Post has been updated, Friday, July 11.
What a long hot summer, and still only part way to the end. We are all prone to smoldering, in some instances flammable.
Since putting up my fly-fishing post I’ve been thinking again about personal boundaries, the lines we all have both consciously and unconsciously, how easily those boundaries can be violated and how we can step on others’ toes without being aware of it
My neighbor recently went into orbit because I left him a voice-mail late at night requesting he not run his AC late, when I was worried about it overheating.
When I went over to try to apologize, he refused to let me speak. I found this unacceptable and I flipped him off– in turn, doing something unacceptable. He proceeded to tell people I ordered him not to run his air conditioner; that’s a lie.
Rather than being willing to sit down to clear the air with direct apologies from both sides, they have elected to trudge to and from their unit by going a–l–l– the way around from their back door to their vehicles, enacting a little drama.
If I had known he was going to blow a fuse, if I had known that he would feel so injured and inconvenienced, if two people I’ve interacted with in civility and good will for three years think it’s the end of the world to get a late night call, I certainly wouldn’t have done it. I did it when I was stressed, worried and tired, and I’m not perfect. I rather think they, these two young people I admired before all of this happened, are getting off on being angry. It’s all about them, how inconvenienced they were and are. And yesterday, two weeks out from the original misunderstanding, M, the young woman in this couple, came barreling in to the laundry room and moved my wet towels out of her way, throwing them into the dryer so that she could start a load of laundry.
This isn’t o.k. with me. Accordingly, I put up a note: “Dear Fellow Tenants: feel free to let me know if my laundry is in your way rather than moving it. Thanks.”
I taped this note to the door, whereupon M pitched a fit, slamming doors and swearing at me through her window. Say what?
But I’ve seen that out of these and other reckonings with human interaction, in addition to heartache and stress, come a number of considerations and lessons if we but look for them– i.e., Isn’t it true that when our buttons are pushed and we react, it is because something has taken place or been said to us that violates our idea of the acceptable?
I realized then that perhaps I could identify my own implicit boundaries by looking at the things that upset me. So I tried an exercise. I journaled, beginning each sentence with It’s not o.k. with me and will never be o.k. to ….whatever it was or is.
Little did I know that I would write for four hours, typing furiously away.
What I came up with was enlightening and liberating and I suggest that anyone interested in a. getting a whole lot of stuff off your chest and b. coming to terms with what is and is not acceptable to you in all areas of your life, what it is reasonable to ask of yourself and others and what is not, try this exercise.
As I’ve stated many times on this blog, in a dysfunctional family everyone is in everyone else’s business. It’s hard to tell where one person ends and another begins. People are over-engaged, enmeshed, trying to control each other and getting exactly nowhere. It’s a nightmare.
It has also occurred to me that if we remain in relationships in which our boundaries are repeatedly violated but are perhaps unaware that this is a source of pain and anger, we are cheating ourselves. As difficult as it is to examine whether our needs are getting met, are respected, by someone we love and have committed ourselves to, what is the point of treading water?
Boundaries and needs are closely related; If I need you not to talk down to me and render your unsolicited opinion, that’s both a boundary and a need. Just as you have the right to ask me not to use profanity around you, I have the right to ask you not to pick your nose or joyfully break wind in my presence. It’s not o.k. for you to do those things around me and I need for you not to do them.
Seriously… but at any rate, I will share some of my list– all of the items on it derived from a myriad of experiences with other members of my species over the past few years. This list will seem like a host of conditions to people without boundaries and/or people who have never had psychotherapy or treatment of any kind. But it seems to me that a healthy person is someone who knows what he or she is about, what she needs, and instinctively, how to treat others with civility and respect.
Certainly I have a messy backyard of my own to clean up in this department. Even as I express my heretofore unexpressed boundaries derived from the things that continue to cause me pain when I think about them, or that I relive, I see that I too must bring my own words and deeds into accord with the same boundaries others have and are entitled to have respected. And, many of us have superating wounds going back years, abuse and betrayal scenarios we relive, that plague us. In such instances, getting more help seems the obvious answer.
