Do you always refuse what you do not want to do? Probably not. And perhaps you are compromising consciously. But it happens that a person is manipulated, and he does not even suspect about it. Psychotherapist with over 20 years of experience Terry Cole in his book “Healthy Boundaries” describes what techniques are commonly used for this.
With the permission of the MIF publishing house, which published the work in, we publish an excerpt from Chapter 9.
Have you ever encountered a person who is unable to listen and take into account your preferences, thoughts and feelings? Meet what I call the boundary buster. This particularly complex personality type ignores your healthy boundaries, no matter how eloquently you label them.
For a border breaker, compromise is a dirty word. He ignores the boundaries of others, consciously or subconsciously, overtly or covertly, partly because he feels he is above boundaries (and in some cases, formal laws). Such people believe that they are entitled to your time, care and attention, and are not concerned about reciprocity.
Boundary Busters are very grumpy, short-tempered, sensitive, and self-centered. They may be classified as individuals with narcissistic, antisocial, hysterical, and borderline personality disorders. But we will not give a border breaker or anyone else a medical diagnosis. (To determine if a person suffers from any of these disorders, a personal examination by a professional is needed – we are here for another.) It is important for you to identify the typical behavior of these complex personalities and understand how you interact with them. Since border breakers tend to act like predators to ensure you maintain the status quo, knowledge is power. And your main concern should be your safety. This is especially important if the border breaker has a history of violence or disdain for you. If you are concerned about your safety, seek professional support and advice. You must be especially vigilant in protecting your interests and well-being, as the destroyer of borders may not consider your interests at all.
Boundary busters often ignore your boundaries, believing they are entitled to your time, care, and attention. They are primarily concerned with their needs, not yours.
Trying to defend your boundaries in communication with the destroyer can plunge you into despair and confuse. Proactive boundary plans, which are effective with first timers and repeat offenders, are less effective with boundary breakers because the usual rules of communication do not apply here. Trying to reason with him – be it a relative, colleague, lover, ex-boyfriend or friend – can only piss you off.
Why? Because border breakers are usually focused on themselves and their plans, too self-absorbed and not capable of empathy and compassion for others. Those matter insofar as they can be useful. Their version of reality is the only correct one.
Here are just a few examples of how border busters behave:
- the always in trouble friend who gets into an idiotic fight the night before your big presentation at work (any time your attention is distracted) and then calls you selfish and throws a tantrum if you tell him you can’t discuss his problem before the end of the presentation;
- a domineering mother who constantly competes with you, feels threatened by your success and seeks praise for your achievements;
- a flirtatious partner who denies that he behaved inappropriately at a party, even if you saw him slip his number to another woman (he says you terrorize him with your “crazy fits”);
- a colleague friend who overstates the amounts on his monthly expense report and uses the excuse that he is entitled to the stolen money because he is underpaid and undervalued;
- a manager who constantly ignores your request not to email you on weekends or texts you while you’re on vacation, time off, or sick leave.
Many of my clients and students tend to rationalize the behavior of boundary busters in their lives, which can lead to overlooking a serious discrepancy between their words and actions. And keep in mind: the actions of the destroyers of borders will always be more eloquent than their words.
Boundary Busters are masters of manipulation. They set the rules of warfare by which everyone must live. They have plenty of ways to manipulate; below are the three most insidious tactics.
1. Script flip
Boundary busters are experts at drawing attention away from themselves and their questionable actions. If you peremptorily state the reasonable request “I want to be home by 10 pm because I’m not feeling well lately, I need to sleep,” the boundary breaker may react as if you just punched him in the face: how dare you! His response is a calculated action designed to make you change your mind. Your labeling of needs, desires, and especially limitations can only aggravate him.
Another maneuver is to pretend that you have become the object of his concern, especially if you blame him for bad behavior. For example, when you don’t like that he stayed up late and didn’t bother to call, he retorts, “I’m really worried about you. You’ve been too receptive lately. What’s happening?” These maneuvers are a ploy to make you doubt yourself and distract yourself from what he did.
