your door, my door

BEING A MOM, LOVE, relationships, SHORT STORIES

Just like a lot of you, I live with people, and I find living with people is hard. One day I was really brooding over a certain bedroom door, wishing it was a wall, and blaming it for just about every problem I have. Because when you get upset over people, you tend to think the people are causing you upset.

And then the door talked back,

“There’s no way you can keep me closed, because I serve only the people who live behind me. We are of no real threat to you but you think we’re an intruder. And sadly, when you keep your eyes fixed on me, you nail your heart with fear.

But look, and remember, I have a twin just across the hall. Her name is Your Door. You are free to open and close it whenever you need, whenever you want. That’s the boundary that you can control.

We all live together, I know you wish things were different. But you’re OK, because you have a door. You don’t have to let anyone or anything in that you didn’t want, even if they ask. And you are free to let anyone or anything out. You didn’t know you could, did you? You thought it would be rude, and that’s kind of why you thought you have intruders in the house.

So now I’d like to ask you to stop giving me your evil look and angry vibes, and just see and trust that you have a door, your own boundary, and it’s been here all along for you to use and control.”

And then.

A few days after that door talked to me, I’m standing at its threshold. I’m being greeted at the door to hand over something I’m bringing. When I did, I had a flashback. I saw myself barging in very self-righteously. I can understand it but I am sorry now to recall that I had stood in the middle of that room that isn’t mine, and thought that being asked to leave my thing at the door, as opposed to bringing it into the room, was a violation of my boundaries.

Day 14: Boundaries 103

14 Days of Love, Uncategorized

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(my caption for this: not graceful but I did it)

Life doesn’t stay still. For the past few days in 14 Days of Love, only good things have been happening. Haircut, taking time off work, going on a trip with my husband, G. And the day after I come back, BAM! The phone rings and with it brings a Boundary Violation Alert!

I’m still not in a place where I can be wholeheartedly grateful for family members doing things for me that I have asked them not to do. Does such a place exists? In fact, I’m in a place where I’m starting to get angry about it, and where I no longer want to persuade myself that it’s no big deal, and then twist myself into smiling and sounding like I’m glad they did it.

There was time for me to think about how to handle this one, and I tried to come up with what to say using “I” sentences instead of “You” sentences.

It went about 80% according to plan, which would have made this a success. But it turned out that I did not like the script I wrote. I seemed a bit disingenuous and passive-aggressive. I sort of went over the top. So, I remind myself that this is like learning hip hop dance. You do get better at it by trying and practicing, but better can sometimes look like a new kind of bad. It’s okay. Doing it badly or imperfectly is not a reason to stop doing it at all. It’s all progress.

Day 6 – Boundaries and Dance 102

14 Days of Love, LOVE

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This summer I’ve been taking a really fun Adult Beginner’s Hip Hop dance class. Sometimes I watch the instructor and I think, “Hmmm, OK, I get that”. But when it’s our turn to do it, it surprises me every time to see how much my body struggles with it. “Whoa, wait, I don’t speak this language!” After a bit of practice I finally have it down, except I lose it again when we do it as part of a sequence! I don’t know why I would underestimate how hard it is. I probably looked at the word “Beginner’s” and forgot that it’s still a “class”, where you have to learn. I’d be proud of myself to have kept in time and done about 60% of the choreography, even if you can’t tell it’s hip hop.

So doing boundaries is very much like learning a new dance for me. You’ll try it and repeat and it wouldn’t look right. But with enough practice, I believe, it will become second nature. It really won’t be as fun as dancing, sorry to break that to you. But it should allow you to have more fun in life.

On Day 6 of 14 Days of Love, I did the whole routine: defending a boundary that I hadn’t set before, and then actually setting it. 

One thing about having someone close, like a family member, cross a boundary is that they most likely had good intentions. My Fear voice, who tells me to not say anything because “they’re only trying to help”, is right about that part. After I, essentially, shooed the family member away, I began to doubt if I’d done the right thing or if I just made a mess. It was an easy moment to give in to the voice of shame, who was running at me shouting “Look what you’ve done now! Told you you shouldn’t have said anything at all!” But I’m learning to listen to the other voice. She held my head in both hands and said, “Hey, come figure with me how we can have this boundary without hurting the family member. Guilt and Shame are coming after us but ignore them, let’s focus.” I believe her name is Love.

Love and my brain made a great team. I admitted that the family member had a (semi-valid) good intention and I would address that by letting them know what course of action would have been okay with me. I admitted to myself that I am responsible too, as I had never communicated this boundary before.  

In half an hour, when I saw the family member again, I was able to do set my boundary without being accusing, defensive or critical. In fact, I have a new found sense of respect for them. Before, when I kept to myself when they crossed my boundary, I had begun resenting them and labelling them negatively for it. But now, the decision to communicate my boundary requires me to respect them enough to allow for the possibility that they might actually be able and willing to respect my boundary.

Day 4: Boundaries 101

14 Days of Love, LOVE

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There was one mission I set for myself during 14 Days of Love: speak up when my boundaries are crossed, and set them with whoever crosses them.

This is a hard one! For a beginner like me, it takes people to inadvertently upset me to realize that’s a place I need to set a boundary. Brene Brown advises that we keep a “soft front, strong back”. Approach it kindly and politely, and be firm and assertive at the same time. This is important advice because it is really hard to do.

A week prior to 14 Days I defended a certain boundary for the first time and I was the opposite of “soft front, strong back”. This boundary seems so common sense for me that whenever it was crossed before, I’d find excuses for the violator such as “It doesn’t happen often”, “They’re just trying to help”, “Don’t make a fuss about it”. I even bent backwards to defend them, like “You should just be grateful that they’re here to help at all”.

That voice that persuaded me to let it slide is Fear. My Fear is scared of conflict and confrontation and worried that I’m not being a “good person”. But feelings don’t go away. Each time the frustration sticks itself into my heart like a splinter. I become more and more sensitive to pain and on that day that I decided not to push another splinter into my heart, my body pushed all the splinters out, onto the violator.

In other words, the day I decided not to take it any more, I got really mad.
Since I never got mad about it before, it might have been quite shocking to the violator. I hope they got the message.

A week later a similar situation was about to happen, and I wasn’t going to rely on hope, because to be fair, with all the words that came out of my mouth, none of them explained what made me so mad. So the night before, I set the boundary. It wasn’t perfect, but doing it imperfectly, as I did when I first defended that boundary, is better than not doing it at all.

For any of you who’d like to learn about boundaries, I recommend these two pieces: “Ten Steps for Developing Effective Boundaries” at Life By John shows us what boundaries look like. And “The Alpha Mare” by Elizabeth Gilbert shows us what a boundaried person looks like.