As someone who grew up in an unsafe home with parents who did not respect or acknowledge that I was a separate entity to them…I have some serious boundary issues as an adult.
Most relevant is my lack of ability to verbalise what those boundaries are. I definitely ‘feel’ boundary violations and actively avoid those violations but to the friend, spouse or work colleague they just see my avoidance behaviours and the ‘blow up’ when it all gets too much and I finally react outside of my own head.
In my adult life, boundary violations are nothing major really. Fortunately despite my child hood somehow I chose and married a gentle and loving man (many victims of abuse are not so lucky and instead play out child hood trauma over and over again throughout their lives). My boundary violations are seemingly minor things that another person may actually be 100% okay with, for example:
- A family member speaking to me whilst I’m having private, alone time and don’t want to be disturbed (again, I haven’t actually TOLD them I’m having alone time…I just figure it should be obvious that’s what I’m doing).
- A family member inviting themselves to come along on a drive I’m taking to pick up some groceries. Little do they know (because I haven’t told them) that I have given so much time, energy and ‘talking’ to them that day that I really just need 20 minutes of silence to recharge my batteries so I can still be ‘on’ when I get back.
- A friend asks me to do them a favour. I feel I can’t say no, despite really not having the time to fit this favour in. In this case and the other two examples I’m completely violating my own boundaries by not speaking up (I learned growing up that my needs were unimportant and that I’d be emotionally punished for ever saying no or choosing my own safety over someone else’s wants or desires).
- A mutual male friend making sexual innuendos at me and maybe hugging me a little longer than is appropriate when we’re all saying goodbye at the end of an evening (i.e my husband and I and a few friends hanging out, everything is out in the open…nothing hidden or secretive). This one is complicated, it sounds like they’re being an ass but since I said I was fine with it all and laughed along with it from the beginning, the problem is actually me. No one knows that sometimes it makes me uncomfortable or makes me question if anyone likes me as a person and not just as a slab of meat. To make matters worse, in a warped kind of way if they now stopped these jokes I’d feel like they don’t like me any more or that maybe my weight has crept up without me realising it, or if age is finally catching up to me.
- My bulging disc in my lower back causes me a lot of pain when I exacerbate it with any kind of heavy lifting (it’s pretty embarrassing how light something can be and still exacerbate my injury. In fact, any extra weight carried in my arms when I go for a walk can lead to me being in a lot of pain by the end of the walk and I’ll struggle to sleep that night from the ongoing pain). Despite this, I can’t bring myself to ask for help lifting things or make a bold stand to NOT lift things at all.
The reason I feel like talking (well…writing) this one through right now is that firstly I’m reading yet another, ‘Boundaries’ book (this one: Boundaries – Where You End and I Begin) and secondly I’ve messed up my back again.
I’ve been helping a good friend out at her shop for several months now. Part of ‘helping’ often involves lifting heavy things (and please note, ‘heavy’ I realise isn’t very heavy at all! My friend can lift these things with ease….granted she’s significantly taller than me and must have strong arms and a strong back…I’m not so lucky). Since injuring my back I have not been able to bring myself to tell her that I can’t lift anything heavy (or even not so heavy…even lighter things that need to be put away up high can really hurt my lower back). Logically I know she wouldn’t mind at all, but I also know that her actual employees need to lift heavy things as part of their job sometimes and I don’t want to be made a big deal of with her saying things like, ‘wait no Jen, don’t you lift that, let someone else do that‘…or when she says, ‘so who wants to put this stock away?‘…and there’s a big pause (this happened yesterday!) I assume no one wants that job so I, being the idiot that I am say, ‘I’ll do it‘.
Why Jen, why?
I figured I’d just take my time carrying lighter bits of stock back and forth and take my time. Of course, I then felt guilty for taking longer than someone else doing the job would so I tried to speed up and slowly started carrying heavier loads.
I volunteered to do it, I violated my own boundaries…and even though I’m in pain today and I’m going back to the shop to help out…still I don’t trust myself to speak up and let her know about my physical needs.
I’m 35-years old. I only get one back and I’ve messed this one up. I know I’m not just, ‘being nice’ and that my failure to speak up and state my boundaries and my needs actually burdens other people (because it’s only a matter of time before my friend realises that I never say, ‘no’ and starts to wonder if I’m not being completely upfront with her). If I can just utter the simple but oh so complicated to me words, ‘I’m really sorry but do you remember how I told you months ago that I’d messed up my lower back doing yoga?‘…’yeah, well I’m an idiot and I keep re-injuring it by lifting heavy things and I just wanted to let you know that I can’t lift things any more because I’m really worried it’s going to get worse or end up being a permanent injury‘.
I know what I have to do, but it makes me feel a deep sense of dread deep in the pit of my stomach when I imagine stating my needs. What if they think I’m being a drama queen? What if they think I’m just trying to get attention? What if the other ladies working there hate me because they have to lift more heavy things (yes I realise the silliness of this one, since obviously they lift these things when I’m not there…so why should it be any different when I am there?)? What if my friend is upset and doesn’t trust me any more when she realises I’ve been keeping secret how bad my back pain is?
Wish me luck!