This morning I finished my yoga practice and jumped in the chair behind the PC, intent on adding a new blog post. Lo and behold, Hewlett-Packard had different ideas. My PC was midway into a major update from Windows 8 to Windows 10 (not sure what happened to Windows 9…) so I sat here reading a booklet that I found while organizing the office last week that deals with being more assertive. There’s no cover page so I don’t know the actual title or author but it was an interesting read while I munched a couple of slices of whole grain toast slathered with peanut butter. (What 20 lbs. by Nov. 20th???)
One thing that stuck out for me was a passage that read: “Some [people] are unconcerned whether you agree with them and share their views. Others are rabid in demanding that you fall in line with them. They feel that they know best and this gives them the authority to tell everyone what they should be doing and saying. It is their way or the highway.” (Anonymous) I think we all know a few people with this mindset; having been afflicted by alcoholism and abuse as a child, I, too, can get on my high horse about certain subjects. It is learned behavior. And this is where that Al-Anon slogan of “Live and Let Live” comes into play. I don’t have all the answers and neither does anyone else; we can only do the best we can with what we have…and allow others the same courtesy. However, this is where the term “boundaries” comes into play…and the need to assert those boundaries.
The booklet goes on to talk about how women, especially (though not confined to women; just more common), tend to be people-pleasers. Old-fashioned values passed down from previous generations instill in us a belief that standing up for ourselves is unladylike, unfeminine. And then we wonder why we keep finding the same situations over and again: being over-whelmed by too many responsibilities/social engagements or commitments; being passed over for better job positions, or lower pay scales; or finding the same abusive and/or controlling partners ad nauseum.
Some of this is simply that innate desire to be loved and accepted. We want to fit in so we say “yes” to every request made of us; we give in to keep the peace; we give–because it is better than receiving, or so we are told–and we give and we give until, like that old children’s story about the giving tree, there is nothing left to give…except maybe the built-up resentment and anger that stifling our own needs–and even our core values–has developed. In seeking to please others and neglecting our own needs, we actually give others an unspoken permission to treat us as doormats; to ridicule us; to continue to assert their “control” over us. In short, we allow unacceptable behavior. And, as a result of this tolerance of unacceptable behavior, that anger and resentment eventually spills over until we resort to some unacceptable behavior of our own.
Boundaries. This one is a tough one for me. I grew up in an alcoholic home. Frequent, violent arguments often made sleep impossible and left a little girl quaking in her shoes. The one time I remember standing up for myself was when I was around 17. It was over a chair that my stepfather had picked up at a yard sale to replace the old rocking chair my mother had reupholstered for me years before. The rocking chair went hurtling across the floor and Mom barely managed to stop the incessant stomping that would have reduced it to smithereens in another moment. My assertion was simply to suggest couldn’t we put the new chair in the living room instead of my room (which was only, roughly, 10 x 8)? Today, I can understand that this was not an unreasonable request but, the reaction to that request, set a precedent that my feelings, thoughts, opinions had no value and, in fact, asserting myself might bring about some serious consequences. This is a little extreme but even those from unbroken homes often struggle with asserting themselves. What good is it to establish healthy boundaries if you don’t maintain them? Saying “no” is not a bad thing. It doesn’t necessarily mean “never”, just “not right now”. Or it means I find this behavior unacceptable and I’m not going to tolerate it anymore. Setting boundaries, and asserting yourself to maintain those boundaries, says that your time, your money, your health and well-being are all valuable and important–as is the time/money/health, etc. of others. Setting boundaries is not the same as building walls; setting boundaries doesn’t shut everyone out–and isolate you in; they simply provide guidelines for protecting yourself. Boundaries are a way of saying “No” with love rather than the hostility that characterizes aggression. Aggression builds walls. Aggression threatens and tries to manipulate others. Boundaries protect you from that aggression.
After over 20 years of therapy, I am learning–finally–to set some boundaries and also, to assert myself in maintaining those boundaries. I’m also learning that sometimes the people closest to you do not like this sudden change from the church mouse mentality to, well, not exactly the lion ready to roar, but at least the cat who stoically goes their own way regardless. I have a mind of my own. And, while I strive to respect the feelings and views of others, I am also striving to have my own feelings and views respected–even if those views are not shared. I recently had someone give me an ultimatum because I did not share their views about something. Ultimatums are unfair under almost any circumstance–unless you’re a soldier or police officer giving someone the ultimatum to come out with their hands up. For once, I stood up to this unacceptable behavior because to give in to it would go against some pretty solid principles. I did my best to maintain calm and simply stated my feelings, and that I was not going to conform to what they expected me to do. It didn’t go over well but I expected it. It hurts. Talk about reinforcing some negative, learned behavior but I also know that my standing up to this negativity is much healthier than any conformity to another’s expectations. Though it hurts, in some ways, taking that stand has also been liberating. The outcome of my being assertive may not have been the one I was hoping for, the intent misunderstood, but I realized my own worth. The little girl is no longer quaking in her shoes.
May God bless you & keep you!