As I’m becoming more and more authentic, a lot of the work is around discovering and setting appropriate boundaries. In the past I have swung like a pendulum between giving myself away – having no boundaries – and setting my boundaries so far out that no one can get in (a reaction to having given myself away).
I’ve realized that this pattern comes from having been enmeshed with my mother and carrying that into my adult relationships. I have believed that in order to be loved and accepted I have to become what the other person wants me to be.
In friendships, work relationships and romantic relationships I have allowed the other person to run the show, to the point of not getting what I want or need from the relationship. I have also suffered some significant betrayals in close relationships.
In order to protect myself I’ve gone to the opposite extreme: no one gets in. I put walls up and avoid situations that might end up in hurt like those in the past. I make choices about what I will and won’t do in a relationship (any type of relationship) from a defensive position. I expect to be taken advantage of and used for the other person’s benefit with no regard for my own needs and desires.
This is not what I want in my life. What I want is to have genuine intimacy with close friends and a romantic partner. Intimacy where I am safe being myself, and I am truly seen and loved.
For less intimate friendships and work relationships I want to choose what I’m willing to do based on what I want to do, not as a defensive move. I want to be able to give and compromise freely, not always being on the lookout for how I’m being manipulated or fearing that if I give an inch they will take a mile.
My awareness of this pattern of mine became really clear when I started grad school six years ago. The school I chose was set up in such a way that there was a lot of group interaction both structured and unstructured. There were lots of opportunities to attend optional seminars or just hang out with the other students.
I felt myself contract in this environment. When my roommate would go off to one of these evening optional seminars, I would stay in the room and read. When people were hanging out in the lobby (class met in 5 day stretches at a hotel), I’d be in my room. When other students were planning a study group, I wasn’t interested.
At the same time, my friends outside of school no longer fit me. I was growing and changing by leaps and bounds and my friendships were not what I wanted or needed anymore. But I didn’t have anything to replace them.
I did make a few close friends in grad school, but as soon as we graduated from the two year program, they disappeared. I felt again that I had been taken advantage of. I was there to support them as we went through this sometimes difficult process, and once I was no longer needed I was out.
This has been the story of my friendships up until now. What have I done for you lately? If the answer’s nothing or, heaven forbid, I actually disagree with you about something you want, then I’m out.
This pattern is all about my belief that I’m not good enough. That I have to be what someone else wants me to be, or provide a service for them in order to be wanted by them. Realizing my wholeness has to mean that this is not true. It has to mean that I am a valuable person, friend, partner and worthy of love just because I am here.
I’m finally in a place where I get that, and I believe that in my heart. Yet, old habits die hard. So I’m choosing to be aware when I’m making choices based on defensiveness and look at how I can do it differently. I’m choosing to be aware of when I give in on something and it doesn’t feel okay to me. I’m choosing to look for ways that I can give and not feel resentful or look for the quid pro quo.
It’s a process. The more I can come back to feeling grounded in my heart and deep knowing that I am a worthwhile person no matter what I do or don’t do, the easier it is to find the right boundary.