By Dennis Heil
Quite a few people reach out to me in the hopes of gaining some understanding of what their mentally ill loved one is going through. One of the most common strings of questions I receive goes something like this: “Where do I draw the line? How will I know when enough is enough? Where does compassion end and accountability start for destructive behavior?”
There is a simple answer. The line is drawn wherever you want to draw it. That’s as complicated as it needs to be. No one but you can decide what you are willing to deal with. No one but you can decide where your compassion needs to end. You are the only one that can make that decision for yourself, based on your personal circumstances. And if you’re confused and unsure? Get off the internet and talk to a certified mental health counselor about the situation.
There are no internet articles that are going to be able to replace that important knowledge and neutral, third party perspective.
And it would be lovely if the more vocal, compassionate people of the world would stop pushing the romanticized narrative that martyring oneself is a good and noble choice. It’s not. It’s short-sighted and destructive. The stains, wounds, and scars of staying in an abusive situation, regardless of the cause, do not just disappear after. They may linger and continue to be destructive even decades later.
Then you have the generic, blanket advice to clearly state one’s boundary and enforce it. Okay. And if the other person is a skilled manipulator who can gauge how to coast just below that boundary to be destructive, but without overstepping? What about people who have been in emotionally abusive relationships that have been conditioned by an abusive partner to bend their boundaries?
Blanket statements can cause a person to give up far too much information to someone who may be adept at wielding that information as a weapon to harm. Anyone who’s been in an abusive relationship knows that honesty is an impossibility in that kind of situation. That person knows that what they say or do can, will, and often be used against them.
Always be wary of who you discuss the issue of boundaries with and treat their words with skepticism. They are not you. It is so easy for someone sitting outside of the situation to tell you to keep going through hell because they believe it’s the compassionate or right thing to do, when they aren’t the one suffering. That’s not their decision to make for you.
And in my personal experience, having listened to the survivors of these situations for years now, women tend to get the worst end of that. For men, it’s typically, “She’s crazy. You should dump her.” For women, it’s typically, “You need to be more supportive and understanding. It’s your job to keep things together.” Which is total BS on so many levels.
Draw the line wherever you want. You are the only one that can decide what you are willing to suffer through. No one else is going to live your life 24/7. No one else is going to have to deal with the consequences of that choice. You are your own person. No one has the right to tell you how compassionate you should or shouldn’t be.
Anyone that would criticize you for choosing your own survival and well-being is not worth listening to.
Editor’s Note: Dennis Heil is the author of the refreshingly insightful and blunt books What They Don’t Tell You About Bipolar Disorder and Everyday Instability and Bipolar Disorder and his informative blog can be found at bipolarmanifesto.com