My mother always says that I make friends where ever I go, and this is true. I have no trouble meeting new people, and I can become fast friends with some. In fact, I become such close friends with some that I do what I call “vomiting invitations”. I have been known to invite virtual strangers to Thanksgiving dinner, or previously estranged family members to spend the night, or random people to coffee or lunch.
A few years ago, as my health failed and my marriage crumbled, I became overwhelmed by this habit of mine. I kept finding myself in situations I couldn’t manage. I would have the new BFF who I didn’t especially care for but was always by my side. I would be hosting the dinner that I never wanted to prepare, for people I didn’t really want to host. I would be taking care of the children of those I didn’t necessarily care for, and putting off my responsibilities towards my own children. All along I was neglecting those I truly cared about and loved, mostly because I had little to give, and I was giving it all to the wrong people.
I came to a time that I was just too sick to manage any more. Instead of leaning on my loved ones, the ones who will always be there for me, who are, in fact, happy to be there for me, I retreated into myself. If I had to go out I kept my head down, my eyes averted, so that I wouldn’t run into someone and vomit an invitation I would then regret.
Brene Brown recently wrote, on her weekly courage blog,
“Until we can receive with an open heart, we are never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgement to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgement to giving help”.
I’ve read this over and over and it seems to me that it speaks to my tendency to vomit invitations, which I have come to realize is actually my lack of boundaries. As I think about who I extend these invitations to, I realize that they are the people I view as needy. They are the one’s whose pain I can feel; the ones who are in need of love, and belonging. I don’t extend these invitations to people I view as whole, or emotionally grounded and healthy. They don’t need me the way those in pain do. Since I gravitate towards saving the wounded, I do view giving with judgement! And as Brene says, since I feel judgmental to those who accept my invitations, I feel judgmental towards myself when I accept invitations; when I am the needy one.
When my ex was “romancing me” (i.e. love bombing) he shared his love of reading, especially his reading of meaningful work. (FYI, he doesn’t read at all; this was all part of the bombing) One of the works he shared with me was The Bridge, by Edwin Freidman. http://www.thecruxmovie.com/pdf/TheBridgeShortStory.pdf
He shared this story with me as his way of justifying leaving his wife with a 20 month old baby, no job, and ill health. We discussed this in detail, the idea that at some point we can no longer accept responsibility for another, and we need to move on. As I re-read this story, and put it together with the concept of boundaries and my tendency to vomit invitations, I realize that I became the person crossing the bridge; I became the one holding his rope. And I believe he knew I would be that person. I would never let go of that rope. I would stand in my discomfort, give up all of my self, and hold that rope as long as he wanted me to, because he was in need, and I can take care of all people in need.
This is a lack of boundaries. When we have boundaries, we are aware of where we start and end, and where those around us start and end. Without boundaries, though, we are confused about this separation. We come to see others as dependent on us for their happiness, or success. We accept their rope; we accept the fact that we have the ability to make them better and, more importantly, we are failing if they are unhappy.
I think that despite the awareness of this as faulty thinking, despite the havoc it wreaks on our lives, we hang on to it because it is, in fact, a somewhat powerful position to be in. Even when it is uncomfortable, even when it makes us lose our self, or get sick, or stay in terrible situations, it holds a certain power. If I am responsible for this person, if I can “make” this person happy or unhappy, successful or unsuccessful, then I must have some power, which must be better then no power at all, right?
When I was diagnosed with cancer I started sending group emails to friends and family. I started it because I didn’t want to talk to people individually. I didn’t want to field phone calls, emails, knocks at my door, largely because of all I am talking about here. I lack the boundaries to say “I can’t make you feel better right now, I’ve got to go take care of myself”. As a result of my emails though, I was barraged with others’ knowledge of what I needed to do to remain cancer free. People who knew little to nothing about ovarian cancer came out of the woodwork with “facts” about “’cures” for ovarian cancer, or “facts” about various things I needed to do to remain cancer free after treatment. I was highly insulted at first, interpreting these “facts” as an indictment of me, as a judgement about my failings as a human. I didn’t eat well enough, I let stress get to me, I didn’t exercise the right way, or use the right cleaning products, or take the right supplements, or a million little things. It was my lack of boundaries that had me internalizing all of these messages, and I started to go crazy. While I didn’t admit it to anyone, I did begin to feel like I had caused my cancer, because of these million different “facts” I was given. I have learned 2 things about these “facts”
1. They aren’t Facts. They are myths. They all come from some isolated piece of data, some small study, some work in a lab or a petri dish, and as such, can all be claimed to be “fact”.
2. They weren’t really for me. These “facts” were actually fore the author, or the sayer. Because if the fact they imparted on me was true, they could then follow it and make sure they remained cancer free.
Believing these facts gave others a feeling of power over their destiny, a feeling of being in control of their body and their fate. Internalizing these messages though, was one more example of my lack of boundaries.
I started therapy after my ex left, and one of the 1st things my therapist had me do (she does a lot of work with children, hence the reference to super hero’s) was to “activate my wonder woman deflector shields” when being bombarded with negative messages. I actually wore large cuff bracelets and imagined holding them up and allowing the “advice” bounce off of them. In this way, I began to implement boundaries. I didn’t understand this at the time, but I am now starting to see how important this really is.
I think, in fact, it is imperative to my future self that I re-activate my wonder woman shield and keep it up at all times. Not to keep others out, but to enable myself to walk with my head up, to look others in the eye, to relate to and feel the pain of those in need, and to not vomit invitations. To not believe that I have the power, or responsibility, to help those in need. To not accept any one’s else’s rope. And I agree with Brene, that it is only in doing this that I will be able to accept those that want to help me.