I had a friendship that I ended recently, on the basis that my boundaries were continuously being ignored and overstepped.
I left the friendship as lovingly as I could, as I believe that in most cases (not where abuse is present or immediate safety is concerned), ending any kind of relationship can be done in a way that does not create further crisis or harm to you or the individual you are saying good bye to.
In this situation, the way this friend challenged my boundaries was interesting to me, and it has had my mind buzzing on the topic of boundaries itself. Boundaries serve to tell someone or something (and even yourself sometimes) that there is a line drawn in the sand and you shall not pass!
So with something so connected to finality, boundaries rarely end up having a black and white answer to what is enough, what is too much, or when is it safe to compromise boundaries without compromising your own happiness, safety, and well being?
Let’s go back to my friend. Recently she had begun dating a man and was relating to me the rapidly increasing abusive behaviour he was demonstrating. I offered my support and empathy to her, it was shocking to hear of how serious this situation was and I felt uncomfortable, angry, scared, and overwhelmed listening to everything she was saying (Note that all these reactions are already warnings that your boundaries are being crossed). This friend and I had only recently reconnected as I had created distance with her months ago over the same issues with respecting boundaries.
It seemed as if in that time apart, her life had taken a sudden and dramatic turn for the worst.
When I officially met this new boyfriend for the first and last time, his entire energy field felt so hostile and aggressive that my body wanted to get up and leave their apartment before my mind had consciously processed any observable threat (thank you, flight response!)
A few days later my friend texted me saying that her boyfriend decided he didn’t like me and had told her I was weird without giving any further detail.
I laid down a boundary by saying, I do not feel comfortable hearing what your boyfriend has to say about me and I do not want to be involved with this person.
She apologized and I accepted this, but my gut instinct told me this agreement wasn’t going to last.
It’s important to know that if you change your mind after agreeing to something, it’s actually ok. There is so much integrity in staying true to your word to others (so much!), but your integrity to yourself demands that prioritizing your mental well being is just as much a priority.
Sometimes this can be a lesson in learning to gain better confidence in saying what you mean, and more often it’s a lesson in accepting that you are a human being that is always growing and learning, and with that your opinions and feelings may change as well. It’s also true that new information and facts, speaking to a trusted friend, or listening to your own intuition can be factors in forming a new perspective.
I told my friend that I wasn’t comfortable carrying on the friendship, and that when I tuned in I was realizing I felt the same feelings I did back when I distanced myself for the first time.
She seemed to accept this, for a few days. Then the tests of my resolve began.
I received a message from her about gratitude, how she was grateful that even though life was terrible for her, it would get better.
I ignored this. When you have an adult individual that is aware of a boundary who willingly ignores that to try and get an emotional or empathetic response from you, you can be sure there’s been an attempt to manipulate you and exploit your empathetic nature. I am not here to demonize every person who has behaviours that are manipulative. Not every person is trying to control you with a nefarious hidden agenda, many people lack the skills to adequately ask for what they need and want from others. Some people do not even realize that their behaviour is inherently manipulative at all. This doesn’t mean you have to excuse and accept these behaviours, it simply means that people are complex and can have flaws and crappy behaviours without being pathologically harmful.
In this case, it was clear to me my friend had emotional needs that she was hoping I could meet for her, and attempted to find a vulnerability through my empathy so that I would “break” my boundary and reach out to her.
Since we all know how that turned out, it should come as no surprise that a few days after her failed attempt she reached out yet again with a new spin on her situation by cranking up the severity by now stating that she knows I’ve placed a boundary but she had decided her new partner is a narcissist and she was giving it serious thought about leaving him and can I please try and find the energy to help her?
I responded with empathy:
“I am sorry you’re in this difficult and scary situation. I cannot personally help you at this time”
I went on to explain what she could do if she felt unsafe, what resources are available to her, who else she can reach out for in her support network and so on.
I then wished her the best and detached with love.
It is not my responsibility to save anyone. It is not my responsibility to rescue anyone, or put myself in unsafe situations to protect someone.
My responsibility is to protect and honour my own energy, my own safety. In the past my intense drive to save and rescue others has led me into the hands of narcissists, sociopaths, manipulators and abusers. It has depleted me of my energy and my ability to thrive in my own daily life. Boundaries are the wall I put between myself and those who seek to drain me of energy so that they may be satiated.
My journey into self love and compassion has brought loving and compassionate people into my life. These are people I do not have to protect myself from, people that honour my right to say No, and who also are willing to share with me their own boundaries, thoughts, and feelings.
