Today, I finally finished reading “Letting Go Of Good”, and if I take nothing else from the book, it’ll be the statement that boundaries are not created to keep others out, but to keep ourselves in. This was a statement which I needed to go back and reread several times in order to allow the message to fully reach me. I’ve been working on boundaries for a handful of years, and while I had made some progress, my efforts kept falling glaringly flat. Over and over, I’d find myself reiterating what my boundaries were, only to allow them to be trampled repeatedly.
This vicious cycle has been repeated so many times. Before I get too far, it needs to be said that I have complex-PTSD from repeated and sustained abuse and trauma. The damage was so profound that I didn’t have an identity of my own. My way of being, my very identity was to be “good enough” to hopefully “deserve” to be loved and to belong. So yeah, that’s a real clusterfuck of never going to happen. Love and belonging are not something that can be earned by tiptoeing around, trying to anticipate what might cause someone to reject, abuse, or abandon, because somehow I wasn’t rising to the challenge of maintaining their happiness for them.
If you’re thinking that this is messed up, you’d be right. That broken part of me who accepted that responsibility for the happiness of others as the measure of my worthiness was destined to fail. Once upon a time, this way of being was absolutely necessary for my survival, quite literally. Any real identity I may have had was beaten out of me so long ago, that any attempts to let it rise to the surface were either squashed back down by others, and later by myself because this was the only way I knew, even though it felt like shit.
Over the past few years, I’ve been slowly building my toolbox to discover my own identity, and to learn to reject the notion that I needed to be what others wanted of me in order to be safe, accepted, and loved. This last piece of the puzzle when it comes to boundaries being to keep ourselves in, as opposed to keeping others out is major! A handful of years ago, I once again got myself involved in some situations in which I stuffed the progress I had made back down again. It got so bad, was so devastating, that I tucked my tail and went into therapy for PTSD for the first time in my life.
The missing step for me when it comes to boundaries, was the knowing that all I can do is state those boundaries and observe whether they are respected. Instead of giving the benefit of the doubt, and being patient to the point of losing myself, the right answer is to enforce the boundaries myself, instead of leaving it up to someone else to respect them. I knew this on some deeply buried, untouched level, but was so filled with guilt at the very notion of being “selfish” that I would dissociate in order to maintain my good enough-ness.
Now, I know that when someone shows us who they are, we had better believe them. Not only that, but we’d better take action to make sure that our own needs are met. One thing that a particular situation I found myself in taught me for the last time that I can accept, and survive, is that no amount of repetition, patience, or compromise is going to ensure that my needs are taken into consideration. I have to be the one who takes control of that. We all have to.
There’s so much more wrapped up into all of this. It’s like the world’s biggest, stickiest spider web. To put it succinctly, I’ve been attracted to more of the same self squashing situations I’ve always been in. The further I come along in therapy, the more I see my own power in doing things differently. At the risk of sounding sick, I’m going to say that I am thankful for the final straw event which crushed my spirit. Why? Because I was forced (by my inner yearning for peace) to go to therapy and get the help that I have needed to wade through all of this. I’ve been attempting to go it on my own for decades, and while there were a lot of realizations along the way, there was nothing of lasting consequence, because I simply didn’t have the tools to be attracted to healthier situations, nor follow through on those realizations.
I’ve essentially been limping through life like a jungle cat with a pebble caught between the pads on its paw. When this happens the pebble needs to be removed. Otherwise, it keeps limping, being injured repeatedly. It stops engaging in play, because it leads to pain. It stays isolated because it has met some mean jungle cats who leave it behind and do not take it into the group, due its wounds keeping the rest of them back (it isn’t meeting their expectations of it and never could anyway). After a while, it keeps being attracted to mean cats, because that’s what feels familiar, that’s what it feels it deserves on some level, until it gives up. While it’s true that the jungle cat may have received occasional sympathy, this wasn’t enough to keep it from lashing out or acting inappropriately at times due to the pain from the pebble. So, no matter whether it encounters mean jungle cats, or nice ones, this cat’s wound will not permit it to have normal interactions with others until that damned pebble is removed.
The cat’s entire world view changes as a result of the wound. Eventually there are no remaining vestiges of its powerful, wonderful personality left, because it had to adapt. Even after the pebble is removed, the cat may need a while to remember who it was, depending on how long it has been stuck there. Okay, enough cat analogy! My pebble has been removed. The adaptation and the lens through which I’ve viewed and interacted with the world were my only way of being for so long, that it has required extreme measures to even reach the point I’m at now, which is definitely still limping but not as badly.
All of my past friendships, relationships, etc. had been formed from that wounded place, in which I had no clue who I was or how to navigate the landscape of life. So, I literally ended all of my relationships but two, because it was apparent to me that they were all so wrapped up in my wounded, non-identity that there would be no salvaging them. I’ve had a blank slate for around a year, and am now finally healing enough to get to know myself a tiny bit. I’m nowhere near ready to throw myself back out there, and that’s okay. Learning who I am, what I want/need, and having sufficient time to solidify that is priority one.
The space I’m currently in is exciting, scary, and at times lonely. Looking back to get some glimmers of the real me, I’ve seen a little bit of what that looks like now. I just have to be sure that my inner chameleon has been handled more fully before allowing others in. The last time my wounds were ripped back open, I felt like it would be the end of me, culminating in the most prolonged period of depression and confusion I’ve had since reaching adulthood. Guess rock bottom is sometimes needed in order to stop living in half measures. Here’s to becoming real!