Choosing Boundaries and Meaning Them. ” PITCHER OF MOON” IS NOW ON KINDLE.

Sailboat, watercolor, Jane kohut-bartels, 2006

Sailboat, watercolor, Jane kohut-bartels, 2006


This short essay is new. I wondered whether to post this now, but others are also struggling with this same theme in their lives.  I buck up my courage and post it with an eye toward revisions for the future.

Lady Nyo



This short essay is going to sound weird, strange or downright mean to some people. Frankly, it’s been a long time coming. I’m still learning here so this is certainly not a complete answer, far from it. It’s an issue like an onion, with many layers. It can be stinky, too. And, it can make us uncomfortable in the doing.

I grew up with a parent who was an extreme narcissist by any score. I never learned, or actually, I was never allowed to set boundaries as a child or teen. Since a narcissistic parent doesn’t see their child as anything except an extension of their own person, the offspring setting boundaries is something not tolerated. Hence, it was something I didn’t really know the value of until much later in adulthood and after quite a bit of therapy.

Boundaries mean choices for by a person and choices should reflect a healthy sense of oneself. In life we meet all sorts of people, appropriate to our existence and those inappropriate. When we haven’t an understanding of boundaries, (and this doesn’t just fall out of the sky, we have to learn this) when we are uncomfortable with the behavior of others towards us but don’t know why, we can dismiss these feelings and we can choose inappropriate or unhealthy relationships. Many times we are afraid of offending, so we open ourselves to what comes down as actual abuse. When we have serious deficiencies in self-worth and don’t value ourselves in healthy and positive ways, we fall to the relationships that are obstacles and become, ultimately, terrible and/or destructive burdens.

Recently, I have been taking stock of this issue. It has loomed large in my life over the past few years. Perhaps this is because I have become more conscious of this, and the ties to narcissistic behavior, but also because I began to develop a long needed and necessary sense of self-worth. And it isn’t something that is easy. Abuse, emotional and otherwise, comes from not valuing yourself and setting boundaries. There are many people in this world who look for what they perceive as vulnerable people and they latch on for their own benefit. We call them opportunists.

I remember working at a local university in the early 90’s. I grew to hate it. I had a female supervisor who demanded that I give her neck/back rubs. This was not in my job description, but she was a woman who had a lot of issues. She was just a low-class bully, with little to redeem her. I remember complaining to HR and then I realized clerical workers were just seen as shit, expendable.  I was told any employee who went up against a supervisor was sure to lose. The “University would win all the time.” That was the way it was then. I don’t know if things have changed at this university, but I had to realize boundaries weren’t encouraged to clerical workers, even though the HR rep knew well my complaint.   I was told “This University isn’t a place to work for everyone. If you can’t take it, quit.”   Amazingly arrogant, but a reflection of the reality of the situation.   I also remember having to cover (and in one case clean up) for the stupid and (at times) drunk designers in the department. These were two girls (they didn’t deserve the title ’women’) who had been there a long time, and they abused their jobs. On occasion I ended up doing their work in different departments of the University. Not that I had qualifications and I certainly did not receive any pay or credit for this. I also remember having to constantly apologize for their behavior and this became ridiculous. It was humiliating. I felt like I was in a crazed universe, not university. A ship of damn fools. I got an earful from different departments about these two girls. People were fed up with their behavior over the years and they made complaints to our department head who ducked the issues. Their behavior was known all over. There was no excuse. They were being protected by the head of the department. He wasn’t going to make any changes here, though his reputation suffered because of his ego. He was a huge narcissist and inappropriately, in front of employees berated the female supervisor. Most of us hated her, and I had particular reason to dislike this woman, but I remember feeling shocked at his behavior. I left after five years. I started to write a book, just a historic novel, but it gave me feet to get away from a situation that was debilitating. This situation was so bad I had nightmares. I was in despair. A few weeks away from this mess and those feelings passed. I didn’t set any boundaries and I was afraid IF I did, I would lose my job and probably in that highly dysfunctional department, would. We had just adopted our only child, and it would have been much better to leave. My priorities were very screwed. I was beyond ‘uncomfortable’ but didn’t understand what to do to end this situation. Quitting was a relief, but the basic problem (setting boundaries and meaning them) wasn’t addressed.