Developing stronger boundaries has allowed me to share my energy with those who see boundaries as a strength. Not a barrier that prevents them from getting what they want from me, not a wall to try and break down. They see boundaries as something that keeps them safe as much as it does me.
My relationships are based on trust and reciprocal love and respect. I deserve to be valued. I deserve people that know my energy is a gift, and not something they are entitled to.
Through learning to listen to the deepest parts of myself, I am able to know when something is not enough, too much, or needs to be changed. It is with that knowing that I create a life that is full of healing, growth, and a self created supportive community.
What kind of experiences have you had with boundaries?
What are you still hoping to learn about boundaries and how it impacts your relationship with yourself and others?
How are some ways you practice having boundaries (friendships, work, self-care, relationship with self)
The link between our childhood and our current adult sense of self can no longer be ignored, suppressed, or denied. We cannot “just get over it” or “move on”, once we begin to heal we become more at peace, but this is through aware and conscious action that this is able to take place.
Our ability to feel worthy of love, success, and care is up for debate once the lens of trauma has been applied.
The impact of this cannot be invalidated. It is a wound that can only heal once the light shines upon the child who’s fundamental needs were not honoured so long ago.
This child cannot apply logic to their circumstances, not the way you can now as an adult. A child still sees things as good or bad, right and wrong, and cannot grasp the larger picture of all that happens to them. They know that if they are yelled at, it’s because they are bad. They know that if they are ignored, it is because they’re not worthy of love. They internalize a story that does not belong to them.
Trust in your ability to teach this child a new story. You know what you needed and wanted most back then, and now you can provide that.
The way your parents/Mom/Dad/caregiver treated you was never about you. It was always about them and their relationship with themselves. No individual that is at peace with themselves will intentionally harm another, they would not ignore or belittle a child if they felt love for themselves. What was done to you was not about you. You did not deserve these awful experiences. You did not.
When we talk about needs it’s important to understand what is different from a need than a want. Many of us that have experienced trauma do not understand that what we want is actually a need that we have every right to have present in our lives. It can be difficult to ask for what we need we have been taught by our caregivers that are needs are unimportant, or that we are wrong for asking that they be met.
In what ways do I continue to deny my needs being met by myself and others?
What do I need most right now?
What kind of language do I use when I feel afraid, insecure, or angry?
What is one thing I can do for my inner child today, that I longed for my parent(s)/caregiver to do back then?
There is much to grieve when doing inner child work, it is difficult to look back and see the injustice you were done, and to also grieve the life that never had a chance to manifest due to the different trajectory trauma puts us on. The joy comes when we realize that we are the parents now, that we can choose how our inner child feels. That we can choose what path our lives take.
We are healing, every day. Give yourself some credit for all of your hard work, and give your inner child a big hug to let them know you see them, you love them, and that you’re in this together.
No matter how far into our healing we get, there’s always work to be done. Thankfully, it’s work worth doing.
When recovering from the impacts of trauma it can take years to fully unpack the core wounds and even longer to begin noticing and changing the thoughts and behaviours associated with these wounds. Like a rose blooming out of it’s sealed bud, we may only receive the light once we have been given the right care and nurturing required for our growth.
I noticed a behaviour of mine today, something that had managed to sneak past my awareness in other situations but this time was met with my conscious presence. I noticed that I was apologizing. A lot. Over and over, in different ways.
The context of my constant apologizing was that I have recently gotten a new job with someone I respect and who holds distinction in a field I long to make my own mark in. I am an assistant to her and some of my work requires that I offer my own creative input often regarding suggestions with writing and editing. On my own, I am confident in my writing abilities, generally. I still feel fear sharing it with the world but at the same time I know that I am capable of producing work that is satisfactory to myself and many others.
So what has been happening? What drives me to apologize for offering my insight and my creative vision?
As with most things, once I took a critical look inside it became apparent that this issue went far beyond the behaviours and thoughts that were arising on the surface during this interaction.
I want to get a little more technical here so that I am able to concretely show the process of how I organized my reactions in order to be able to fully separate and identify the core issue that had been triggered. By examining my reactions I hope to give you a way to explore your own inner world in more depth as well.
Struggling to express self clearly
Struggling to make a firm decision
“I don’t want to make a mistake”
“I’m afraid to say the wrong thing”
“I don’t know if what I have to share is good enough”
My struggles with shame and self worth continue to show up in ways that affect my personal and professional relationships. This unhealed wound tells me that as a person I am not good enough, and tries to affirm that no matter what experience I have I still will not be good enough, so sharing my thoughts with others runs a high risk of exposing myself as a fraud, as incompetent and as unworthy.
