"Sounds like you have a boundary problem."
This is one of the most useful things anyone has ever said to me.
In my thirties, every relationship that came along became, for the time being, the most important thing in my world. Yet another one had just come crashing down around my ears – only, even worse, it hadn't really, permanently, definitely finished. Instead, the guy involved was giving contradictory signals, doing the 'let's stay friends' thing, and in the small town where we both lived, it was inevitable we would bump into each other.
I wasn't coping. I couldn't think about anything else. I felt as if my world was coming to an end: no-one else would ever do; if I couldn't have this relationship, life wasn't going to be worth living – you know the sort of thing. Maybe not all that unusual in a teenager, but in my thirties? Not good.
Luckily, the counsellor I went to was wise and insightful. She listened to my tale of woe, at length, and finally said just that one phrase. Bullseye! Boy, did I have a boundary problem! I absolutely did not have the ability to think of myself as a separate, worthwhile, autonomous person independent of my lover. It did not remotely occur to me that there was a reality, a validity, to living outside of a relationship. I had not found anyone to settle down or have children with, it seemed to be getting too late, I feared missing the form-a-family boat, and I was in full panic mode. If truth be told, I had pretty much struggled to separate from my family of origin too, and there was a big part of me that wanted to find a parent-figure to bond with, rather than have to strike out on my own.
Twenty years on, I am still grateful to that counsellor. It was a painful lesson, and there were more painful lessons yet to learn, but it was a vital step on the path of growing up. Thank goodness she did not pour out sympathy, or join me in blaming the man who, let's face it, was probably very wise to save himself from such a predatory and dependent lover as me. Sometimes the truth hurts, but, like stepping into the proverbial cold bath, the shock can revitalise us and give us new energy, once we've towelled ourselves dry.
How about you? Have you had any problems keeping healthy boundaries? How have you developed them (if you have)? What, or who, has helped you?
A Moodscope member.