Again, no boundaries, no resolve. I didn’t honor or protect myself. I was too fearful about things that others who had better self-worth would have walked out of with little problem.

It’s been a long struggle to come to terms with this issue of boundaries. Many women just don’t see this as possible or important. It has everything to do with either the way we are raised, especially when there are psychological issues with parents and also within society’s concepts and expectations of women in general. Marriage can have a lot to do with this lag. I am very fortunate in my second marriage. My first was full of abuse, some physical but mostly emotional. I had left a narcissistic parent to marry a man who was my mother with a dick. I didn’t set boundaries, I didn’t know how. I prolonged my own misery.

Recently I was involved in an online squabble with a bunch of women here in Atlanta calling themselves “Smart Asses”. As a dear friend pointed out….”They were not so smart, but they definitely were asses.” I knew a few of them, and some I knew as probable sociopaths. Possibly more than a few. Why be involved with these kind of people? Stupidity on my part and thinking I could make a difference. One needs to realize that you can’t correct crazy. Again, I failed to set boundaries, this time internally. What in Hell was I trying to do with these people? I had nothing really in common with these women (and men) so what was I there for?

You can’t change the world; you can only attempt to change yourself.

Recently, a sister in law said (when I asked about her youngest (24 years old) son that “we will not have this conversation”. Sounds rude? Perhaps it is, but she was setting a boundary, and I think this healthy. Setting boundaries isn’t easy. It takes work, but more so, it takes perseverance. You have to mean them.

What I have learned about boundaries needs a lot more thought and practice. However, I have learned some things and these I hope are helpful.

First, know who you are. Know your limits. Don’t make excuses for them, look at them closely and consider if they are something you can defend.  If you feel uncomfortable with a person or a flock of people, you probably need a boundary of some sort. Maybe several. Go with your gut.

Center yourself in who you are and what you love. In those things you have accomplished. This takes time and a lot of energy and probably some therapy for many of us. Our wires get twisted in life, but down there, somewhere, if we are honest with ourselves….are the things that make us glow and blossom. Don’t get caught up in the energy sucking drama of other people. That’s just a waste of your precious life. They don’t want any advice, they just want an audience. (I’ve done this myself to some of my friends, and for some reason they are still my friends. My apologies all around…I’m learning.)

When our boundaries are weak, when we are not clear about our value and self-worth, or the value of actually having boundaries we will lean towards all sorts of chaos and drama that isn’t ours. When our boundaries are weak we are also uncomfortable. We self-doubt most of the time. Recently I wrote an article titled “Nihilism, Smart Asses, etc.” on the blog and this was because I was trying to ‘fit in’ with people I should have run from like the raging plague. These people had nothing going in their lives except creating negativity and bitchin’ to the Heavens, but I stepped into it with both feet. Again, you can’t fix crazy. If some people have given you the willies before by their past behavior, trust your gut. They probably haven’t changed much. Set boundaries and don’t try to climb over the retaining wall because you think you can change a situation. You probably can’t. See your boundaries as protection that accompanies you through life. Respect the need for them and you will begin to respect yourself.

