I used to think I was pretty good at setting boundaries. For me, boundaries meant isolating myself from basically anything that caused any amount of fear. It was a pretty misguided approach to living and resulted in… you guessed it… ISOLATION. But damn, I was badass at it!
I am a natural born “people-pleaser”. I have compassion and empathy oozing from my pores. I am the person who will take home leftovers of a meal I have no intention of eating because I do not want the chef or waitstaff to feel bad about their service. It’s next level. But when it comes to my personal life, when I feel like my needs aren’t being met, my inclination is to stop talking and walk away. I am SUPER good at justifying bad behavior because I can completely understand why most people act how they do. I am really good at putting myself in their shoes. This leads to a lot of confusion in my life and a lot of noise to filter through to actually find what the hell it is that I want. In some misguided way walking away puts up a wall and a wall is a boundary, duh!
I just watched Walk the Line, you know the movie about Johnny Cash and June Carter. June is glorious. She is poised and put together, loving and sweet but tough as nails and unwilling to compromise herself. I think I can take a few lessons from June. She was not afraid to walk away because she knew her value and refused to compromise herself, especially in the name of love. She knew how to make boundaries.
What is a boundary really? A boundary is simply an indication of a limit. In relationships though, this often becomes muddied with emotions, especially in romantic relationships where the mystical idea of having no boundaries exists. Maybe that works for some. That hasn’t been my experience yet, and honestly I don’t know that such a thing exists. We have to have boundaries in order to show people how we need to be treated. And we do need to show people how to treat us. There are, again, in my experience, very few people in this world who you meet who just get you and know exactly what to do and say. There is a social and moral code of integrity and honesty that people inherently have, but it is wildly different person to person. This can be a hard pill to swallow especially when we let people into our lives and hearts thinking those codes are the same or similar and we find out later that they are a mismatch. But I digress….
Boundaries. I am starting to love them. I have respect for people that use them. Setting boundaries doesn’t have to be bad or mean, it is simply sticking up for your own moral and ethical compass and it is being authentic in what you want and need. It’s so interesting though to see how people react to boundaries. Some respect them (hopefully this is most of the people in your life), some ignore them and some violently reject them. I have had all three happen within the few weeks. Boundary setting is an amazing way to bring someone’s true colors to the forefront and I think is pretty critical to all relationships.
I am getting pretty efficient at setting boundaries. Each time I do there is this space that is created between me and the person I am setting the boundary with. Space is not bad. It breeds more independence, less co-dependence, and typically gives a sense of empowerment that, ideally, leads to honest, open communication and a strengthening of that relationship.
This week I learned that setting boundaries with people who are pretty involved in your life can be really hard. In fact one boundary that I set I haven’t even voiced out loud to the person yet because, quite frankly, I know I NEED the space but the thought of it breaks my heart a little (you got me, it’s Mr. X). I have to kick my own ass a little to get that one going and if I am being completely honest it is a boundary I should have put up months ago. I have known all along that I needed to do this but I just haven’t had enough momentum or desire to pursue it. And I still don’t, but with the gravity of our relationship shifting, it needs to be done. I know he will take it well. Maybe too well, and that will hurt too. It’s amazing the lengths people will go to to avoid pain. It’s silly really, as pain is the best motivator for growth and he and I have some growing to do. But quite honestly, I have become accustomed to the current set of pain points in our relationship and opening up new voids doesn’t sound fun at all. I haven’t traversed those paths yet and don’t know what to expect… this is why we tend to not set boundaries, or why doing so can be so difficult. Nothing wants to die, especially your old life. We know what to expect, even the shitty parts, and there is comfort in knowing how to navigate those storms. The unknown is far scarier and so much of the reason people stay stuck in their lives. This is not really a way to experience true growth and that is what I have set out to do, so…
I did set a huge boundary with my mother. That was not as hard as I thought it would be.
