Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Setting boundaries

Learning to set reasonable boundaries is one of the hardest lessons we have to learn, especially if you are a 'giver' -- someone who helps (or enables) loved ones and friends, often without regard for your own needs.

In fact, givers often give because it's easier to help another to solve the problems in his/her life rather than dealing with the issues in your own life. It's easy to slip into co-dependency -- not a healthy situation for either party.

When the other person has an illness, an addiction, or has a lot of life stuff going on, it is so tempting to make excuses for them and to bend over backwards to accommodate their behavior -- usually at your expense in time, money, and anguish.

We all do that. "He's been going through a rough time at work." "She is taking care of her mom plus her kids, and it's been hard for her lately." "He's trying to quit drinking (smoking, drugs, etc.)"

I'd heard such excuses made about an acquaintance with whom I've had limited but necessary contact because of work or volunteer responsibilities. The few exchanges we've had have been unpleasant, never face-t0-face, but rather through e-mail where the individual impugned my motives, my knowledge, my work ethic, my journalistic ability, and my character, and also insulted through a separate-but-related e-mail a person with whom I work and for whom I have great respect.

I had done nothing to 'deserve' the attack. I had simply asked for information, politely and professionally.

I didn't answer the e-mail, much as I wanted to defend and explain myself. I learned some years ago that if you get down in the mud with the pigs, you get dirty and the pig loves it.

But I decided then and there that I would have nothing more to do with the person. Ever. No matter what.

Others have talked to me over the last few years about similar exchanges they've experienced, always adding that the person is (take your choice) mentally ill, unstable, like that to everyone... I'm definitely not the only target here. The point is that people always, ALWAYS add an 'explanation' for the attacker's behavior -- as though that somehow excuses the person's abusive words.

And then I learned that a group I care very much about is planning an event that directly involves the individual and is one from which the person might well profit. The planners are good friends -- people for whom I have great respect and admiration and who have done much work to see the activity come to fruition.

I won't be participating or attending. They know why and respect my choice.

Susan J. Elliott, in her blog Getting Past Your Past, writes about taking care of yourself in these kinds of situations:

She begins:

"I have to say that lately I’ve been hearing A LOT about people taking WAY too much responsibility for not being “understanding” enough because their partner had some sort of “condition” (ADHD, depression, grief, mental illness, alcoholism, etc etc etc).

People who are suffering from any one thing have two responsibilities: 1) to get help for it and 2) to not abuse or use or mistreat anyone while they are suffering.

There are NO excuses for abusing or mistreating anyone. I don’t care who you are or what your affliction is. You have no right. Not for a day, an hour, or a second...." Read more here.

And there it is -- setting boundaries for yourself: Respecting who you are and what you bring to the table, and not allowing anyone to take that dignity away.

I have never played these kinds of games very well, either in my work or in my personal life. And as I get older, I am determined not to do them at all. So I step back or step out of situations that compromise my own values or dignity. I don't want to get sucked into drama because of another person's inability to cope with and resolve his/her own issues.

The Desiderata -- a philosophical poem that was popular in the 1960s and '70s, and which won a spoken word Grammy for radio announcer Les Crane -- hangs on my wall. Among other things, it instructs:
"...Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit..."

I've taken that to heart.

1 comment:

Kate said...

At 52 years of age I have exhausted my care taking of the behaviors of other people. It doesn't serve my happiness. I admit that I have spent most of my life in a co-dependant mind frame. I was born into it. It was how I survived in my family. I was the "rescuer". Many people allow explanation for the behaviors of others due to child hood programming. That sounds like another excuse doesn't it? It helps to try to understand --sometimes. Other times, its better to just observe and detach. The setting of boundaries is necessary in order to live a life of independance and sovereignty. I admit that I have only just begun. I have taken care of most of my family throughout my entire life. I never had children of my own. My parents and my siblings were my children. I married into a similar situation. We learn at different speeds and different times of our lives. It doesn't seem to make a difference in the long run. It reminds me of an old song ... "I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now" - something like that. I am single now, free of the past. I didn't know that I could just say no, I won't do it. I felt that it was my duty to be of service to my family. I did have a choice. My father had Alzheimer disease for many years. I cared for him and finally his doctor told me that my own health would be at risk if I continued to take care of him. I was addicted to caring for people and never realized it because I had been doing it since I was six years old. I am not the only one in the world who has had this type of psychological entanglement. I moved to Red Bluff after my father died to get away from the SF bay area to rest and heal. Now I am rested! I am beginning a new life in a brand new mind frame. To tell you the truth, it is not really a new mind frame, it is just mine. I am remembering --me.

People have reasons for the behaviors that they carry. Do we have time to figure them out before we engage in relationship? No way! I would never allow myself to intrude on anyone with my exhausting stories. This is rare for me. I am sharing my little tid bit only to illustate that there are reasons for the behaviors of others. Its not our job or responsibility to investigate or nurse their psyche. That is a solo journey and there is absolutely no one in the entire universe who can truly assist. There is only God.

There are people who are desperately trying to connect with their reasons for being so needy and dependant. They are anxious and frustrated because they really don't seem to know why they are creating havoc in other people's lives. They just continue to meddle and create chaos in order to feel a connection or get a reaction. It is a sad situation. Sorry, I filled my quota for tolerance of that behavior for several lifetimes. It is time for joy and happiness now! I am the poster child for that campaign.

I adore your writing Beth. Thank you for sharing your wonderful style and wit! It is so refreshing and truly comforting.

- Kate