Are Your Personal Boundaries Strong?

Flying picI’ve been thinking about personal boundaries. I’ve been told by people who understand and teach about them, that I don’t always exhibit behaviors that indicate that I have “strong” boundaries. I have no idea what that means, so I’m researching the topic. I want to decide for myself if personal boundaries are worth having, or if boundaries are just an arbitrary construct that people use to make themselves feel unique and separate from others.

Try to envision an imaginary wall that separates you from others. According to some psychologists, this wall allows you to have a strong and healthy identity and sense of yourself as a separate individual. It allows you to have a unique identity so that you don’t blend into or take on other peoples feelings. According to Dr. Burgess, who is an expert on bipolar disorder, people with bipolar disorder often have “leaky” walls and boundaries. Leaky boundaries can cause you to feel that you are responsible for others happiness and success. Leaky walls can make you feel as though the other person’s emotions are yours and that you are responsible for them. You can feel so intertwined with others that you can not separate yourself easily. You may take on their problems, emotions, and responsibilities to your own detriment. Frankly, I have enough problems of my own and I’m way too selfish to take on other peoples problems. I do have empathy sometimes but I’m not a pushover. Well – there was this one time…..but it was a lost dog and not a person, so it doesn’t count!

Julie Fuimano says, “personal boundaries are lines you draw that define your values. They are not walls to shut people out, but rather limits that keep the unwanted behaviors of others from entering your space. Boundaries are essential for personal health. They act as filters, permitting what’s acceptable into your life and keeping other elements out. Your boundaries are about what others may say or do to you or in your presence”. That sounds reasonable to me. No one wants to be around annoying people who behave badly. Unless you are at a wild party and everyone is really, really drunk. But that’s the exception to the rule. Right?

Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen says “A personal boundary is a space around yourself that gives you a clear sense of who you are and where you’re going. When you choose who you allow into your physical, emotional, and mental space you’re activating your personal boundaries”. That’s interesting. I’m very particular about who I spend time with and who I allow into my space. Right now only about four people in total and that’s on a good day!

Pia Mellody, author of Facing Codependence , created a list of physical and internal boundary violations. I try to avoid doing any of the behaviors listed below, do you? What about the people you are close to, and the people you associate with? Do they violate your personal boundaries?

Physical Boundary Violations

  • Standing too close to a person without his/her permission.
  • Touching a person without his/her permission.
  • Getting into a person’s personal belongings such as one’s purse, wallet, journal, mail, and closet.
  • Listening to a person’s personal conversations or telephone conversations without his/her permission.
  • Not allowing a person to have privacy or violating a person’s right to privacy.
  • Exposing others to physical illness due to your having a contagious disease.

Internal Boundary Violations

  • Yelling and screaming
  • Name calling
  • Ridiculing a person
  • Lying
  • Breaking a commitment
  • Patronizing a person
  • Telling a person how he/she should be or what he/she should do (Negative Control)
  • Being sarcastic
  • Shaming a person

My friend, Margaret, read this article and responded by saying, “I believe boundaries help define our notion of self, and we then respect ourselves as do others in our lives: family, friends, and people at work. But underneath that, we have to know who that self really is on many levels. So who we are is the important question, and the boundaries will naturally follow once we have ascertained that.”

My take-away from briefly researching the topic of personal boundaries is that you must know yourself and what you can live with. Communicate your boundaries to others so that they know exactly what behaviors you will tolerate. Demand conformance to your boundaries. Believe in your boundaries and without reserve, enforce them when they are violated.

What Can Trigger a Bipolar Episode?

Bipolar Disorder TreatmentBipolar Disorder is a genetic condition but it may not express itself even if you carry the gene(s) for it. It is widely believed that a triggering event in the environment coupled with a genetic predisposition towards the illness is needed for the disorder to express itself. The disorder can remain dormant for many years. Although it often begins to rear its ugly head in late adolescence.

After the initial trigger(s) activate the genes and the illness, it then presents as major mood swings that come and go over varying periods of time. These are called episodes. Every individual has their own unique triggers that can activate  an episode. Although everyone is different and there are a variety of manifestations of the illness, many of the triggers are common and shared. For example, lack of sleep is often a trigger for a manic episode.

Again, even though the illness has a strong genetic component thought of as the underlying cause of the disease it may take a triggering event for the Bipolar Disorder to actually manifest itself. Trauma can trigger the disorder as well as travelling to a different time zone. Other common triggers include stress, hormones, and even taking street drugs. I’ve found that mood stabilizing medications are the key to keeping the episodes from recurring so quickly, and key to keeping them less intense and shorter in duration.

