By Joyce Alexander, RNP (retired)
Back in the days when wars were fought with bows and arrows, swords and slings, soldiers wore armor to protect themselves from the enemy’s weapons. Various kinds of armor were designed to protect the soldiers, while at the same time giving them the ability to move. At each of the places that were left open so that the soldier could move, there was a “chink” in the armor. This was where an enemy’s arrow, spear tip or sword could pierce between the plates on either side. So the term “chink in the armor” came to mean the places where we were vulnerable to attack, even though we were covered everywhere else by protective armor.
As far as I know, there was never any perfectly designed armor that would totally protect a soldier from weapons. Even the tanks and humvees of modern times, along with the “bullet proof vests” worn by our soldiers and policemen, don’t totally protect them from attack by enemies.
Our own armor
Each of us has some boundaries to protect us. Just as armor is for protection of soldiers, the boundaries are for protecting us in dealing with others … both friends and enemies. Boundaries are the armor that we use to keep others from wounding us. Boundaries prevent others from getting too close, stabbing us emotionally or piercing us to the core financially.
Of course, these boundaries keep people from closer, more intimate contact as well. The more boundaries we have between us and someone else, the less intimate we can be with them, the less trusting. However, we must have some boundaries with all other people … some limits that we place on how those people treat us, even people we love.
Boundaries in intimate relationships
In most marriages, one boundary is that sexual intimacy is reserved for the two of them only. This boundary is fairly frequently broken, though, with statistics showing that 60% of married men and 40% of married women have, at one time or another, violated that boundary at least once.
What is the consequence of violation of that boundary? Will trust ever be totally restored between those two people if that boundary is violated?
Another (usually) unspoken boundary between people who are in an intimate, loving relationship is that there will be no physical violence between them. Too frequently in our country, we read in the newspapers where this boundary is broken and domestic violence occurs. Should a person who has experienced physical violence from someone they love and are romantically involved with give that person another chance? And another?
Where do we draw the line?
Chinks in our armor
The “chinks in our armor” are those places between our boundaries were others can sink their weapons and wound us to the core. There is no way that any one person can have enough boundaries to protect themselves from any wound, physical or emotional, from everyone they know. If we could have, we would be like the soldier who was so encased in plate steel that he could not move, but was trapped inside a metal statue.
Sometimes though, the chinks in our armor are so large that we are very easily wounded, because our armor (boundaries) are so flimsy or loose that it is easy for a person to get around them and sink an arrow into our hearts. When we don’t set boundaries that protect us, we allow others to treat us with contempt and have no respect for our individuality. No respect for our person-hood. When this happens, people can repeatedly treat us with hostility and get away with it.
Having “reasonable boundaries” (and deciding what those boundaries are) is important for our healthy development. We must be able to stick by those boundaries when the going gets tough and people try to circumvent them. We must be able to stand up to someone and say, “I will not allow you to treat me that way,” or “If you want to have a relationship with me, then I must be able to trust you.” And mean it. We must be willing to walk away if someone is not willing to treat us with respect.
I’ve heard many (mostly) women say, “Well I took a vow ’til death do us part and I have to stick to it” when their husbands were cheating on them, beating on them, and not supporting their children. I never really understood why these women felt that their vows were important to keep, when their mate’s were out the window. The chinks in their armor were so wide that there literally was no armor, they just stood there while their spouses repeated “stabbed” them over and over.
It’s hard setting boundaries. I know. I’ve stayed when I should have gone. I’ve waffled when I should have stood firm. I’ve given in when I should have kept on fighting. But I’m learning. Day by day, as the occasion arises, I am learning to stand up for myself and to require others to treat me with the same kind of respect that I accord them. I am realizing that many times people will only treat me as well as I insist that they do. For those that won’t treat me well no matter what I do, then I just have to write those people out of my life.
I’ve come to realize that no vow I took, and no DNA donation I’ve received or made, allows others to treat me with contempt or disrespect. I’ve come to realize what my boundaries are, what I will tolerate and what I won’t, and to draw the line in the sand and stick by it. It will probably always be difficult, because I didn’t learn healthy boundary setting as a child. But the more I practice it the better I get, and the easier it is.
So close up some of those chinks in your boundary armor, and you’ll end up with fewer wounds to treat later.