Boundaries. I say the word and the emotions spark like those firecrackers bad ass kids set off in the streets after dark when the rest of us are unsuspecting and usually down to one taut nerve. Bang! Haha. Some of us tense and tighten, our hands into fists, our soft places into hard walls. We’re NOT. GOING. TO. LET. IT. HAPPEN. AGAIN. A thousand Girl u gotta, Boy you betta, Friend uh uh finger wags flash like Tic Tocs on our mental movie screens and we brace to stand taller, do better, respect ourselves more fiercely than any self respecting human in the history of ever.
Because if we don’t, if we are soft, or get a little slack, or take a few minutes to get out of the warm bed in the morning TERRIBLE AWFUL BAD THINGS will happen. Like, we will feel disrespected. We will feel rejection. We will want something that someone else will say no to. And they might not be very nice to us. AND THAT WILL HURT.
But what is even worse. That hurt will mean something about us. And that, friend, will hurt a thousand fold. It will hurt with exponential force. It will hurt, to the power of our worst nightmare.
It will mean that we are weak.
That we don’t respect ourselves.
That we LET someone walk all over us.
That we are shameful.
We don’t deserve more.
That we are STUPID for falling, for not seeing, for buying in.
We probably own swamp land in Florida.
And to add insult to injury we can’t even cross the border to pet our alligators.
Some of us when we hear the word boundary, go crawling into the corner, sink into invisibility, and get lost in the hidden, secret, shameful part of ourselves that knows deep down we SUCK at them, and have no hope of ever crawling back out. We are in a desperation quicksand of self demise whenever a player with a sexy voice picks up a phone somewhere in the sinking swampy stratosphere.
It’s so easy for the other girls, boys, friends, to keep their shit together. We try to hide it in the dark. The drunk texts. The pining. The FB creeping. The skip and jump in our voice when they give us the time of day. We apologize to people who don’t deserve it. We walk around in a cloud of sorry. Sorry for whatever makes you uncomfortable. Sorry for not anticipating your needs and having them met before your alarm went off. Sorry I couldn’t rain down enough magic to stop you from being an asshole to me, again.
It’s painful to feel that you’re not protecting yourself, your heart, your time, your voice.
And it’s painful to try to be open, vulnerable and intimate when there is a North Wall between you and the other members of your species, and you’re holding it up while trying to get through the other 3641 things on your to do list, or your can never seem to get done list. And you’re not even using your hands! Just your sheer force of determination not to be The Fool.
But how do we solve for weak boundaries if we struggle? How do we know if a boundary is healthy, or just a reaction to the that cheating bastard or that runaway bride you haven’t yet healed from and you’re shutting all the good people out?
Well the first thing to understand, to really wrap your noggin about is this thing:
BOUNDARIES ARE NOT A TEST YOU MUST PASS NOR A MEASURE OF YOUR WORTH.
Having some does not make you a good person. And not having some does not make you a bad person.
Yes, limits that we don’t allow others to cross can make life easier.
But the whole point of them, is to HELP you. Feel better, safer, healthier.
Boundaries are FOR you, or they are not meaningful at all.
They are lines we draw to provide loving protection for ourselves, which is good for us and the person or circumstance we don’t allow to cross. Most of us healthy folks don’t want someone obliging us, romantically or otherwise. We want genuine interaction. We want healthy. We don’t thrive on sacrifice or emotional indebtedness.
But when we make them a measure, or a threat, when we attack ourselves for not having enough, when we imbue the entire idea of self protection with FEAR, we weaponize the lines we draw, and they become divisive and hurtful. They isolate us, by our very relationship with them. We don’t feel safe, we feel alone, and inadequate.
Friends, we can’t bully ourselves into having boundaries. It does not work that way.
The very voice that shames you for not standing up for yourself is the voice you need protecting from, in an ironic twist.
Sometimes it’s in your own head. Sometimes the well meaning loved ones are putting it there. And saying no, or resisting your ex in order to defend yourself against judgment, real or imaginary, is just deepening your shame cycle. Sigh.
Healthy boundaries are a by product of self compassion, and nurturing, and gentleness. They happen, all on their own, when we do not feel afraid or judged.
When our limits are formed by what everyone else tells us we shoulddo, when we are answering that Girl, Boy uh-uh, rather than a thoughtful understanding of what we want and need, we create conflict within ourselves. And then we are in a tug of war. Our inner child is desperately in need and instead of taking the time to understand and address that need our inner parent is like all “you shouldn’t want that and now I am taking away your comfort” (for example if it’s saying no to a toxic ex) or “you better not be so afraid” (if it’s saying no to an overly demanding boss or friend).
Which then drives COMPULSIVE BEHAVIOUR, which is essentially us acting against our own will and is generated by judgment, shame and the inner conflict that ensues when we feel badly about our unhealthy desires or fear that our desires are unhealthy or wrong, yet we still desire them.
The more we crank up the judgement and shame the deeper we drive the compulsion. We panic that we can’t do it, that our need for love, acceptance, emotional safety, peace, or the comfort of a bag of cookies will be taken away from us, and we HURRY UP and do the thing faster, harder and with more panache than ever before because we are under pressure not to need something we need with visceral urgency.
