7 Things I Learned About Healthy Boundaries in 2018

In this first Monday of 2019, I look back on the past year and think about all that has transpired. At the beginning of 2018 my intention was to make it the year of a self-worth crusade. Ironically I learned this lesson by allowing myself to be used, manipulated, controlled, devalued, and discarded by a number of people. 

A part of me is ashamed that I could be so blind as to allow false friends into my life. The mindful part of me knows that I need to be loving and gentle with myself in the knowledge that I was in a deeply vulnerable place — I had been isolated from normal human contact for a year and a half prior, seriously ill, and not always in my right mind from the microbes running rampant in my brain. 

Gold Millennial Writer Angela Russo receiving treatment for lyme disease


All I wanted was true friendship. Companionship. People willing to share life with me every week as though I could leave the apartment to be with them. The quest for lifelong friends has been a complex and difficult journey for me. A combination of being an empath and unfortunate past experiences has made me more susceptible to the callous ways of narcissists, and in my lonely state I painted all the red flags white in the desperation for connection and community.

I’m not proud of it all the same. I’ve been through therapy and mindfulness training and I know that I should know better. The thing is, when we are lonely, it is all too easy for us to put on the blinders and shut out the voice of truth.

At the end of the day, I’ve made some mistakes and allowed myself to be used, but my self-worth crusade has been an unexpected success. I sat down to write this blog on the last day of 2018 no longer willing to tolerate abuses. Instead of venting and crying about all that has transpired, I choose instead to celebrate what I’ve learned in concrete terms. I know several things to be true:

1. Expectations Are Not a Negative Thing

Colorful chalk art on blacktop saying "be Kind"

So many people say, “If you don’t have expectations, you can’t be disappointed.” To a certain degree, and in a specific context, yes. You need to have enough self-worth and independence to be able to handle a “no,“ now and then, and unfortunately, the reality is, people will let you down in life even when you legitimately need them. But this expression is NOT to be misused as a get out of jail free card. That is manipulation.

It is healthy to set standards and expectations of loving consistent behavior for every relationship. These are called boundaries — How you are and are not willing to be treated, communicated with, and the frequency and duration of these interactions. If someone violates these terms and conditions, they are no longer allowed the privilege of my time, attention, and energy.

That being said, it is unnatural for us to live alone. Whether you go by biblical standards or the biological anthropological evidence put forth by leadership experts like Simon Sinek and organizational psychologist Adam Grant, people are meant to live and thrive in a trustworthy safe community.

In order for our community to be considered safe, there are certain behaviors that we must be able to expect or trust will be in place. Friendship is not unconditional! This phrase gives someone free-reign to wreak havoc in your life.

Trust and expectation are integral to one another. If you cannot expect anything of someone, then you cannot trust them.



2. Childhood Abuse Doesn’t Excuse Present-Day Toxicity

Cartoon wordle of children made up with negative self-worth words

I have deep empathy for people who have endured abuses and traumas over the years. I understand the source of their negative behaviors and have created the unfortunate habit of turning a blind eye to them out of compassion. I now know this is a form of passive enabling and poor boundaries. It is not healthy to simply overlook an offense if it serves to perpetuate and reinforce toxicity.

We are all responsible for our own behaviors. There is no excuse for a double standard, changing the rules based on our own comfort level, or living by your own selfishly concocted parameters. Truth is not relative and neither is healthy behavior. When we are adults it is our responsibility to take charge of our own instability and rectify it with the help of a licensed mental health professional.

(Quick sidebar: I emphasize the word licensed, because there are many MLM organizations and self-help cults out there masquerading as authoritative sources of healing and personal transformation. Do your research, and ensure that whoever you go to for help is licensed and accredited by a medically recognized psychological association. Studies show that for individuals with personality disorders and/or multiple concurrent mental health issues, it takes 12-18 months of weekly therapy to achieve effective results. Don’t be deluded by charismatic marketing and grand promises. Sustainable change takes hard work and time with a certified professional).

Trauma in the past or even present day is not a carte blanche to behave in a toxic manner with others. We are responsible for ourselves and accountable to (first God) and then the people in our lives.


3. Love is Unconditional but Trust Must be Earned and Then Maintained

The word trust written in sand

Words have power and must be wielded with care. If you speak something and do not fulfill it, that is an abuse of trust. I am no longer willing to trust in words alone. It is healthy and wise to wait for people to prove themselves before handing over your trust. When someone breaks your trust, forgiveness may be immediate, but trust must be earned and rebuilt over time. You are under no obligation to trust anyone blindly. This is unhealthy and unsafe. When someone has broken your trust, remember that a genuine apology has three distinct parts: 

  1. “I’m Sorry” 
  2. “It was all my fault, how can I make it up to you?”
  3. Taking immediate action that makes amends

4. Discomfort is a Sign of Toxicity — Theirs or Yours

Millennial woman under stress with emotional words over

Whenever you feel burdened by something or someone it means one of two things: 

1. There is an area of life where you need to learn, strengthen and grow, cultivating healthier behaviors and communications.

