“Evaluating the benefits and drawbacks of any relationship is your responsibility. You do not have to passively accept what is brought to you. You can choose.”
– Deborah Day
Many of you know that I am a reality TV junkie and I'm fascinated by scammers and catfishing. Bad Vegan on Netflix is an intoxicating combination of these two.
What makes a person a prime target for being taken advantage of is usually poor emotional boundaries coupled with cohesive control. Perpetrators of coercive control are attracted to people with poor boundaries.
The early stages of any relationship or friendship are the honeymoon or grooming stages. Everyone is on their best behaviour and responds appropriately. Your new partner can appear to meet all of your needs. Then as time goes on standards, begin to slide and things begin to change.
In the case of Sarma and Anthony, he knew that she had just come through a difficult financial situation with her business and that she had just ended a romantic relationship.
Sarma had a strong need to feel protected, and longed for someone to rescue her financially. Anthony appeared to meet all of those needs, so despite the red flags, she moved forward and married him only months after meeting him.
A person with healthy boundaries will notice the red flags and they will set a boundary immediately. A person with poor boundaries will second guess themselves, question what they are experiencing, be more attached to the time they have already invested, and hold on to the belief that the red flags are just a one-off or an exception. They also hold onto a fantasy about the potential of the relationship.
Sarma never really challenged Anthony's story. Not only was he violating her boundaries, but his behaviours were typical of coercive control.
A person may exert control by deciding what someone wears, where they go, who they socialise with, what they eat and drink, and what activities they take part in. The controlling person may also demand to gain access to the partner’s computer, mobile phone, or email account. The perpetrator may also try to convince their partner that they want to check up on them because they love them.
Maintaining emotional and psychological autonomy is a healthy part of every relationship, and although the over-controlling can feel like love, this is a hallmark of boundary violation.
Express in no uncertain terms that as an adult, you no longer look to another person to make these decisions for you. Be very firm in this, as the above behaviours are usually the beginning of coercively controlling and DV relationships.
Exerting financial control
This occurs when a person controls someone’s access to money and does not allow them to make financial decisions. This can leave a person without food or clothing and make it harder for them to leave the relationship.
My first spiritual teacher was emphatic that a woman should always control her own finances and I am in strong agreement with this. If you are already in this situation, begin to create opportunities to start earning and storing away your own money. It could be as simple as doing paid work online or helping a neighbour, that allows you access to funds that your partner is unaware of.
If you have a joint bank account keep that for bills and utilities but make sure you have a separate account that your partner has no access to.
Isolating the other person
A controlling person may try to get their partner to cut contact with family and friends so that they are easier to control. They may also prevent them from going to work or school.
Always remember that your friends and family were in your life before you met your partner and more likely will be there if this relationship ends. Prioritise your relationships with family and close friends and set them as a non-negotiable in your relationship.
It's normal that we want to spend more time with our partner than with our family or even our friends but there's a huge red flag if our partner tries to control this contact.
It's crucial to remain in contact with family and friends as they are more likely to notice important changes in us because emotional attachment can create blind spots in our perspective.
Insulting the other person
Insults serve to undermine a person’s self-esteem. This may involve name-calling, highlighting a person’s insecurities, or putting them down. Eventually, the person experiencing this abuse may start to feel as though they deserve the insults.
I often repeat this motto to my clients, "We teach people how to treat us."
It's crucial that we set a boundary the very first time our partner displays any of the above.
It's never OK for someone who claims to love you to undermine your self-esteem. Call them out on their behaviour immediately. By not doing so, you are setting the standard for future behaviour. Something as simple as, 'you probably don't mean it but please don't talk to me like that. I find it really disrespectful and demeaning' is sufficient.
Most of us can learn to set boundaries but the challenging part is not only setting the boundary but how to hold our boundaries.
Here are some tips for holding a boundary.
Once you state the boundary stick to it
Acknowledge the uncomfortable feelings
Stay with the feeling that the other person might retaliate
Follow through the next time someone violates your boundaries
Afterburn is the uncomfortable feeling you get after setting a boundary.
Afterburn or a vulnerability hangover is a gut-wrenching feeling that happens the moment you decide to get real about who you are, what you want, and how you want to be treated. You start feeling it: something gnawing deep inside the pit of your stomach, followed up by immediate regret, topped with an overwhelming sense of panic. God, what did I just do?
It's important not to back down when you experience these feelings. It'll pass, just acknowledge the feelings. The feeling of afterburn will get less each time you don't react to it.
To continue your work on boundaries, join me this Sunday from 10 am - 11.30 am for my online workshop, Boundary Boot Camp!, Learn How to Say NO without Apology.
Alternatively, if you prefer to do this process at your own pace and time, check out my self-paced version