Another option is when he gets upset because you ask a simple question, or exaggerates what you did. If the border breaker is doing something suspicious behind your back, it may turn on you to make you defensive and divert potentially negative attention from yourself. For example, one client of mine called her new lover and said that she was worried about his lack of communication (after he maintained constant contact for the first few weeks). Her honesty prompted him to go on the offensive: “I can’t believe you’re telling me this on the phone. You know, I also feel that our connection is being lost. It was you who fell asleep on Wednesday night, not me!” He did everything he could to make her start to doubt herself, although her feelings were justified. (And no one was surprised when it turned out that he was a lying bastard; she left him shortly after this conversation.)
The boundary buster may pick on trifles or completely distort what you said, for example: “We did not agree to discuss the vacation before making plans with my family. I just agreed to discuss vacation plans with you.” Or he may ask you to do him one tiny favor and then load you with something bigger, insisting that you have already agreed to it, although this was not the case. He may be trying to discount your feelings by responding with a higher-stakes situation (which isn’t really important, but can distract you and make you defensive). For example, you don’t like that your partner receives phone calls from an ex-married lady in the middle of the night, and when you tell him about it, he replies: “Very nice. She has cancer.” But you know what? Her cancer (if she really has one) is not your side of the street. You have on your side how you feel about midnight phone calls from his ex.
One of the most pernicious forms of manipulation is gaslighting, where a boundary destroyer tries to sow seeds of doubt in another person in order to maintain control over the relationship. This is how boundary breakers use a hidden arsenal of constant denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lies to make you question your memory, perception, and sanity. If someone close to you constantly gaslights you, you may feel like you are losing your mind. For example, as a child, you may have witnessed a terrible quarrel between your parents, with breaking dishes and wild screams, but when you asked your mother why they quarreled, she said: “Oh, we did not quarrel, dear. You have such a wild imagination.”
Essentially, gaslighting is an attempt to delegitimize your beliefs and make you question your perception of reality. This includes constant control over the narrative or denial of your life experience. You may be told that you are too tender, or fragile, or you yourself doubt your level of receptivity: “Maybe this is just my perception.”
The main signs that you are dealing with gaslighting are your being too careful not to upset your partner, or mother, or supervisor, the desire to hide what is happening to you from friends and relatives, constant apologies, feeling that you are doing everything not this way. You may feel as if your vitality is depleted and you can hardly drag your feet.
And why don’t you be joyless when someone close to you tries to control your reality? Being manipulated is disgusting. You can feel subtle only if you are self-confident, having a strong connection with your inner knowledge. It’s your birthright, honey. And you know who doesn’t care? Gaslighter.
At first, you may be shocked: “I made this up? I’m going crazy?” Until the pattern is established, this behavior may seem strange to you, but not a cause for alarm. Over time, you will become defensive: “I didn’t say that!” or “You promised I was next in line for a promotion!” You will feel an urgent need to assert yourself even in such trifles as, for example, agreeing to a barbecue (and you did not agree). But a seasoned border breaker will find a way to wear you down. He has a detailed map of all your shame buttons and knows how to push them to keep you quiet and in line.
3. Love bombing
Love bombing is another common narcissistic tactic. They flatter their target, fueling her ego and fantasy of eternal love, until they are sure the victim is on the hook (and yes, the drug of love bombardment is the strongest). At this point, the border destroyer becomes very critical and hostile. In the end, contempt turns into complete rejection, he stops noticing you. The narcissistic abuse cycle has three stages:
In the first stage of this cycle, the boundary buster’s over-attention is dictated by his (conscious or subconscious) desire to gain complete power over you. Being the object of a love bombardment is very tempting, you are overwhelmed with emotions. He makes grand romantic gestures that you could only dream of. Love bombing sometimes occurs in other contexts as well, such as friendship, work, and even cult recruitment. Victims tend to blame themselves: “If I hadn’t made that fatal mistake, I would have been respected again.”
The return of flattery and attention happens when the love bomber (the highest order of boundary busters) feels that you have reached the limit. Then he gives just enough for your new hope.
Terry Cole believes that it is impossible to become happy if you do not know how to build and protect your personal space. According to the expert, this problem is especially acute for women, so the book is written specifically for them. But any reader can find something useful here.
How do you know if your boundaries have been violated? What exactly to answer people who are trying to invade your personal space? How to learn to realize your true desires and recognize those imposed by others? The answers to these and many other questions are waiting for you on the pages.