2. The other person is manipulating you.

Learning to discern the difference is where a therapist comes into play. In general, people communicate how they value you through their actions more than their words. Pay attention to what they say by how they act. Don’t allow them to talk you into accepting their abuse.


5. Reciprocity is a Necessary Component of any Healthy Relationship

Two Millennials making a heart with their arms

This is not to say that you should be actively keeping score — that would be toxic. In a healthy relationship, a positive feedback loop naturally develops where each person involved responds equally in some form or other. As people are unique, they may not always reciprocate in identical fashion, but since everyone has a unique love language, they will often respond in a way that they know imparts equally deep meaning for the other person.

This process is organic in healthy individuals, but foreign to many who have developed various personality disorders. Be wary of these individuals as they may claim the unhealthy mantra of no expectations from #1, often coupled with the phrase, “Give more than you take!” and proceed to suck you dry. It is unhealthy and unloving to give more than you take in your closest relationships. Granted, there are many shifting seasons of life where time and energy resources fluctuate, but the healthy people who truly love you will find a way to compensate for the shift in interactions to continue investing in the relationship, and maintaining trust.


6. Healthy Relationships Develop Slowly Over Time

Millennial friends having a picnic, men and women

This is one of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned this year. Due to my past, I’ve been conditioned to believe that an intense initial connection is indicative of a special bond. Therapy and wise words from a true friend have helped me realize that this has left me vulnerable to something known as love-bombing.

This is a documented tactic of narcissists where they facilitate an epic connection for the first 6 months to a year of the relationship/friendship, and then begin to pull the rug out from under you with manipulation, “logic,” and disappearing acts, basically becoming someone you don’t recognize. They’re experts at creating a “trauma-bond,” as part of the idealize, devalue, discard cycle of toxicity.

If you’ve ever had someone in your life transform from into a different person, you’re not crazy — you probably became friends with (or dated) a narcissist. Healthy relationships are built slowly and maintained over time by spending time together.

There are also different levels of friendship in every circle. It is natural and healthy to have many different types of friendships in life, and to take time to mindfully discern who is what kind of friend. There are lifelong friends, close friends, recreational friends, (often known as  fair-weather friends) work friends, casual friends, and acquaintances.

Each serves a specific role in our lives, and this is a role that they earn and maintain over time. It is important to be able to trust and expect certain healthy things from the people in our lives, but we cannot expect everyone to be every kind of friend. It is unwise to trust fair-weather and casual friends with the same things we would confide in our lifelong and close friends. This is indicative of poor boundaries.


7. Worth is Intrinsic


I don’t have to prove my worth by having some new adventure or project to share, or a new accomplishment under my belt. Even if there’s been nothing new to share, I am worthy of consistent connection and open honest direct communication. I am a commodity, and so is everyone.

There is no one like you or me. One day the creator of the universe said, I think I’ll create a ________. We are daughters and sons of the most high king, treasured children of God. As God shook the dust off his feet, so may we shake a person out of our life if they break their word, refuse to communicate, violate our boundaries, manipulate, control, or abuse us in any way.

The people who truly love you don’t need a reason to reach out to you. They seek you out simply because they want to spend time with you even in silence over Skype working on different things, sending a video message with a random musing, or coming over for half an hour to have a cup of tea when you’re sick and loopy.

They’ll be there to support you and lift you up when you’re in crisis without question, there to celebrate you in milestone times of joy, and there to share the humdrum day to day. True friends respect your needs and make time to invest in the relationship. Because you’re worth it.

New Year New Life

Blue sky and clouds with red and white heart balloons floating

As 2019 unfolds before me, I walk forward stronger in the lessons learned. It is not selfish to have standards for behavior, and enforce healthy boundaries. Being human is a lifelong journey of transformation and growth. It is our responsibility to speak up and advocate for ourselves and our fellow man. I am a firm believer in turning messes into a message, so I write what I have learned as a reminder for myself and others. We were created to serve and love one another. That starts with loving ourselves enough to learn how to set positive standards and boundaries. 

Happy New Year Millennials! May your year be blessed with wisdom, love, peace, and true friendship. What did you learn in 2018? Share with us in the comments!

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