Here then, are excerpts from my notes.
It is not o.k. with me and never will be o.k. with me as follows:
To disregard or ignore my boundaries when I have made them clear, i.e. please don’t stop over without calling me. Please do not put my business in the street.
To opine about my personality and actions. If I want your input or help, I will ask. I am not open to unsolicited advice or commentary. Period.
Unless you’re my therapist and I’m paying you, to use labels from the DSM any edition upon me.
It is therefore not o.k. and never will be o.k. to bandy about the terms mental illness, mentally ill, or apply it in any way to me, refer to my “unhappy childhood,” play therapist if you aren’t one, or in any other way to attempt to throw what I have in all likelihood shared privately with you, up in my face.
To use the word “behavior” in reference to me or anything related to me, especially in speaking to me.
To use the word “abuse” in reference to me or anything related to me.
To use the word “appropriate” in reference to me or anything related to me.
All of the above are “loaded” words and they wound.
It is also not o.k. and never will be o.k.
To say or do something hurtful and then deny it,
To address me in a rebuking manner that takes me to task/fault finds.
To make rushes to judgement without getting my side of the story.
To violate my confidence.
To distort my words.
To act as if I’m someone to avoid and fear, thereby scapegoating me.
To shame me, making me feel that I am shameful.
To ridicule me for my fears.
To speak to others about things concerning me without my direct involvement in my own welfare in any setting.
To be coercive and manipulative and betray my trust when I have made myself vulnerable.
To cut off communication with me without trying first to work things out.
To diss me.
To use me, i.e. availing yourself of the services of my house and disappearing.
To exclude me, leave me out, reject me.
To state or act as if I’m solely at fault.
To not look at your part and own it in any given conflict or misunderstanding.
Everything on my list seems to me to have to do with psychological and physical space and the right to feel and be safe in the world.
Having good boundaries does not mean that people close to you have to walk on eggshells. It means that people interact with each other respectfully and not in manipulation or with an agenda to wound/inflict pain.
In the course of telling everyone else what they shouldn’t do to me, here’s what I know and promise to attempt to not do to the Other:
When upset, I will refrain from cutting someone down or taking my depression et al out on X. I will not call you names. I will not yell and scream and throw things. I will not threaten. I will not try to control or talk down to anyone. I will attempt to bite my tongue and turn the other cheek when you make a mistake. I will try to forgive you when something you do inconveniences me or violates one of my boundaries. And so on.
Many of us are very selfish. I see so much of me in my neighbors, how our impasse is about them, and how put out they are. They’re healthy mobile young people; I’m grey-haired, twice their age, and I wear two braces and use a cane. Where’s the respect? Where’s the Golden Rule? Especially toward someone in her Golden Years?
Again, these things all seem about common decency, on both sides. But we have to let each other make mistakes, and if we can’t accept our own mistakes we surely will not accept others’.
We have the option of making our needs known thusly: “I need for you to or not to. This is as close as we can come, using an “I” statement, to expressing a need in a way that doesn’t feel like a demand.
I look at our brave president and I ask myself how on earth he is able to ignore or seems to ignore the terrible things said about him every day, including outright lies that everyone knows are lies.
I think he might just have enough self-confidence and self-respect to not need to even acknowledge an insult. And he’s probably far more vulnerable to criticism from Michelle than Mitch McConnell, lol.
But what astounding freedom that would be, to not be vulnerable in the ways some of us who are trauma survivors are.
In the future, I hope that I and others like me–people who have to grow themselves up over years of trial and error– can have a heart to heart about each others’ boundaries and needs. Imagine how that could pave the way for solid and happy friendship and relationships.
It would become immediately evident– before years of heartache and misunderstanding have won the day–as to whether two people are compatible or not, or whether or not a friendship or relationship could last for the duration. This makes the case for not falling into “love”/lust/becoming intimate with someone before getting to know him, for not automatically trusting people you don’t know well, and more.