When I was in elementary school my dad insisted on including any and all kids my age in my neighborhood play.
I had a few friends that I played with regularly. Oftentimes we’d just roam the street we lived on, choosing someone’s parent’s car to sit on the end of.
There was one girl who was a bit awkward and shy. It wasn’t that she was mean, she was just shorter than us, wore different clothes and wasn’t as enthusiastic or expressive. I guess we thought she was kind of boring. We left her behind and never knocked on her door to invite her out with us.
My dad caught onto this and took me aside.
“Why don’t you include her?”
“We don’t like her.”
“Why not? That’s not nice.”
My dad’s family included everyone. Even with their family of 10 children, their friends were invited on vacations in the motorhome, over for dinner and more. If you walked into my grandparents house, that was my grandma’s cue to get food from the kitchen to feed you.
Any person who didn’t have holiday plans would be invited over and included.
When I became an adult and someone mentioned something called “boundaries” I felt my whole body clench. “How mean,” I thought to myself.
I found I had grown into the familiar pattern of being all accepting with an open heart and open mind to all. Anyone who was mean or non inclusive was an anomaly to me.
This led to lots of heartache later on. Being taken advantage of and treated very disrespectfully in certain instances. I could even say this contributed to my low self esteem when I was younger.
I didn’t respect myself as a result. I gave and gave, trying to get people to like me. I tolerated bad behavior because somewhere inside I believed it would prove I loved them and they might finally get it and love and accept me back.
To no avail, the pattern continued.
Until I upped my self worth, there were many people who I continued to expose myself to and have friendships and relationships with, who would treat me worthlessly and disrespectfully.
Discernment became my focus.
Who did I want to spend my time and energy with?
When did I feel most appreciated and valued?
With whom was I reflected back with acknowledgement and encouragement?
How did I feel after spending time with certain people and when was it different with others?
I was afraid that being selective about who I spent my time with would make me “mean” as my dad taught me. I’ve developed quite a repertoire of skills and tools to listen to and hold space for how people just are… because we all have shitty behaviors here and there.
However, I have come to realize that if I actually want to thrive and feel at ease and safe to be myself, I need to let people know what feels good and what feels hurtful. And I encourage others to do the same.
Oftentimes, there’s a misinterpretation that when cleared up we both say, “Oh,” then love and connection are present once again.
Then there are times when someone is so fearful, hurt, angry, sad, disappointed or depleted that they dissociate to a point where nothing they say makes any sense and nothing I could say would make it better for them. These are times when, I believe, the person doesn’t even know what they need, they just need to let off steam and I happen to be the easy target.
So I say, “yes” to boundaries. To keep myself sane, grounded and feeling healthy. If I’m bombarded by constant emotional upheaval, my nervous system becomes dysregulated and my capacity to make good decisions or be present for the things that are important in my life goes way down.
It’s tricky not to take things personally. Especially if I’m in an environment where most of the people involved are unhappy with themselves, struggling with substances or dealing with unhealthy relationships. It feels like grasping when someone is insisting that their misery is somehow my fault.
When I take time to step back, which is my way of taking a healthy boundary, I can then look at myself in the mirror and remind myself that I am a loving, compassionate person, I can usually see through the emotional hijacking that I’ve gotten myself caught up in.
Sometimes people want to grow and change which is when someone is willing to navigate through difficult conversations with consciousness and kindness. Other times I need to step way back and not engage in that relationship or circumstance anymore.
Big clues for me are constant broken agreements, name calling and blame.
I often check in with one’s ability to be responsible for their own experiences and feelings. We don’t have to like the same things. We don’t even have to agree. This is where respect comes in. For one’s self and for the other person’s perspective and truth.
We were all brought up so differently with different value systems and beliefs. Who am I to impose mine on someone else?
If someone is open and mature, we can have a conversation and perhaps find a way to understand one another’s perspective. If we agree that we are not a healthy match, that’s respect, too.
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