So, I follow a blogger that I find particularly motivational. And I really enjoy the different memes/advice/slogans she posts on a daily basis. Today, she posted something, that kind of hits close to home for me and it is a struggle I haven’t quite figured out just yet. You can check out her statement on boundaries here.
This topic hits very close to home for me, because I am not so good at setting boundaries. In fact, I tend to allow people to walk on me, because I find that to be an easier, more peaceful solution than to confront things head on. Being raised as a catholic, in my youth, it was often I heard the advice, “Turn the other cheek” when wronged. Although, I understand the point of it – i.e. it is better to allow a wrong than to commit another wrong in vengeance. But, for some reason, I have taken this to the extreme.
There have been plenty of incidences that would make ample examples when I have allowed myself to be a doormat. I can remember times, playing with my brothers and sisters, when one of my brothers was a complete ass to everyone and in particular to me, he would attempt some emotional manipulation with things like, “If you don’t do it, I won’t be your brother”. Things like this would be somewhat mind blowing to me, I didn’t understand how he could be mean to his own brother. Of course, I would get frustrated and tell one of my parents, who would say, “So what?! Let him believe what he wants. Don’t fall for that.” And I would let it go, but secretly it would eat me up.
I also remember a time when I had a girlfriend that slept with everyone within earshot, Okay…maybe it wasn’t that bad, but it sure felt like it at the time. She would always admit it to me and always tell me how sorry she was and would promise to not do it again. And oddly enough, that song by The Offspring is bouncing around in my brain….which also happened to be on the charts during the time I was allowing myself to be walked all over. This situation is one of the times I had seriously considered suicide. Eventually, I got so sick of her cheating and boning everyone under the sun, that she had called me once and told me she wanted to get together for a weekend and I popped.
She called me up, although I knew she had been living with a guy for 6 months at the time. I had told her that I still loved her, but because I had moved, I didn’t think things would work out.
She asked me if she and I could still get together when I returned to town on weekends, I asked her, “But aren’t you living with, Jeff (the guy she was living with)…?”
And her reply is what sent my head spinning, “Yeah, but I love fucking you…”
I set the phone down for a moment, as I tried to collect my mind as it fell out of my butt, and I heard her repeating my name.
I picked up the phone and said, “I mean this with all sincerity, but I hope you die of AIDS…”
I hung up the phone, never to speak to her again. But this wasn’t the defining moment that taught me to establish healthy boundaries. No, it was the defining moment that taught me, though I didn’t realize it at the time, that I will continue to allow the women in my life to walk all over me. A lot of this came out later, when I began going to therapy and told the therapist about all of my relationships with women – my mom, my sisters, my wife, any woman. I find it impossible to set healthy boundaries, and when I tried, I was highly susceptible to guilt-trips. I allowed my frustrations to build and build and build until I began having self-destructive behavior.
I have always felt, however, that people don’t change unless they make a concerted effort to change, there are subtle sustained influences over long periods of time, or there is some cataclysmic event in their lives. But now, as I prepare for divorce, I understand the need for boundaries, but I have not developed an understanding of how to set them or enact them. But, I am taking the path of choosing to do so. And when I do it, I find myself feeling more and more sure of myself.
For example, I have not discussed my soon-to-be-ended-marriage and the problems in them at great length. There are so many dysfunctional aspects to it, they are hard to define and I finally got to the point where I decided I don’t have to understand what the details are in the dysfunctions, I just need to be aware that something is not right and it may never change. I took a stand one day and I did it in the most calm manner I have ever tried to stand up for myself, I stepped away from a cliff. I felt empowered by it.
Recently, I had another situation that told me that I am capable of setting boundaries without being upset. I am finally willing to explore my sexuality in a healthy and non-destructive manner. I am considering dating, but I am not willing to go into it without making sure my soul and mental well being are protected. I am establishing boundaries for what I want in a relationship.
Certainly, I didn’t write about every event or incident in my life that demonstrated I didn;t understand how to set boundaries, but as I sat down and wrote this all a huge light went off in my head and it is a mantra I have always believed:
I have no responsibility over the behavior others choose, but I am most powerful when I choose my behavior.
I have a long ways to go, and I believe this process is one that will take practice, but I am taking important steps along that path.