Base yourself in something you love and in something you have pride in accomplishing. When I feel swayed by other people that I know mean me ‘no good’, are insulting or belittling, that I can see are violating my boundaries, I look at the bindings of my four books sitting in my library. I look at all these paintings on the walls. These are accomplishments I should honor. They meant I tore myself away long enough to do something positive. I set boundaries here where I used an enormous amount of energy to do these things. They were made ‘real’ because I set boundaries on my time and energy and what I would give to the rest of the world.  However, I also know I didn’t do these things all by myself. Bill Penrose formatted and ‘made real’ the first three books on, and Nick Nicholson did “Pitcher of Moon”. I’ve known both of these guys for eight years and they are great friends. They gave of their time and energies and experience, mostly their enormous hearts and friendship and I am still amazed by their generosity. The writing was the easy part for me. I couldn’t have done what they did. Of course, there are friends along the way, especially in the last five years, other writers, poets and some just wonderful women. Especially these women, on websites concerning the issues of narcissism, were beacons for me. They guided me through the maze of abuse and into the light of knowledge. First, they helped me understand boundaries and then they helped me put them in place. I owe so much to other people in my life. They saw someone floundering around in the water, and dragged me to shore.

And that’s the point of life. We can start deficient in these issues, like boundaries, but if we remain so, we impoverish ourselves. We impoverish our creativity. Learn from those who can help on these weighty issues, and avoid the negative folk.   Setting boundaries are possible, and also necessary in this fugue of life.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2014


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10 Responses to “Choosing Boundaries and Meaning Them.”

  1. karabcn Says:

    This is a great essay, Jane. Thanks so much for sharing it. The first time I heard of the concept of boundaries I was 35. To build myself up to be able to say NO has taken me nearly 7 years, but hey, better late than never. We’re never too old to learn.
    I love your painting of the sailboat. It’s beautiful.
    Kara xx


  2. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Kara!~

    First, thank you for reading this and your comment~!

    Yep, I think I was even older…like a few days ago? LOL! I think this is one of the most important issues tha we can try to establish. And it isn’t something that comes naturally. I think, or at least in my experience, it is damn hard to figure out and institute these things and MEAN them. I think at times we trip ourselves up with issues of “are we being elitist?’ in doing so? When my SIL (who rarely has contact with me, she’s part of the narcissistic foo syndrome) said: “We won’t have that conversation” (about her 24 year old son..) I was shocked. Hmmmm….I didn’t expect her to set such a boundary, but damn….if she could, I could, and I am going to return the favor…not that it’s a tit-for-tat issue, but there is a necessity for a boundary when talking to her. (The NM issue…)

    We need boundaries. We need to say NO to people and not feel guilty about it. It takes time and a lot of soul searching and it shouldn’t be that much of an effort. But ACONs are trained early in not being able to say No. And mean it when we do say it.

    I hope others will chime in, like you, Kara, and talk about their own struggles with setting boundaries. It certainly would help. We are definitely NOT alone.

    And glad you liked the painting! Thank you!

    Love, Jane xo


  3. Caliban's Sister Says:

    Wonderful essay Jane (and you know I love that painting). I think the list of steps you define is incredibly helpful, especially on two points: decide why you’re setting a boundary, and whether you can explain it if you had to. Not that we should explain, necessarily, but we need to be able to articulate it at least to ourselves. And secondly, define our deepest authenticity according to our own criteria of our best selves. This is vastly important, and as ACoNs we were absolutely not allowed to do this (in fact, were excoriated for it), and as women culture won’t let us do it without being seen as “unfeminine.” To be able to define your own worth, your own self, is huge, and hard, and takes work and clear-eyed evaluation of that work. I’m so glad to read how you look at those book spines and paintings when you need to center yourself on who you really are. That’s the truth, and that’s the spirit. Wonderful important essay, thanks for writing it. love CS


  4. ladynyo Says:

    Hi CS! Ah, shucks. LOL! Thank you~!

    That painting was us ACONs sailing out of the mire of our lives…LOL! No, but we can see it that way. We all need an escape from what plagues us.

    I am so glad you found the essay helpful. I am just at that stage where I am trying to articulate these things, and you know how hard that is…and YES! We shouldn’t have to explain ourselves, about boundaries, but there are times where we have to as offensive as those questions might seen…and they are. But it IS important that we articulate it to ourselves.

