:15 pm
by Mo
To be honest, I don't see it as manipulative at all to say "our needs and boundaries seem incompatible here, so I think it's best if we don't continue a relationship" with someone. That doesn't necessarily mean two people have to become enemies, but it may mean they aren't going to make great romantic partners or close friends, and I think that's all right. It might be sad or disappointing, absolutely, but that doesn't mean it's wrong. I truly don't think stepping away from a relationship (of any kind) that isn't serving the parties involved, or saying you're going to have to leave or tone down the relationship, is wrong or manipulative.
In the case I made up above, where a couple has a conflict about contact & checking in when they're apart, there's potentially a lot of room to compromise, but I don't think it would be wrong or bad for either one of those people to say "I care about you a lot but this communication issue is causing us both a lot of stress, and it seems like we can't find a compromise that works; I think it would be best if we stopped dating."
In terms of how to communicate that something's a deal-breaker without it being a threat, I think that's all in the delivery; "you need to call me every night or I'll break up with you" is very different from "It's important to me that when I'm in a relationship with someone, we talk every night, how can we make that work?"

It might be tough to know when someone feels good about a compromise vs. when they're doing something they aren't happy with in an attempt to make someone happy. If you're in a close relationship with someone, unless they've given you a reason to think they aren't great at being assertive or being open about what they want, then I think it makes sense to believe someone when they say they're okay with something you mutually agree on.