Wow! The rivers of shame run deep. Most days I know I am a human being with innate value and worth. I know that I have experience that is worth sharing, and I am deserving of recognition in the areas I work hard in. It can be heartbreaking to look deep within only to find that there are still such deep wounds in need of healing.
One of the truths in trauma recovery is that the more you grow and expand, the more unhealed parts of you will reveal themselves. Like the rose opening its petals to the sun, it is when we are in the stages of growth and recovery that trauma impacted thoughts, feelings and behaviours begin to present themselves fully and openly. They too must see the light in order for us to fully release them as we reveal to the world our true selves.
When the narrative of our trauma begins to interact with the new story we are cultivating, I encourage you to put on your scientist hat and begin to examine these reactions under the microscope. How true are these thoughts that we are not good enough? How valid is the argument that allowing ourselves to be received in love is unsafe? Break these thoughts and behaviours down until the core issue is all that’s left. Remember that you did not create this wound, but you do have the power to heal it.
It is crucial to remember that these exact reactions are what kept us safe for so long, and it is the safety we create for ourselves now that allows us to see how we no longer need them to survive.
Because we are no longer surviving, we are blooming.
I’m speaking from my own experience as an individual impacted by trauma and as someone who likely differs than you greatly in many ways. If my experience doesn’t mirror yours, that’s ok. Thank you for considering my perspective and allowing it into your space.
So. Shame. Let’s talk about it.
Well first lets start with love. It is intoxicating to feel love. It brings a sense of grounded peace. It feels safe and secure. It is easier to laugh when you feel loved, easier to hope and to feel free.
It is fleeting. It is easy for love to slip from your grasp and fade.
I don’t even speak of the act of love, many people offer it unconditionally. What a gift.
I speak to the feeling of love. I can be loved and know this logically, but feel nothing. Over the years this heart wound has healed more and more, yet the remnants remain and flare when triggered.
This inability to retain the feeling of love and being loved has made abusive and neglectful relationships alluring over the years. How do I know I am loved when there’s no active fight for it? The push and pull cycle, the drama, the breaking up and reuniting. Isn’t all of that proof of love in all of it’s tragic and chaotic beauty?
I am learning different. Love can be slow, consistent, kind. All the same, it is a feeling I need to remain vigilant in maintaining. It does not yet have a permanent home in my heart yet, I am still working on the renovations.
Shame however, owns and operates a chain of factories in my mind and body. They are open day and night and the thick black smoke billowing from the chimneys pollute the delicate ecosystem it inhabits. The fires burning inside require little to maintain their inferno.
Doing something less than perfect, having a parent not listen to you, making an error at a job.
The fire rages.
I know the feeling of shame more than I know love. It sits in my chest like a poisoned pit and has grown roots through every nerve and vein of my body.
It has stopped me from becoming. From living. From joy.
The healing can be heartbreaking and slow, and it truly is a process that starts from the inside out. I remember the first steps I took into compassion, how awkward and fake it felt to speak to myself kindly. I felt like a fraud trying to encourage myself after a setback instead of cutting myself down.
You are a failure and a disappointment.
You are worthless.
I hate you.
It’s ok to make mistakes, we can try again later.
You are worthy of love.
I love you.
These acts of mercy and compassion are even more difficult when we have genuinely done wrong to others or ourselves. Sitting in that truth alone is hard, sitting with that truth and inviting in compassion can feel impossible. It is not though. We can forgive ourselves, we can make amends if we must, and we can change behaviours that no longer serve us. We can create new behaviours that break the cycle that shame and trauma have perpetuated for so long.
The first step for me was understanding the impact. Feeling like I am loved and holding on to that is not natural for me, feeling scalded by shame is. This has been my norm for a long time, and it will take time to heal this but heal it I will.
May the fires of shame be met with the rains of compassion
Self care is great, and apparently super easy too! According to most posts on social media all you have to do is paint your nails, watch Friends, eat ice cream and finish the evening of with a glass of red while you wash away your worries in a bubble bath.
Sounds great, in theory. Reality often paints a different picture. One where you’re exhausted, overwhelmed, anxious and depressed. Sometimes the thought of doing any kind of activity is far more work than what is manageable in your current state.
Sometimes self care looks more like getting that rest you need but doing your best to not overdo it. Sometimes it looks like limiting how much junk food you binge on so that you don’t harm your body. Sometimes it means telling your loved ones you need some space to just feel awful and do nothing, or on the flip side it can look like asking for help. Self care gets radical when we reach a state of needing a moment where we don’t feel as terrible. We’re not always at a point where we can do a few simple things to elevate ourselves out of a really tough state of mind. For most people, that time will come. But the focus of always needing to hyper focus ourselves on a more rounded, more positive state of mind is actually more harmful than it is helpful.