    That second part was hardest, because we (ACONs) are generally a jumble about our authenticity….we have had this knocked down over and over by the narcissists in our lives, starting at the earliest memories and experience. The cradle.

    Therapy helped greatly, but it was very slow going. I had to climb over so many preconceived notions about myself, those things so damn ingrained from the narcissists and other people with personality disorders in our lives. It was a case of peeling the onion. We need to get to the essential ‘self’ and see the potential. THis isn’t a given, it’s a journey and helps with a guide. My dear Liz was and is my guide. We live in the shadows of real potential and we need to ‘learn’ and importance of boundaries. There is little said about this issue generally.

    I believe you also restate the most fundamental point: that we were never allowed to set boundaries. We were just damn extensions of the parent(s) and either what we were able to do was either downplayed, dismissed, or used, claimed as an accomplishment of the chief narcissist. We had nothing to claim in reality. Of course, when we ‘mis-behaved’ we were cast out, but damn, when we accomplished something, it was either looked at with great suspicion or immediately claimed as ‘theirs’. That is the fundamental issue with my NM. Pissed that none of the books are dedicated to her, and when she realized it, (the third one) her vemon really came out. Then, the 12 formal paintings in that book were ‘drawings’, and she had already seen them. LOL! No, she lieth. She never saw them. Now this is what Narcissists do: they belittle not only our persons, but they belittle any accomplishment that they know they damn well can’t claim. You know this very well in your own life. And they lie like rugs, but this is part of their pathology. We just have to learn this crap and then they don’t have such withering power over us.

    Ah!~ Boundaries. It is one of the most important issues I think we must have for not only achieving something in our lives for ourselves….but for protection of that creativity and our very survival.

    Funny, looking at those books, the paintings, brought me out of the funk of the Smart Ass debacle. What in hell did I think I was doing there? These people were (not only a few sociopaths, more than some) but they were generally…mediocre people. And a lot who were flaunting their deep anti-social disorders. Hah! I could do better, I could choose better.

    And that is the point. We must make better choices in all spheres for ourselves. That is where boundaries are also so damn internal, besides keeping the shit-folk at bay. We need to examine ourselves and come up with a clear understanding of our limits. Amd we need to hold ourselves to those limits. There are a lot of people, in our families and in the world who will attempt to batter down those boundaries. We will get challenged all the time. It can drive us to a form of violence….emotional violence but violence nonetheless.

    Thank you, CS. You are also one of the women in my life that makes all the difference.

    Love, Jane


  5. czbz Says:

    Hi Jane,

    I loved reading your essay on boundaries because anyone growing up in a narcissistic family will have problems with “healthy boundaries.” They may have overly rigid boundaries or non-existent boundaries depending on the situation. I had pretty good boundaries when it came to the rules my religion taught me but when it came to “intimate” boundaries such as family relationships, I didn’t know jack shit. Pardon the language but whenever the topic of religion comes up, I have an irresistible urge to swear. ;-P

    Your first suggestion to “know who I am and set my limits” will take the rest of my life. I continue figuring out “who” I am as the years strip away false beliefs. Maybe this is true for all human beings but if we grew up in a narcissistic family and then married a rat bazturd, the “unveiling” of our authenticity can be exhilarating (and painful). Sometimes we might not know we aren’t a Smart Ass until we hang out with the real deal and realize we don’t belong.

    Your second suggestion to “center ourselves in who we are” is an important realization. Returning to my trauma during a horrendous Devalue and Discard, I had an epiphany about being a daughter of God that dismissed false labels and erroneous attempts to “fit in”, to “please”. This was the beginning of setting many boundaries that were challenged by someone who did not share the same values (but pretended he did). It’s so easy to get sucked into believing we can influence people who refuse to let anyone affect them—like your smart asses group. some of us run towards problems and some of us run away. Since you seem to be a ‘forward runner” like myself, we have to remember who we are and what we stand for to avoid being sucked into a destructive relationship that takes us away from who we really are.

