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The Walls We Build

Oct 14, 2019

I’m so grateful that I say no to things I would never have said no to as a little girl, as an impressionable tween, as a shy teenager, as an insecure woman, as an unhappy wife and then as an overwhelmed mother.

Looking back at all those years of “yes’es”, instincts of protection wash over me – a feeling so familiar and yet only reserved for my sons these days. What had I needed back then that I didn’t have but do now? One could argue that with age, comes wisdom but I only half -heartedly believe that. Because I believe that saying “no” is a skill. Saying “no” with grace and elegance to stay true to who you are is a massive skill and the lessons all start when you start making time for you.

As far back as I can remember, I’d feel the burden of pleasing others and it was evident in the way I’d seek external validation and approval. Obedient. Yes, obedient is the word I’d use today to describe my past self. It didn’t help that cultural expectations further perpetuated my people pleasing traits. A good girl does what she’s told, follows rules and orders, dresses and acts conservatively and certainly, doesn’t speak back. I felt like one of my dolls who appeared devoid of feelings but I’m willing to bet that if she’d been given the permission to speak, we’d run out of time. Her feelings ran that deep.

Isn’t if often the case that those who feel so deep and have so much to share are ironically the ones that feel the need to turn inwards, to quiet that critical inner voice and to feed into feelings of self-doubt. How else can you explain why drawing the line is so hard for the best of us?

Or.

The opposite can also ring true. Not fully equipped with the right language, we chase words as fast as we can in the hopes that one of them will land. We raise voices, argue, yell, nag and just never stop talking when eventually, the sound of our own voices begin to feel nauseating. And the outcome? We’re worse off than we were, depleted, defeated and drained.

Why didn’t anyone instruct me that “hey. Speaking up and loving yourself first is your birthright. Do it in full force and all will be…better”. Why didn’t they teach me this in school? I feel cheated by the system.

The concept of setting healthy boundaries was novel to me until I was a full grown middle age woman. That’s kinda embarrassing if you ask me. From where I stand, the younger generation appears to have aced this whole boundary thing while the rest of us missed out.  Maybe. Maybe not.

Ask me how many times I’ve seen mothers over- accommodate their families’ busyness and yet feel enormously guilty for making time for self-care. Ask me how my peers slave night and day prepping for work deadlines without being provided much notice and feel obligated to do so at no extra compensation. Ask me how girlfriends are constantly bombarding their friends with crisis issues and unloading on the regular but not providing the same listening ears back.

And what ends up happening?

We avoid.

We retreat.

We say nothing.

We suffer in silence.

We become angry.

We nag.

We yell.

We suffer in silence.

On Repeat…..

What’s wrong with this image?

Ultimately, we’ll be left carrying the weight of unfulfilled yearning and desires and sadly, the truth is that there’s no one else to turn to but ourselves.

Having grasped this notion that setting healthy boundaries is key to establishing fulfilling connections and that without it, I may as well succumb to a lifetime of chasing external validation, was a revelation for me. More digging pursued. And this is what I found.

Many of us struggle with setting healthy boundaries.

And just when we think we’ve got this boundary thing all figured out, we haven’t. We’ve set up walls, not boundaries.

Full disclosure: this whole concept of boundaries vs. walls was a total eye opener for me. This entire time, I thought I was protecting myself and standing up for what I believed in while shunning the other one out with my passive aggressive ways, berating him and oh this one is the best, distracting and numbing myself with other things – think retail therapy, partying, drinking.

Well. I had it all wrong. No short cuts here. There was no escaping from doing the work to learn the delicate balance between engagement and disengagement.

Setting healthy boundaries was way harder than I thought it would be and still is. So if you’re reading this and nodding you’re head, I know you get me. I think the key to making boundary setting work for you is to first recognize what your hooks and triggers are. These can be fluid but these can also be so deep seated.

I was standing there in the middle of the dining room with its terra cotta painted walls, ancient Indian rug, camel leather recliner sofa and little Thomas the Tank Engine Choo-Choo trains splattered all over the floor with tears pouring down my face. When did this become my life? And how? The scene in front of me was blurred and the outline of a man yelling profanities was fading away as I finally turned into myself for solace.

Perhaps it was my way of blocking it all out. Perhaps I had hoped for it to all resolve automatically. I was exhausted. I was exhausted by all the yelling. I was exhausted by the abuse I spewed back. I was exhausted by all the running away I was doing. I was exhausted by having to care for two little ones while barely having the energy to tend to myself. Most of all, I was exhausted by the toxic energy around me. I was lost with very little knowledge of how to escape this disaster of a life I had helped create.

A circle without a beginning and worse, no end in sight.

This scene continued for many, many years until I finally learnt to stop being a part of this dance.

As they say, hindsight is 20/20. All I had known in my younger years was how to set up walls and setting up walls allowed me to stay in my mess instead of breaking the pattern.

Now I know better.

And for bonus points, I figured out the twist.

Vulnerability is of the essence.

Believe me when I say that you cannot set healthy boundaries without first learning how to be vulnerable and then learning how to express those vulnerabilities in a way that feels empowering and yet loving.     My life’s work right there.

It took a whole lot of emotional reserve for me to admit that I need you. I need you to listen to me and not offer me opinions. I need you to hold me in silence while I sit in my discomfort. I need you to take care of your basic needs so that you can show up fully for us. I need you to put your phone away when we sit down for dinner so that we can connect. I need you to give me attention when we are in large gatherings because I’m anxious around your peers. I need you to take space if you’re having a bad day to re-collect. I need you to adhere to the no tech rule when we’re in bed because I can’t sleep. I need you to do your part as I do mine.

And if you can’t do that, then here’s what I’ll do to ensure that I continue to honour me. Let’s check in with each other tomorrow and revisit.

Share. Be clear. Lay it all out. From a place of love. And mostly, commit.

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