Bipolar 1 Disorder Diagnosis

Bipolar ExtremesI knew that I was moody, but a few years back, I was diagnosed with Bipolar I Disorder also known as manic-depressive disorder. A person affected by bipolar I disorder has had at least one severe manic episode in his or her life. A manic episode is a period of abnormally elevated mood, accompanied by abnormal or out-of-character behavior that disrupts life. I have “euphoric manic moods” that typically last several months. My most disruptive manic episode lasted for several months. As far back as I can remember, in retrospect, I’ve  had hypomanic episodes.

Some prominent experts insist that bipolar disorder is found in a disproportionate number of people with creative talent such as actors, artists, comedians, musicians, authors, performers, and poets. Several recent clinical studies have also suggested that there is a positive correlation between creativity and bipolar disorder. A 2005 study at the Stanford University School of Medicine showed for the first time that a sample of children who either have or are at high risk for bipolar disorder scored higher on a creativity index. Children with bipolar parents who were not bipolar themselves also scored higher. That’s some bit of comfort I suppose.

Most people but not all people with bipolar I disorder also suffer from episodes of depression. Often, there is a pattern of cycling between mania and depression. In between episodes of mania and depression, many people with bipolar I disorder live relatively normal lives. My experience seems to run from mixed anxious episodes to manic episodes with periods of being somewhat down occasionally. There are fleeting moments of calm and stability but it never seems to last very long.

During a manic episode, elevated mood can manifest itself as euphoria “feeling high” and having tons of energy, or it can manifest itself as irritability. It often includes both feelings at the same time. Behavior during manic episodes can include but does not necessarily have to include all of the following:

  • Flying suddenly from one idea to the next (easily distracted)
  • Pursuing unrealistic plans
  • Impulsive behaviors
  • Increased energy, with hyperactivity and decreased need for sleep
  • Inflated self-image
  • Excessive spending
  • Rapid or pressured speech
  • Behaving in ways that are out of character
  • Hypersexuality
  • Engaging in high-risk behaviors (unprotected sex, etc.)
  • Being overly focused on one project, goal, or activity (almost obsessive compulsive)
  • Having to get out of situations or commitments that you created when manic

When manic, people may spend money far beyond their means, have sex with people they wouldn’t otherwise, or pursue grandiose, unrealistic plans. Untreated, an episode of mania can last anywhere from a few days to several years. Most commonly, symptoms continue for a few weeks to a few months. Depression may follow shortly after but doesn’t always. A period of exhaustion and confusion and disbelief in my choices is the follow up to my out of control manic episodes. Many people with bipolar I disorder experience long periods without symptoms in between episodes. A minority have rapid-cycling symptoms of mania and depression — even alternating between mania and depression in the same day.

Depressive episodes in bipolar disorder are similar to “regular” clinical depression, with depressed mood, loss of pleasure, low energy and activity, feelings of guilt or worthlessness. Depressive symptoms of bipolar disorder can last weeks or even years. I usually stick with mania but occasionally hit a down mood. But it doesn’t last long and then I’m riding the wild crest of the wave again. Now, on Lithium, I stay somewhere in limbo but it’s better than being manic and making devastasting and destructive choices.

What is the difference between bipolar I disorder and bipolar II disorder? Bipolar I disorder encompasses the behaviors described in the list above. These manic symptoms can lead to serious disruptions in life – for example, spending sprees, having extramarital affairs, and engaging in other high-risk behaviors. The symptoms of elevated mood in bipolar II disorder never reach full-on mania. They often appear as extreme cheerfulness, even making someone a lot of fun to be around. This less-severe mania is called hypomania. People experiencing hypomania are often extremely creative and productive. I completed my entire Ph.D. program while hypomanic. This less-severe mania is not so bad, you might think– except that bipolar II also features episodes of significant depression.

Managing and learning to live with bipolar disorder is a challenge. The highs are extremely seductive and the creativity that comes with hypomania is exhilarating; however, the disruption and chaos that follows is exhausting. I wish I’d been diagnosed at a younger age. I sometimes grieve for the loss of all the opportunities that I was unable to grasp because of the illness. If you suspect that you or your loved one may have bipolar disorder don’t hesitate to seek out appropriate medical care.


Statistics on Mood Disorders in the U.S.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) article, The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America:

  • “Approximately 20.9 million American adults, or about 9.5 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year, have a mood disorder.
  • The median age of onset for mood disorders is 30 years.
  • Depressive disorders often co-occur with anxiety disorders and substance abuse.
  • Bipolar disorder affects approximately 5.7 million American adults, or about 2.6 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year.
  • The median age of onset for bipolar disorders is 25 years.”

According to the Mental Illness Policy Organization, on average, people with bipolar disorder go to 3 or more doctors and endure 8  years of treatement prior to being correctly diagnosed.