    Your third suggestion to “base ourselves in what we love and have accomplished” is also insightful! It’s important (especially for ACoNs) to recognize and ADMIT that we have talents and skills and many things to be proud of. Sometimes I worry that by standing out, I’ll be setting myself up for a “knock down.” That might be from my childhood and also from my marriage—narcissistic people attack anyone they view as “better than”. This learned behavior remains unconscious until that horribly creepy moment when you see yourself doing putting your own self down! Then you can stop, take a deep breath, and look at all the things you love doing and involve yourself in passionately. And you know your life has meaning and purpose in spite of feelings of worthlessness.

    You have obviously set important boundaries around your passions because it’s very easy to do “what is required” without ever prioritizing the things we love—the things that other people might disdain—the things we may have been told we were not capable of achieving.

    Great post, I enjoyed (and needed) to read it!



  6. ladynyo Says:

    Hiya CZ!
    I am so glad you could take the time to read this. It feels rather….skinny (the blog entry…nothing skinny on me! LOL) since I wrote it yesterday. It’s funny how there are so many things you could add to something like this….it just keeps going on and on, and the comments here also make me realize that it’s definitely a life long issue.

    First, you are right: When in families or religion we confront overly rigid boundaries, we tend to shy away from instituting our own boundaries because of our distasteful experience. We throw out the necessary baby with the dirty bath water. This brings us to a rather dangerous situation as we mature. I’m old enough to remember the ‘everything goes’ or ‘do your own thing’ which was an invitation to anti-social behavior and also (the first everything goes) was not true!

    “Your first suggestion to “know who I am and set my limits” will take the rest of my life.” This is VERY true because over the course of our lives we develop and change. Our limits I think can be flexible, elastic, but there are some that just can’t be. As humans, we are not poured in concrete. We grow and that is the beauty of life….and goes against some of our experience in the narcissistic household, whether from childhood or a disasterous marriage (and I had one, too)
    So much of our reluctance towards boundaries are a mixture of fear in general, and fear that we will be isolated, alone. And of course, some of us are afraid of being seen as elitist. (Frankly, there is some ‘good’ in this last, but that has to do with assessing your ownself and values. stages here)

    Centering ourselves…boy that’s a hard one. As I wrote it I wondered WTF can I say about this as I have constantly failed in doing so. It takes time and trust in yourself…and that last thing, trust, doesn’t come easy. When we see others not trust us, we adopt bad, shitty stuff…internal tapes, and we must first consider WHO makes those tapes that we listen to. One nasty, cutting statement by another is something that we remember and take into our tissue. I can remember a few things that were so horrible, said by sick people (or people I now know were psychologically compromised) years ago, that they are engraved in my heart. All the praise we get we forget or it’s like chocolate: only lasts until we have digested it. Our brains light up with the insults….that’s scientifically proven. We remember the bad.

    Daughter of God stuff. God, how we try to fit in. Belong. And what we don’t consider is the appropriateness of the groups we are trying to fit in. I think when we are ACONs that this is a life-time issue. Damn, there are so mnay of them! Thank you, Mom and first husband and all the others in a line that extends forward. I need a bowling ball.

    Destructive relationships, groups are legion. We think we can change. I think these groups will self-destruct themselves because look at the participants. LOL! They can’t help but do so, and the whole point of the matter is for us NOT to run towards them, but to run away, run away. But I think also we live out our inferior complexes until we are just tired of it, the abuse, etc, all that crap and we start taking stock of ourselves and our accomplishments. And it’s actually more than that…it’s not only accomplishments but the fight we have had to do for better mental health. Perhaps that is the dividing line between us, the Rat Basturd, the Smart Asses, etc. in the world?

