How Firm are Your Boundaries?

You may have heard a term used: “Codependency”. Codependency is a hard thing to define, but it essentially means that I am too invested in another person, place or thing. There is no apparent separation between myself and them mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I define myself by who they are, how they feel, how they act, etc. If they’re not happy, I’m not happy, but if they’re happy, I’m ecstatic. Essentially that means that I invest far too much time in worrying about them and how they are, and not enough time about myself and how I am.

Melody Beattie wrote a fantastic book which introduced the concept of codependency to the world back in 1986: “Codependent No More”. Based on her personal experience with other peoples’ alcoholism, she began to see patterns in herself, and in certain people. It seemed to her that there were a class of people who focused far too much on the welfare of others, to the exclusion of their own. She watched this play out in her life, and in the lives of others.

In 2009 she updated that work in to a book called “The New Codependency.” She realized, eventually, that the phenomenon of codependency exists outside of relationships where substance abuse was a problem.

Why do certain people only seem to be attracted to others who are unavailable, either physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually, or even perhaps all of the above? Why is it that these people can’t seem to avoid these liaisons? Why do they always call disaster and chaos in to their lives when peace and serenity are real options? Why do they either try to please others to the exclusion of taking care of themselves, or why do they try to control others in order to have their lives make sense?

I ask these questions because in my studio, whenever I have someone sitting across the table from me who has an eating problem, they probably have a codependency problem too. It’s my belief that, unless they deal with the codependency issue, they will most likely continue to struggle with their eating, and with their weight. Why do I say this?

First, because the resentment and bitterness held within when we are busy trying to control others can get unbearable at times, and food makes us feel better. Simple. Second, because my people-pleasing will always get in the way of me asserting myself, and insisting on the food I need in order to remain healthy and on track. When a friend or relative bakes me a cake and I want to say no, but they say “Oh go ahead, please…I baked it just for you!”, am I willing to stand up for myself and say no, I’m sorry but I can’t? Or do I cave in? And if I am to stand up for myself (with tact, grace and common sense of course), then what exactly am I to say? What will they think of me? Etc., etc.

Codependency is about relationships gone bad. There are 3 roles that two people can take in a codependent relationship: Persecutor, Rescuer, or Victim. Sometimes these relationships can be a triangle or quadrangle of 3 or 4 people, maybe even more, each playing a particular role, with the roles sometimes changing. It’s ugly when it’s in full effect.

Which way do you tend? The controlling codependent tends to be a Persecutor, telling everyone what to do, and becoming nasty and argumentative when they don’t get their way. Some may even become verbally and emotionally violent, still some physically violent. The passive people-pleasing codependent tends to play the role of Victim, feeling helpless and hopeless in their current situation.

We hear a lot about “being a victim,” and we often hear that it is a bad thing to be a victim. Let’s make a distinction here: some of us have been victimized, and therefore are victims. That’s just a fact. The question really is, “Do I want to continue to play the role of victim, or do I instead want to become a VICTOR?”

If you’re in a relationship with someone who is trying to control you, you have choices. You can ask them to stop, and if they don’t, you have the right to set boundaries with them, up to and including ending the relationship. You may not feel like those are options, but they are. The solution to the Persecutor-Victim paradigm is that the Victim needs to become a CHALLENGER, and challenge the Persecutor to become a LISTENER. If the Persecutor refuses to listen to the needs of the other person, then boundaries need to be set; boundaries that have real consequences if not respected.

If you find yourself in such a relationship, you may wonder how it could be possible that you could ever set boundaries with your Persecutor. I invite you to remember the following acrostic:


It looks like this. Let’s say you are in a relationship with someone who is verbally abusive. They yell and raise their voice at you whenever you do something they don’t like. Here’s how you can use “WIN” to establish your boundary:

“XXXXX (name of person ) WHEN you speak to me like that, I feel belittled, treated like a child, unimportant and abused, and I don’t appreciate it. In the future I NEED you to please not speak to me with either a raised voice, nor insulting language or tone. I would like your commitment that in the future you will try your best to do this.”

The “W” is for the word “WHEN,” the “I” is for the “I” in “I feel,” and the “N” is for the “NEED.”

Often the person will get angrier and yell louder, perhaps, in which case the boundary statement can be restated with a consequence, such as “I’ve asked you not to do that, and if you do again then I will have to (ask you to leave / leave) for X period of time while you consider further what I am requesting.”

This can be complicated. Often it is the woman who is being abused, and she may fear for her physical safety in such cases. Often a women’s shelter – or the police – can help out in setting these types of boundaries. If this is your situation, you may want to remove yourself physically the next time it happens, go to a safe place, call the abuser and set your boundary from there.

I am not claiming this is easy stuff, but I am claiming that it is crucial in order to gain the peace and serenity needed to NOT have to turn to food for calm and comfort. So remember, if your relationship follows the Persecutor-Victim paradigm, the solution is to move to the Listener-Challenger paradigm, and WIN statements are a great way to do that.

Remember, you are worth it. You are not responsible for anyone else’s feelings or actions: they are. Start focusing on yourself more, and others less, and I think you’ll slowly start to feel better. Give it a try!