Blog: Boundaries: A Case Study
By Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D.
When people come into my office with relationship problems, they do not always realize they’re dealing with boundary issues. Many people think if they’re being treated badly in relationship, they must be doing something wrong. This is generally due to a lack of understanding about boundaries, and this lack of understanding usually stems from a place of unworthiness. The person being mistreated believes they’re flawed in some way, and makes compromises to stay in relationships where they are suffering. Boundary issues almost always arise when a person doesn’t feel lovable, and consequently, they’re willing to do almost anything to get another person’s approval. Because they don’t love themselves, they are dependent on others to be sources of love and validation.
When a person believes all the problems in a relationship are their fault, it weakens their boundaries, which makes them susceptible to compromising their core values. When a person compromises their core values, it makes them increasingly dependent on the other, and they can lose their ability to put down a proper boundary to bad behavior. It often doesn’t even occur to them that the other person is not justified in treating them badly. When they’re not being treated well, they either think they deserve it or they caused it. They don’t recognize the other person’s behavior as inappropriate.
This is a general template for how people wind up in situations where there’s a “boundary problem.” In my Depth Hypnosis practice, I have worked with many people who have a variety of boundary issues. Often people who feel worthless are willing to accept bad behavior from others. The following illustrates how a sense of worthlessness can lead to boundary issues.
A woman came to me for help because she wanted to leave her relationship, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it because she was afraid of being alone. As a child, her father had abandoned her, and she grew up with a mother who was narcissistic and schizophrenic. Her mother was loving one minute, and hateful the next. As a result, my client had a split sense of self and could not tell what was true and what wasn’t true.
She knew she needed to leave her relationship, but the larger issue was that she was unable to make decisions about anything. She knew she had to make a decision to leave, but she could not. The woman she was in relationship with was brutal, and would always find something wrong with her. If my client had a problem with her partner making her wrong, her partner would tell her she was being unloving for not catering to her needs. It was quite a mind trip, and this woman was using her own pain as a weapon. If my client tried to stand up for something she wanted, her partner would feel victimized. Consequently, she felt like she was bad for hurting her. Of course, that was exactly what her mother had done.
As a child, anytime she didn’t do something her mother wanted her to do— which was very rare, because her mother would beat her if she didn’t do it— she felt broken. There was hardly anything left of her after being pummeled by these two women; the mother and the girlfriend. Not only did she not have any boundaries, but she didn’t have any will left, because her will had been broken. Every time she tried to exercise her will, she was punished.
As a result of this, my client was unable to hold any boundary to other people’s negativity, and was not able to advocate for herself or her needs and desires. Her mother and partner were cruel and would harm her for expressing her needs, because her needs distracted from their own. When she came into my office, she was in her early twenties, and had essentially reconstructed her relationship with her mother in her relationship with this woman, which was her first major relationship.
Most of the time, people’s wills are either too strong, or misdirected. However in this case, my client had no will at all. She had never been in relationship with anything that was whole, and it was only through shamanic counseling that she was able to access her inner guidance. For the first time, she was able to see who she was outside of her relationships with these women, and that gave her a place to move towards. Although she wanted to leave the relationship, she couldn’t, because she didn’t have a sense of self outside of an abusive relationship.
The damage was so deep within her that we had to work with the profoundly internal vehicle of the shamanic journey. We did many journeys where she asked, “What is it that I want? What is my heart’s desire? How do I attain it? How do I hold it?” Through her engagement with the shamanic journey, she was able to reconstruct herself. She was able to connect to her sense of self, to know what she wanted, and to recognize what she did not want. It was this recognition and her willingness to deal with her boundary issues that led to remarkable inner transformation and healing.