There are times where a state of struggle is where the most growth occurs. When I was going through an intensive program to deal with a lifetime of trauma, I had days where I would come home exhausted and just need to sleep. That was not me falling into a depression or feeding a negative mindset, that was me knowing that my mind had been doing a metric ton of heavy lifting and needed rest in order to process and heal.
I see a lot of people worrying about falling into bad habits, and there is good reason for that. When we isolate too much we often worsen our suffering. Same goes for drinking and eating in excess, sleeping too much, spending too much time on the internet or TV. The catch to this is when there becomes some weird set of “rules” about what is healthy for each individual when it comes to self care.
Ok, hold up!
We are all unique individuals who have a lifetime of experiences that differ from anyone else. It’s impossible for anyone but that individual themselves to decide what they need most at any given moment. There’s likely millions of people that can sip any worry away with some wine, or become care free from a bath bomb and a shiny new coat of polish. For others, especially those with chronic physical or mental illness, trauma, or stress what’s actually going to help may look starkly different than to what many are accustomed.
That being said, if you have a loved one who is struggling and seems to be engaging in behaviours that are causing you concern, there is nothing wrong with stepping into empathy and checking in with that person. “I’ve noticed you seem to be pulling away from socializing a lot more than usual, is everything ok?”
Self care is a delicate balance for most people, and as an individual progresses on their path of healing and recovery, one becomes intimately aware of what is needed during times of hardship. Sometimes a bubble bath is all I need, and sometimes I have to hole up in my house in sweatpants and not talk to anyone while I recharge and rest. It is a gift to ourselves to spend time knowing what works for you as an individual, and doing what is needed to weather an intense storm. There will come a time that the clouds part, and the sun once again begins shining on your face, but for now it is more than enough for you to just hang on.
I go through these periods of my life where I feel completely lost and without any direction, only to find myself perfectly aligned and at peace the following week.
It’s frustrating, and I’m often left wondering if I’m ever going to find that elusive state of stability and contentedness that I’ve been working towards for what seems like my entire life. I know that contentedness isn’t generally a destination. In fact, it’s usually something that’s well within our grasp, we just… You know, have to grasp it. Ok fine! But sometimes it’s easy to feel like everything is ok and sometimes it’s a herculean challenge just to slow your busy bee brain down for half a millisecond.
I thrive on goals, so most of the time I feel content because I have something left undone. I enjoy working towards a goal because it helps me to live out my values, to be reminded of the importance of them and to have that sweet, sweet taste of victory once it’s been achieved. So when I’m pursuing a goal I have that alignment feeling going on inside, yes this is what I want! I’m going for it! I’m living out my life’s purpose!
Cue the disappointment and emptiness when I finally reach said goal and I realize that maybe this isn’t exactly what I want for myself after all. That’s been happening a lot lately and it’s crushing. I feel like I’ve totally figured everything out only to be confronted with a reality that’s much different than expected.
So why is this happening? I mean, I know a lot of people know what they want to be from the time they can walk, they grow up and become that and they live (mostly) happily ever after. So why am I constantly reevaluating my life and goals? I think it’s a couple different things, and all of these things are symptoms of the healing work I still need to overcome in myself. Here’s the silver lining of the day – setbacks are actually opportunities to understand more about your needs, strengths, and areas of growth.
I’ve realized that while I absolutely want to work with people to support them in living their best lives, I have to acknowledge and respect the needs I have relating to my mental, emotional, and spiritual health along with the work required when living with trauma. This means that in the past I’ve taken jobs where there’s extreme hostility and aggression and I’ve burnt out and thought to myself, I’m a failure and was totally wrong about my calling. The reality here is not that the desire to help is wrong or that I misheard the call, it’s that where I put myself wasn’t suitable for what I need as an individual that is healing and growing.
So, it’s hard to have to rethink life once you’ve got it “all figured out”. It can feel a lot like starting over, when in fact it’s really just taking new information and calculating a better route to take! One of the kindest and most self respecting things we can do for ourselves is take a step back, notice how we’re actually feeling, and acknowledge whether or not where we’re at is actually right for us.
After all, this life is ours and we’re just doing our best to figure out what will provide us with the happiest and healthiest outcome. With all of the messages we get outside of us, it’s important to check in and really understand whether we are aligned with the path that will bring us to the highest and most powerful version of ourselves.
Sometimes getting there just means we need to take a couple of detours.