Spongy Boundaries

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Spongy Boundaries

Years ago, I had a friend. Fate brought us together and proximity held us tight. She constantly peppered me with backhanded compliments and rude digs disguised as humor. She was happy to hang out with me when nobody else was around, but as soon as someone she deemed better showed up, I was routinely ignored and bad mouthed. I came up with thousands of excuses to justify her behavior towards me (most of them involved some deficiency or fault of mine), but for the most part, I just let it go. Hurt, I’d bite my tongue and go about my day trying to forget the insults and slights.

At some point, I gathered up a bit of courage and pointed out that the joke she just made me the butt of really hurt my feelings. As a matter of fact, I pointed out, this was something she did often. I asked her to stop. Of course, she immediately apologized while emphatically proclaiming that her intentions were not malicious. She said I was silly to think this way. She said I was just being too sensitive.

It didn’t matter what I did or said. She continued to target me as the object of her derision. Please note that anytime I pointed the cruelty of her comments out to her, she emphatically offered what appeared to be heart-felt apologies. Her behavior towards me never changed. Eventually, her “I’m sorry’s” became meaningless as I realized she had no intention of changing her behavior. She eventually crossed the line and unwilling to serve as her whipping girl any longer, I terminated the friendship. A decision on my part, that was long overdue.

It was one of the hardest things I ever did. There was anguish and tears. I hold on tight to what I love whether it loves me back or not. I really, really tried.

I expected to feel lonely and lost. I expected to mourn the passing of the relationship. I did, for a bit. What I didn’t expect was the joy and peace that followed. Yes, there was that vaccum that existed for a few weeks. We had spent a lot of time together. But soon that space started to be occupied with people and activities that filled me up instead of depleting me the way that she did.

What I didn’t know at the time was that I was establishing personal boundaries. Up until this point, my boundaries were spongy. My desire to be in a friendship, to be a good sport, to not make a fuss took precedence over my need to stand up for myself. I was terrified of making waves or causing trouble. Really, I bit me tongue so much I’m amazed I still have one in my head.

I wish I could tell you that from this point on, I had this boundary thing down pat and that I never let another bad for me person or bad for me situation into my life again. Sadly, old modes of operation die hard. What I can tell you is this, as the years progress, I’ve gotten better at recognizing bad for me people and  bad for me things sooner. I’m quicker to politely call foul. I’m more likely to cut my loses and move on if the situation doesn’t improve.

We all deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. We all deserve to be surrounded by love and support. We all have to strive to be sure we have these things in our lives. If we can’t get them where we are, we all have the right to let go and move on.


  1. Good article. I think it’s a hard thing to do, especially for women brought up trying to please. I knew when you got to the point of ending it, you’d feel relief, because I’ve been there, and try to be more careful. But, it’s hard to resist someone who likes you, even when you know it may not be true.

    • Taking that first step was the scariest, Margie, precisely because I didn’t know. I needed the advice of someone like to let me know it would be ok.

  2. Hear hear! I can so relate to this – especially the part about biting my tongue so often I`m suprised it’s still there! The clearer I’ve gotten about my boundaries the better my life has become yet I still make mistakes and allow people in who shouldn’t be in my life under the guise of being tolerant. Each and everytime I make this mistake I celebrate as it’s taking me one step closer to not doubting so much when I do assert my boundaries.

    • You are so right. We have to celebrate the mistakes for the learning experiences that they are. I’m still sorting this out myself, and getting better with each misstep.

  3. Nice job. Poor thing obviously had issues of her own, but you’ve got to take care of you first.

    • Taking care of me was the lesson, for sure. I also realized that some things and situations are for me and some are not. I’m sure she’s a great friend to certain people. I just wasn’t one of those people. ; )

  4. Beautiful Denise, we are all absolutely worthy of loving relationships, and I love the way that you have taken this experience as a reminder of that truth and as a guide when you’re not fully in line with your truth.

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience.

    • Life’s too short too not fil it with love.

  5. Great post, Denise. I too have had similar experiences; like you, I still struggle with boundary issues at times although my learning curve is improving. It’s a process.

    • Such a process. I’m still figuring it out.

  6. This resonated with me on so many levels. I, too, was the “too sensitive” child with no boundaries and no real experience with standing up for myself or speaking my truth. I grew up in a home where speaking that truth brought severe consequences. For e boundaries are a lifelong opportunity to grow and evolve and explore. And, yes, I love the space that opens up when I let go of relationships that do not enrich my life. Hmmmmm, I think I need to repeat that. I love the space that opens up when I let go of relationships that do not enrich my life.
    Thank you, Denise.

  7. I love this post- as I always do. Your writing feels so sincere. I’m actually very good at saying no and setting boundaries and lately I’ve been wondering if I am actually “too” good at it. If I feel that people are not as committed to me as I am to them, I tend to move on pretty fast. I wonder if it would sometimes be a good idea for me to stay a little longer and see where the relations takes us. Oh the beauty and mystery of human relations 🙂

  8. Denise, I love your term “spongy boundaries.” Not only is it an apt description for a nondescript borderline (so to speak), it also implies soaking things up, to the point of saturation (and then some), as illustrated by the relationship with your ‘friend.’ As a formerly wishy-washy person (or a recovering one, ha!), I applaud you for drawing the line.


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