    “Sometimes I worry that by standing out, I’ll be setting myself up for a “knock down.” That might be from my childhood and also from my marriage—narcissistic people attack anyone they view as “better than”.”

    Oh, yeah. Quakers call it: Hiding your Light under a bushel. Not only narcissists attack people who they view as ‘better than’. I think it’s a bad piece of human nature, and it brings up our concerns about elitism. Well, we have to get over that. Our Encounter with Opposition is the reason our Creativity becomes ‘real’….fruitful, born. Now, this is my riff on what Dr. Rollo May says, not actually what he says, but this I feel in my damn bones. I think we all come to some conclusion about our creativity, or our ‘genius’. And we can be expected to be knocked down. Envy is part of that bad side of human nature.

    Oh, CZ! so much of what you said here is just ripe for more discussion and more writing!~ This issue of boundaries is so tied up with so many things, and we need to have more and more discussions on these important issues. And of course, you know that I deeply admire your writings on all things Narcissistic and life in general. And I am pushing you (always) to write your book. I think you and others can do a more complete job of this nature. This essay was just the beginnnings of thoughts about boundaries…it’s such a heavy issue and so necessary for the life and continued health of so many of us.

    And dare I say creativity?

    Thank you, dear friend.

    Love, Jane


  7. TR Says:

    Hi LN,
    Great post and love the painting (“That painting was us ACONs sailing out of the mire of our lives”). How beautiful.

    This is a very hard lesson to learn and teach. Our parents never knew healthy boundaries and it gets passed onto to us. I think you focused on such an important element of having healthy boundaries – self-worth. I don’t think I was ready to understand what that meant for me until I understood self-worth. It has been a struggle to get there and no doubt, some days are hard but I am finding that I can say NO when I feel I am worthy of it. In the end, we are worthy of it but that realization, for me, as been key to actually getting up the courage to say NO.

    I love the three principles you have learned about boundaries. I am still focusing on the first two. The first one for me took a while to hear my gut. It is the old survival instinct that gets dimmed down by years of abuse. And now, the sound is loud so loud I find myself speaking out at the weirdest times. It is such a great feeling, something I will have to understand and learn to balance but the fact that I can feel my instincts for the first time is something to celebrate. It helps so much in knowing who we are. What lines are and helps so much accomplish the third element you discuss. Because at that point all this energy goes into something else. Instead of the abuse, we don’t take it and have time and energy for other stuff that is important to us.

    Great post and so glad you shared it. Love, TR


  8. ladynyo Says:

    Hi TR!

    Well, believe me…even though I wrote that article, I am STILL struggling to apply it. LOL! That’ part of the process….sometimes I feel like the Russian army: one step forward, two steps back. LOL! But ultimately I think, when we are emotionally getting there, health-wise, we are pushed to apply these things.

    Yeah, I know…sometimes I need a filter! LOL! But it’s better because we have suffered the parental abuse in silence for so long, and now we find our voices. And our feet…we can walk away. Most times.

    As for knowing who we are…that takes a long time, but it’s also a process and we can fortify ourselves with setting boundaries as we go. Necessary and with great results for the present and future. We gather courage in doing so, too.

    Thank you, TR. For reading and your comment.

    Love, Jane


  9. TR Says:

    LOL! I need a filter too! I think when something is new and we’re learning it comes in extremes at times. It has been so interesting to see me react to strangers (airplane story) etc and have that anger come out in me in way that says – wait a minute, you crossed my line and it is not acceptable to me. It is something I had never done. This post is so timely and I found it inspiring to continue further into this journey. Hugs, TR


  10. ladynyo Says:

    LOL! Well, I remember your airplane story, and KUDOS to you! We all need to have boundaries and it’s empowering after all.

    And it’s hard to do, neh? But once we start, we are like ….hey! You are walking a thin line, buster! You are violating my boundary! LOL!

    Thanks, TR…for reading and your delightful comments. Glad you are back at home.

    Love, Jane


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