Let me tell you about my mom. She is a *bit* of a narcissist. She LOVES to play the victim and the martyr. All I ever heard growing up with how I was not what she wanted me to be. Her solution to any disagreement was to scream at me as loud as she could and as long as she could until I was crying in a corner, with the occasional physical altercation thrown in for good measure. Then she would turn on the “caring mom” gene and try to be affectionate. I learned really early on that the only way to get love was through this chaotic interaction. I also learned you get “positive” attention or “love” when there was extreme drama. I watched my dad go from a man to a shell of a human as he gave himself to my mother. In his eyes he was protecting her and loving her. There were/are no boundaries with them. He sacrificed so many bits of himself at her expense. I used to think it was really kind of beautiful… the ultimate sacrifice for someone you love. But it isn’t. It’s really sad actually, sad that he couldn’t help her have a more constructive emotional life and sad that she could never find the awareness to realize how her actions affected people. Ultimately his complacency led to the demise of his individuality. Man, I am going off on tangents today. The point is, I don’t think anyone has set boundaries with my mother. It’s interesting to watch actually as people come and go from her life. It is usually in a pretty forceful manner. She finds all the ways they wrong her and don’t love her and then she cries and plays the victim, my dad comes to her rescue and it becomes them against the world. She has told me the world is out to get her and I am a fool to think it isn’t out to get me. And, fuck….. see… this is why I write this shit out. I also look for love and find a lot of people wanting and distance myself from them. It is different, but the bones are the same and an area I need to work on. My mission tomorrow is to focus on all the ways love shows up in my life. In fact, I’m going to do it right now in this situation. I have NEVER felt loved from my mother. I can however, recognize that she tries to love me, she just doesn’t know how. Her childhood wasn’t easy and in her own way she improved on the childhood that she had through us (me and my brother), so for that I am proud of her. Unfortunately, she seems to think that means all kids need is to not have bodily harm and they are golden. We are talking some bare bones shit here and that she didn’t have that growing up makes me sad for her. I think she truly did the best she could with us.
God damn get to the point… the boundary. Whenever we talk (my mom and me) it ends poorly. There is crying from her as I never “give her what she needs.” I feel judged about pretty much all of my life choices, and we have vastly different views on religion which neither of my parents can figure out how to respect. Every conversation is the same. It starts with some small talk, progresses to me hearing about all the people who are against her, a few jabs at my lifestyle, me not saying much and her getting mad because I won’t let her in. For a few months this year I cut her out of my life completely. It was a really wonderful, palpably less stressful time in my life. So why/how did she come back in? She told me she wanted us to have a relationship and she wanted to work on things. So I cracked the door a little. I ended up texting her a list of things that I needed in order for us to move forward and learn to communicate with each other. Why through text? So there was a written account, an agreement of sorts that we could each come back to. It was a conscious choice and I explained the reasoning behind it to her. The list was all related to communication, it was asking for respectful interactions, shorter call times knowing it wouldn’t all be fixed or addressed in one go and the recognition that we might not be able to come to a healthy place without a mediator. The initial reaction was pretty well received. I was impressed actually. She told me she would get back to me after she had a chance to think on it. Annnddd…. she hasn’t said a word about out in two weeks, and has completely blown through some other boundaries I asked her to respect because as she put it “she’s the mom,” i.e. she is going to do what she wants without respecting me at all.
This boundary thing is harder than it looks. I also find that setting boundaries for the first few times, can be really messy but it gets easier and more freeing. But when someone ignores a boundary that was nicely placed, the next ones are not so forgiving and much less movable. My tolerance for keeping that bullshit in my life is becoming nonexistent.
The other boundary was with a dude at work. I did not handle myself as well as I could have at our initial reaction, I approached him at a time when I knew there would not be productive conversation. In my defense he crossed several lines with me and a client and we all have our limits. He blew through mine pretty head on. I put up a HUGE boundary which ended up involving our HR department. Some people react aggressively when boundaries are laid out. The moral of that story is pick your battles and be prepared to see them through. People that are natural manipulators will do whatever they can to take you down and save face. Even if that means bullying and threatening you.
Okay, okay…. the above tales don’t exactly inspire one to run right out and start setting boundaries. The truth is, none of this “work” is all that easy. It forces confrontation and conversations and sometimes is just down right uncomfortable. BUT it’s so crucial to gaining independence and happiness in life. Speaking your truth and sticking to it feels really refreshing. Anyone in your life that doesn’t want that for you, that cannot see the strength and clarity in boundaries and who cannot support your personal growth isn’t someone that should be in your life.
My suggestion, start small.
“No, I do not in fact want you to supersize me.”
Trust me, you’ll feel better for it, and it will get easier. ❤ ❤