If we are going to break out of this cycle we need softness. We need to understand WHY we are needing the thing that seems to have power over us in the first place, Dan. I won’t be ignored, Dan! We need some support to find healthier ways to fill that need. We may need to feel a secret scary feeling that we have been running away from.
Beloved, if no one has told you this before get ready for it.
FEELINGS CANNOT GIVE YOU COVID.
When we make friends with the part of ourselves that needs (we all have this part, even you biz wizards, even you Aquarians, even you brainiacs) well it becomes sooooooooooooo oh oh oh oh oh, much easier to take care of her. Him. Them.
Crazy unheard of things begin to happen like what happened to me the other day when my 8 am self said, you know what 10pm self, it’s okay if you want to eat the cake, or drink the wine, or get out of the house to finish your work. I understand that you may not feel as bright eyed as I do, and that you have stormy dramatic moods and that working out and cleaning the kitchen aren’t you’re A game. And just like that my 10pm self said, hey girl, I’m gonna go to bed early tonight just ‘cause I’m thinking about your feelings and how cute you are when you wake up all rested and perky. And they hugged! And there was no name calling. No threats. No Bitch I’m gonna take you down. No, How could you let it happen AGAIN-AH?!
If I had a dollar for every plaintiff voice crying “Erin I let them do this to me. I walked right into the trap. I LET IT HAPPEN”, I could buy back all of your swamp land. ALL OF IT. I could buy your Alligator a new purse. And some boots to go with.
Yes, Susan, you are right. You signed a document saying “I hereby grant you permission to pursue me like your pants were on fire then as soon as I showed reciprocal signs of affection and respect to drop the attention by fifty percent then leave off with a cliff hanger text and never call again.” Or “Please, promise me you are into me then cancel our plans a dozen times, but with confusing attempts at accountability so I really believe it’s just your schedule then tell me you were never attracted to me in the first place” Or you said to a co-worker or friend “Please call me when you need someone to fill in your spare time but otherwise exclude me from your more important social engagements and then school me on my unhealthy behaviour since you have a PHD in my business”. Or whatever the story may be.
Someone else’s mistreatment is not your shame.
Your trust is not for shame.
You can’t FAIL at boundaries, if you remember, they are just there for you.
They are not a test. I repeat. They are not a test. You can learn them, but you cannot fail them.
Someone else’s inability to show up, or shitty behaviour, or dishonesty does not happen BECAUSE you lacked boundaries. It means something shitty happened to you. It means you risked, and it didn’t pan out because someone else did not choose you, or did not respect you, for a million complex reasons that have nothing to do with your worth or attractiveness or vetting. It may awaken a new need for LIMITS, and that may suck because you were busy just minding your own beeswax and dealing with all of the other shit on your plate, but if you feel a knife stab of how did I LET it, it’s time to rewind. It’s time to set down that very ginormous burden and give yourself a friggin’ break already.
On the other hand if you struggle to say no, when the advantage takers show up, if you feel desperately hung up on someone who wasn’t very nice when it was CLEARLY nice o’clock, well then you need some bloody help and support now, don’t you!??? Cause that shit’s hard. You need a hand out of the mind swamp. And a hug.
Sometimes we need a hand hold in order to get up the courage to say no to a bully, or to our inner bully, but with love friends, like a cool older sister who is ready to take a bitch down for you.
Or, if you go the other way, and you’re so amped up on Jason Bourne level self defense that your cat makes a sound and you’ve leapt out of bed, shot the curtain off the rod and sent Fluffy’s paws above her head in a prayer to Jesus before she can say meow, well then you may also want some help.
Either way, please stop blaming your self for needing things that make you vulnerable.
Sometimes we don’t realize how many “good things” we are doing for ourselves. Fear clouds our vision, so all we see is the impossibly high mountain we need to erect by the time they walk into the party like they were walking onto a yacht.
Like subtle boundaries, which add up to bigger boundaries.
For example, we say no every time we choose healing instead of judgment.
We say no when we try just a little to do something we’ve struggled to do before.
When we accept a truth we say no to the lie.
When we take a step toward something we want or need we say no to emptiness and abandonment.
When we refuse to blame ourselves we say no to hurt and guilt.
When we forgive we say no to continued suffering.
When we find a way to laugh at the hard parts we say no to loss.
Yes to something new, or something loving, or something brave, is a no to something old, or something that isn’t enough.
And all of those little no’s add up to the movie moments. They add up to so much courage.
So, before you whack your knuckles with a ruler, or shake yourself in search of some new resolve, before you get all cruel and cutting, before you block and delete your Facebook list and practice your ice queen stare in the mirror, light your cookie cupboard on fire, shakedown poor little Fluffy, and throw your baby out with your swampy bathwater, remember this:
The more you love, the less you have to fight.
— Love Erin
P.S. You’ve been asking me how to get your friends and loved ones the help I’ve been able to give you. We can do that. Contact me and we’ll talk details.
P.P.S. One of the kindest things you can do for me is to share my writing. If you enjoyed today’s Monday Musing and know someone else who would please forward it to a friend.
P.P.P.S. You can also follow me on Instagram, for real time updates, funnies and photos!