Thursday, January 17, 2008

Growing Pains

I have always had difficulty understanding what my boundaries are. The word itself is a boundary for me. Boundaries sounds so harsh. So rigid. So permanent.

Yet, to live a full life, I need healthy boundaries. Perhaps that's where my resistance to the word stems from -- my boundaries have not been too healthy in the past. Never having had great learning around boundary setting, my boundaries have been like the Berlin Wall. Rigid in spots with places where other people could leak over. Because I've sat in my watchtower constantly patrolling my boundaries for no other reason than 'that's my job', I've been erratic, irrational (okay somewhat psychotic) in maintaining my boundaries -- then again, if I didn't really know what my boundaries were, how could I maintain them in a healthy way?

Much of my adult life has been about getting clear on my boundary issues. Since coming through the hell of an abusive relationship, I have learned a lot -- about myself, my boundaries, my lack of self-esteem, my need for approval from others, my unhealthy behaviours.

I have also healed and grown and embraced my truth -- I do enough. I am good enough. I am enough.

As a mother, I am learning how to set boundaries. Okay, so my daughters are 20 and 21 -- it's about time! To be fair, it's not that I haven't set boundaries with them. Just ask them -- I've set tons of boundaries around their behaviour. I just haven't been particularly consistent in my enforcement. They love to tell the story of being 'grounded'. "Oh, my mother grounded me once when I was twelve. It lasted 2 hours before she told me I could go."

'Guilt' is another way to spell, 'mother'. I want the best for my daughters and sometimes, that means having to take a position, stand up and not be railroaded into acquiescence for the sake of making peace and assuaging my guilt over setting a boundary I know I need to do in order for us to be healthy in our relationship.

Putting me first is not part of my mothering lexicon -- I'm learning though!

Last night my eldest daughter and I had a long discussion about boundaries. Having watched me fall into the hell of that abusive relationship, they have some very natural fears that the past will repeat itself in this relationship with C.C. When fear awakens, resistance to change rises.

"Your track record with men is not that good mom," she said at one point.

Now, I hear her. In the past, I did not make good choices. Part of my 'growing up' has been to learn to stand up for me, to make choices that support me, love me and honour me. In the past, I chose men who fed my unhealthy need for completion from someone 'out there' because 'in here' was such a mish-mash of insecurity which I constantly tried to hide behind by finding strength in someone else. In psycho-babble terms, I had a weak 'internal locus of control' and sought my strength through an external locus of control. In other words, someone out there always had my answers for what was ailing me 'in here'.

Today, my self-esteem is much healthier, vibrant and robust. I don't get my value from 'out there'. I know it is a constant river flowing within me. When I stand centered in my 'I', confident, loving and passionate about living life fearlessly, I am complete, just the way I am.

Setting the boundary with my daughter on what is on the table for discussion vis-a-vis my relationship is a challenge for me.

The thing is, my boundary needs to be set lovingly -- and a hammer just doesn't work. Add to that, their resistance of change in the status quo and you've got a recipe for... and I take a deep breath.

It's a recipe for growth. For love to step in and build bridges of understanding. For all of us to expand our understanding of our relationship and to continue to heal and flow into life with grace and ease.

The day after Conrad was arrested 4+ years ago, I pulled out a journal and began to write. The first sentence began, "And now for the hard part." I remember pausing, taking a breath. Next I wrote, "Who says this has to be hard? Perhaps this is the joyous part. The hard part is over -- living that hell -- now it's time to heal. I've got to do this work. Why not do it with love and joy?"

Falling in love is easy. Being in love, living it every day -- that's where the conscious intention comes in.

Becoming a mother is easy too. Nine months, a couple of deep breaths, a push here and there and voila! (Okay, so not thaaat easy..., but it was a lot easier than learning how to parent with bonds of love strengthened with steely resolve to do what is right, not always easy) Being a mother, living with conscious intention to continually do what is 'best' for your child -- even when they disagree (sometimes vehemently!), now that's not always the easy part.

But there is no law that says it has to be hard.

It is my attitude, my thoughts, my resistance that makes it hard.

My daughters and I are entering a new arc in our family circle. As a family unit we were once four. That circle changed -- but the family unit always existed -- it just expanded to include other circles, other dynamics. As we move into this new perspective, we will always be 'our family'.

The strength in family is found in Love. To create harmony out of chaos I must maintain boundaries with love and tender care strengthened with resolve to do what is right -- for me and them. My daughters are fearful -- it is their right to feel what they feel. It is my right and responsibility to embrace my daughters with arms filled with love while standing on the bedrock of my belief in myself.

I've come a long way. And boy, I've got a long way to go before this amazing journey of Love is over. How exciting!

The question is: Where do unhealthy boundaries keep you from expressing yourself lovingly?


Anonymous said...


about 20 yrs. ago, after I sobered up, I had someone ask me about boundaries. I thought about a map but had no clue . . none at all about personal boudaries. I'd not been taught. I've learned this is not unusual in families where alcohol (my dad) and co-dependency (my mom) are present. The insidious influence precludes a lot of fairly basic 'normal stuff' from happening at all. I was guided to some great readings on boundaries and co-dependency which helped me lots; 'Co-Dependent No More' buy Melodie Beattie is great as is 'The Dance of Anger' (not sure of the author's name. Lots of people talked to me about 'Iron John' but I didn't find it helpful. Anyway, setting boundaries became something new for me at 36 and, from time to time, I am reminded it is a learning experience that does not stop.

M.L. Gallagher said...

Ain't that the truth! It is a continuous learning experience! Like life.

I've read both those books -- I believe Harriet Lerner is the author of Dance of Anger. She also has Dance of Intimacy -- which is excellent too.

Thanks Mark.

CZBZ said...

Boundaries! Tough topic for most people even if they were so fortunate as to never encounter a manipulative narcissist or a ruthless sociopath. We lose our whole sense of safety after a trauma as painful as that. The road back to "healthy boundaries" is a hard one but yea, it's joyful, too.

Even after we feel comfortable in our skin again, we'll each have a different Style. Some people seem to be a little more prickly than others, demanding trust be earned. I went that route for a little while too, just as you wrote about being Rigid.

That kept me safer but it didn't feel like me. So as you've taught me over the years, I had to STAND IN MY OWN TRUTH and be me---open, trusting and fairly vulnerable. That has only become possible because I am not afraid of people disliking me. And that lesson has only been learned because there are so many people who don't like me, yet I'm still standing tall.

I'm amazed how afraid of rejection I was which led to very unhealthy boundaries in the past. I'm still working on keeping those boundaries flexible because they need to be able to BREATH in various relationships. Fat Boundaries sometimes, skinny ones at other times; and just right boundaries with people who have just right boundaries, too.


M.L. Gallagher said...

I love what you wrote, CZ. That ole rejection thing was rather devestating until I learnt -- disagreement does not equal rejection.

I think it also got down to the fact I didn't trust Love to be there if I didn't say or do what someone else wanted.

I love the idea of fat ones, skinny ones, short ones tall ones clear ones brick ones velvet ones...


Just like you and me, perfectly human in all human imperfection.

Love ya!