My brother must have been in his late teens when he first spent a week volunteering on the North Yorkshire Moors railway. Obsessed with steam from childhood I can only imagine his excitement and awe at working with the huge locomotive beasts and meeting the men and women that worked so hard to preserve their fading memory. If ever there was a place he’d want to fit in it was this one. So perhaps it isn’t as strange as it first appeared that when he returned after seven days he had developed a feint Yorkshire accent.
When we want to be accepted we will go to seemingly extraordinary lengths.
Imbalanced emotional boundaries cause us difficulty in our relationships. At one extreme there are those who have no boundary at all. These are “the love dependents”. For these poor souls bad treatment is the norm. They are overlooked, disrespected, maybe even pitied. They will tolerate any behaviour for fear that asserting their own needs will leave them abandoned and alone.
At the other extreme are those with unrelentingly high boundaries. These are “the walled off”. We cannot reach these people because they are afraid of being reached. They might happily engage with others emotions but they will not let you into theirs. There is fear here too. It is a fear of being seen, and then being rejected. The risk of openness is too great, but they don’t realise that to be so disconnected is to guarantee the isolation and rejection they are most desperate to avoid.
The balance between the extremes sometimes feels so fine as to be impossible to achieve. Consequently it can feel as if we spend our lives lurching from one end of the spectrum to the other. Too open and bruised one too many times, and then closed like a clam refusing to allow anyone in or anything out. I lived a lot of my life like this. Not so much unaware of my boundaries but abdicating dangerously my ability to control them.
Every week I hear people tell me about difficulties with boundaries which resonate with me.
“I’m ‘all in’ with relationships. I give everything but it still isn’t enough”. I recognise this and flick back across countless examples of losing myself in my singular focus on someone else before watching it blow up in my face.
“I’m very happy on my own. In fact it’s so much easier”. I shudder in the knowledge at just how easy it is to fool ourselves into mistaking damaging disconnection with healthy self sufficiency.
For many years later my brother and I lost touch, and then, one day I found myself writing to him about some hugely significant and painful experiences in my own life of which he was completely unaware. I wanted him to know but I had become so walled off I couldn’t tell him. I suppose it was my own way of realising the depth of the problem and resetting the boundaries.
Last Christmas we met for a lovely lunch and I felt a connection in our conversation I hadn’t felt for many years. It reminded me that there are many boundaries I still have to think carefully about when I feel them pushing my life in a direction I’d prefer not to go, and of my ability to reposition them whenever I need to. When my brother ordered his lunch with a gentle Yorkshire twang I suspected that the same was true for him.