Boundaries are fairly new to me. I can count on 1 hand the number of times I’ve set them in recent years. They are:
- When I let my ex know I wouldn’t allow him to cheat on me anymore.
- When I let my children know that human emotions, good and bad, are normal, and we are giving up the family story line that my moods are the cause of all our families problems.
- When I asked my sister to stop telling a childhood story I hate.
- Telling my mother that Yes, I am always with my computer, and I always will be. Further, it is rude for her to continually put me down for doing something positive, that I enjoy, just because she doesn’t understand it.
Every one of these has worked! My ex decided our marriage couldn’t work unless he could stray, my children ceased blaming all of our problems on my moods, my sister did not tell the story (and I feel never will again), and my mother stopped criticizing my time on my laptop. Who knew these boundary things really work!
The issue is that in my mind, asking for a boundary is akin to yelling at someone. Asserting what I need feels “crazy”.
- When I spoke about the “family story” with my boys, I was nervous. I could feel the flutter in my stomach, and there was a part of my brain saying “this isn’t true – you really are the problem”. As time goes on, it is increasingly clear that this story is false; I was not our families problem.
- When I told my sister to stop telling that story, because it insinuated that my childhood problems were of my own making, I felt ir was bordering on condescending. Turns out, she gets it and won’t tell the story again.
- When I told my mother to stop commenting on my computer use, I felt like I was full-out losing it, like a child having a tantrum. I have no idea what she thought, but she stopped!
- When I invited myself on my ex’s date I felt like a loon; the wicked witch of the west; the nut out not just on the limb, but on the smallest of all twigs. Yet it worked; he made his decision and left.
- All of these requests, though, worked. Each one has made my life better. Each one has reduced my stress and increased my confidences. So clearly, boundaries work.
I have spent my entire life equating the request of boundaries to being a bitch. Sound familiar to female readers? I have been so engrossed in feeling compassion for others, I’ve never focused on compassion for myself, and it seems clear to me now that boundaries are self-compassion. Every time I’ve failed to set boundaries, I’ve let others treat me in a way that I would never have treated them, or allowed them, or someone I care for, be treated. Every time I’ve failed to request boundaries for myself I have, in fact, been a bitch – to Myself.
I now find myself on the verge of addressing a very odd boundary. Despite it’s large size and dense population, my community is extremely small. Everyone knows everyone else. We all know each other’s children, jobs, family connections, and local gossip. I am a source of local gossip, being the one who’s husband left when I had cancer. (BTW, this is not true, as he had been gone for 2 decades, but not many actually know that) I have stayed here because I can’t sell the house until the divorce is final. Once that happens, I will most likely pack my children up and move to a different community.
For now, I’m here, and I have to navigate the gossip and overlap of relationships. One of those overlaps is the co-owner of my yoga studio, a studio I love, and which I do work exchange for. I touched on this in my blog about volunteerism, but it is much clearer to me when I express the issue in terms of boundaries. One of the studio owners is friends with my ex’s GF, and I guess my ex. (It is true that in the last 10 years I have been increasingly less willing to foray out into our community with my ex; subject for another blog) She recently invited them to the annual caroling party she holds at her home. I’ve known they travel in the same circles. The GF was actually in the yoga studio about a month after i joined and, had she become a yoga enthusiast, I would probably be at a different studio. She is a runner though, so it hasn’t become an issue.
This owner, who has the right to be-friend whom ever she’d like to, has asked me for work favors at her studio. I’ve done a few, put in some extra hours for no compensation, and, while I didn’t mind the work or the time there, something nagged at me. Knowing I don’t want to be the Martyr Volunteer, I’ve had to look at this. I’ve arrived at the only solution I think possible – boundaries. I can do work exchange, and I can be a really good worker during my assigned shifts. What I can’t do, is favors. I can’t do favors for the woman who hangs with my ex and his GF. That is the sort of thing that would make me angry, then turn me into a Martyr. Extra work hours, for no compensation, is a favor I would do for a friend, which she is not.
All of this is so awkward, so odd, so unusual for me. Being a good employee for a person I feel no personal connection is new. When I’ve been in these situations in the past, I’ve quit the job. Continuing to work for someone I don’t feel personally attached to is different, but I’ll continue doing it for several reasons, one of which is that it is really good practice on boundaries. Saying to someone though, “I like you, but not enough to do you any favors for you” is 100% foreign to me, and I’m sort of terrified to say it!
It seems that this is a grey area that others are able to navigate. I guess I’ve lived in a black and white world. I can work for someone I am connected to; otherwise I quit. I can do favors for people I care for; if not, they aren’t in my life. I can’t think of a situation in which I have kept someone in my life without the connection that makes me feel obligated to do them favors. I’m an all or nothing girl, which, as I write this, makes me see why my life has become as isolated as it has. Wow.
Where do I go from here? I suspect I’ll find myself in the situation in which I have to say, or write, those words: “I can’t do you any favors”. Yuck. How do people do this?
More importantly, how do people do this without feeling guilt? It seems like I might soon learn!