Boundaries, Hyper-Sensitivity, Thin Skin and Healing

Boundary injuries and weakening are extremely common in those who have grown up in dysfunctional homes and/or communities where there is bullying and manipulation. One of the results of this can be "hyper-sensitivity" to other people's words and behaviors. If our boundaries are weak, or injured, we will of course be more reactive in order to protect ourselves.

Our personal boundary is like a psychological/spiritual/emotional version of physical skin. Both are our essential protection; boundaries protect our "selves", and skin protects our bodies. Both sense and feel everything that touches us, either emotionally/mentally/spiritually OR literally and physically. If something hits us too hard, it causes discomfort or pain, which causes us to take some kind of action, usually evasive maneuvers, which minimize the damage to what is essential and sensitive underneath.

So one of the consequences to having weakened boundaries can be what looks like "hyper-sensitivity". But really, we have to be more vigilant if our boundaries are weak in order to protect ourselves. If I had burns all over the skin on our right arm, I would be "hyper-aware" of letting anyone come near it, and "hyper-vigilant" of brushing against anything with it. I would change the way I walk and go about literally everything in order to protect that right arm. I would transfer most tasks to the left arm, and lead my whole body with my left side. I would essentially be hiding my right arm from the world, protecting it. If something did touch or scratch it, I would already know the pain would probably be ridiculous, and any scratch could cause more damage and/or infection.

If someone came up to me and slapped me on the right arm, even in jest, "Hey how are ya!" I would probably jump to the ceiling. Most likely, I would feel searing pain, and because of that, searing anger and defensiveness. I probably would not realize or care at that moment that the person had no idea I had been burned. I might start yelling at the person, blaming them, even cursing them out, with no remorse or guilt. Even though they truly did not know.
I am in hyper-defense mode.
IF that person had done exactly the same thing a week earlier, I would have barely even noticed that she slapped me on the arm, and I would have no negative emotional reaction at all. Same exact action from HER, completely different from ME.

I would probably not go anywhere that seemed like a risk, where I couldn't protect my arm. I would be anxious at the store, at work, even walking down the street. I would be "hyper-vigilant" about other people's behavior and actions, and I would not trust them not to brush by me, run into me, or scratch me, either accidentally or because they're a jerk.

If I saw someone who was acting like a bully in any way, I would really be worried, because I have a lot of experience with bullies. If this bully notices my burned arm, it is MORE likely he or she will do something to try to hurt it, just for kicks. And if this bully does NOT notice my burned arm, he or she might hurt it anyway just from their regular bull-in-a-china-shop behavior. Either way, if someone is acting like a bully, I will go into hyper-protection mode and get my arm out of there.

We protect our boundaries in the same way. When we have weakened or injured boundaries, we go into hyper-protection mode. We have to, because they are not strong and healthy enough to withstand the slings and arrows of regular every-day human behavior. And like the awful pain when the friend slapped the burned arm, our weakened boundaries can't tell the difference between a joking slap and a hostile slap, they both are just very painful.
In reality, human beings are not nearly as mature and gentle as the High Elves in Lord of the Rings, or as sweet and lovely as Tinkerbell, we're more like a bunch of clumsy monkeys. Even the nicest, kindest, and most giving humans can come off as callous or uncaring sometimes. When our boundaries are weak we can misinterpret a clumsy human for an uncaring human, or a funny human for an arrogant human, or even a worried or scared human for a grumpy or mean human. We might defend ourselves from those who aren't actually trying to hurt us, like defending ourselves from the friend slapping the burn (who didn't know). We might see another person as much more dangerous than they are, much more hostile than they are, or much more POWERFUL than they are, because we are in hyper-protective mode.

Just like our skin, we need our boundaries, and we need them to be healthy in order to navigate the world. If our skin is healthy we don't really even think about it, we even forget it's there half the time; we work and run and jump and walk, we carry things, we run into corners and walls and brush against trees without even paying much attention (imagine doing all that with severe burns~). If our skin is healthy, we can even get in a play-scuffle with a friend, or play with the dog or cat and handle their claws and teeth, or hike through underbrush and thick trees, or swim in the ocean, go outside in the winter, or get pelted with hail or paintballs. Healthy skin absorbs nutrients, is actually ALIVE, and feels everything from very pleasant to very unpleasant as a NORMAL function.
If our skin is NOT healthy, we're probably going to stay inside and hardly do any of those things, because we need to protect it until it heals.

If our boundaries are strong and healthy, we can joke with our friends, poke fun and laugh at our own "flaws" and "foibles", deal with condescending strangers, get what we need at the store without anxiety, deal with arrogant "professionals" with aplomb, drive without getting very angry or frustrated, deal with bullies in person, online, or on the phone with finesse and with very little anger or anxiety. We don't worry and stress much about what other people are doing or not doing, even our partners, kids and family members, unless we actually have a serious alarm bell going off, like "danger" or "robbery" (and those bells should be going off very rarely; if they're frequent, there's another problem, either yours or theirs; see a professional psychologist).

We don't worry nearly as much about what "consequences" other people will give us if we don't jump through their hoops or cater to them. We are much more likely to notice manipulative behavior, and much less likely to take it seriously. We are much less likely to let it stop us, block us, or dissuade us from completing our projects, reaching our goals, or having a good day. (It's more like ~"what are you doing that for?" or ", I have to go, see you later"~ THAN ~"oh no, here we go again" or "I can't do this it's too stressful" or "I hate him/her!" or "I hope they don't get mad".~)

We don't have to fake being calm, cool and collected; with healthy boundaries we actually ARE calm, cool and collected most of the time.
We don't have to put up a "tough" image to keep bullies away before they even come near~ that is a form of hyper-protection, and we don't need to do that if our boundaries are intact and healthy.
IF our boundaries are very healthy and strong, we won't even NOTICE a lot of the silliness that other people do, and if we do notice, it won't slow us down or stop us even for a minute, unless it actually interests us for some reason. Just like walking through the woods with or without a burned arm~  without the burn, we just go, we navigate and maneuver, but we don't get caught on branches or have to keep going around or cutting down anything prickly or scratchy. We just go THROUGH. Because it doesn't HURT, and we're not protecting an injury.   

It's easy to see why serious bullies, controllers and abusers TRY to weaken, damage, or strip away the boundaries of their targets. It renders them "skinless", and they end up much easier to control because they are in protection-mode, and feel weak and confused.
The most effective way to heal and to keep OUT bullies and narcissistic abusers, and to get LIFE back, is to focus on healing our own boundaries. Not building walls, not barricading ourselves, and not being "hard", defensive or hostile, but real healing. It can definitely be done, and it's truly essential for real recovery.
And... it feels like FREEDOM :)  (because it is!)