When is it a boundary and when it is just game-playing?

Talking with a friend this week who was very proud of having learned the concept of boundaries and put in place some healthy limits in his life. Then, I got to thinking… we all understand that having boundaries that say “no” to hurting yourself are a good thing. It is healthy to be able to delineate your issues from others’ issues and not to take on their problems where it is unhealthy. The books on boundaries discuss this in terms of relationships, families, parenting, etc. I recommend you read up if this is a new concept to you (well, if you are from the western cultural world anyway… may be completely irrelevant to the rest of the world).

However, in all the thinking, I asked… “When is it a boundary and when it is just game-playing?” Let me explain. If someone asks a question I do not want to answer because I feel it is not their business, then that is definitely a boundary. I avoid the question or change the topic, keep my boundary in place. Healthy. BUT when someone asks a question I am uncomfortable with because its just a touchy topic for me, and I don’t answer because I say its about boundaries, well, then is it a boundary or is it just game-playing?

Somehow the feeling that someone has gone from just being clear about boundaries to straight gaming is a bad one…so we don’t want to judge, we don’t address it…just let it slide. Then what was a healthy relationship with healthy boundaries becomes unhealthy…the boundaries are there, but they are more to invoke game-playing than to actually assist in keeping a healthy sense of self or healthy relationships.

What do you think? Is there such a thing as boundaries becoming a controlling game-playing move in a relationship?

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5 Comments on “When is it a boundary and when it is just game-playing?”

  1. MJ Says:

    I think it is the shifting of boundaries that causes the problems. If two people have ways of relating that seems strange to others it probably doesn’t matter as long as the two of them have an understanding of where the “boundaries” are. But what’s fixed today but fuzzy tomorrow and then fixed again (maybe) on Thursday – that is a problem. that’s the game playing.

  2. netc23 Says:

    hmmm game playing or just misnaming? if you said “I’m uncomfortable answering that” that’s not a game. we don’t have to answer if we don’t want to or are uncomfortable. just because someone asks a question we always have the perogative to say I don’t want to answer that, right?

    that being said there are times when people say I’m uncomfortable with that and its manipulation because supposedly none of us want to make people feel uncomfortable, right?

    • angelvalerie Says:

      Hi, thanks for stopping by.. I think that we should have the right to answer or not answer. However, when it comes to creating conversations where people ask questions, then playing the “boundary line” card, that is where I think I am starting to see game-playing. If there is something I do not wish to talk about, I usually avoid the subject or say “I don’t want to talk about it now, maybe another day?”. However, I noticed one person in particular who regularly goes down the road of conversations, then suddenly does the “oh, I am drawing a boundary now” line. And it is not on the same topic, so I am wondering if that is about controlling the conversation rather than actual boundaries. Any insight?

      • Margo Says:

        In my experience in relationships with people, if it feels like it is a game they are playing, then it likely IS game playing. My word for that is just plain manipulation. Perhaps it is an attention getting device? Do they seem to not so secretly want you to ask them more about the subject where they claim to be drawing a boundary? Do they just seem to want to change the subject so they can have the pleasure of hearing their own voice more? It could stem from so many motives, but the lack of consistency does seem like they are enjoying yanking someone’s chain, so to speak.

      • angelvalerie Says:

        Good to hear from you Margo. Thanks for your comments, I think you captured what started me thinking about this. People are complicated, aren’t they?


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