I cannot count the number of times I have put myself in harm’s way. I have done so not in an outwardly aggressive manner such as placing myself directly in the path of a speeding car with no brakes or by lighting myself on fire, but through more casual and passive methods of self-induced harm: “ho-hum” ways of not taking the proper measures to ensure my safety and overall well-being.
I have failed to take responsibility for my emotional and physical health by allowing others to take advantage of me. I have allowed this in various forms including an over-willingness to help, a tendency to be “too” nice, not saying “no” when this would be in my best interest, an ability to keep a secret (even when detrimental to myself or others), a tendency to stuff my feelings, and particularly – this is the BIG ONE – by allowing others to make the rules up for me. Rules that have directly governed my body and what happens to it. While this has happened without the solicitation of my input, this is not a reason for me to not have given it. The cases in which I have said nothing are bad enough. It is the situations in which I have been disrespected, having clearly stated “no,” that are the worse yet- not only because my boundaries have been disregarded, but mostly because I have failed to follow through on the consequences that I had previously established. Shame on me. I feel ashamed and humiliated, disgusted with myself.
The majority of those who have taken advantage of me certainly do not give a rat’s ass about what I have to say, how I feel, or any boundaries that I may or may not have set. Others certainly care, but are unaware of how I truly feel: they are simply acting on the belief that I am “okay” with the status quo because I have not stated otherwise. This is my fault.
In the 33 years that I have been on this earth, several were spent preaching the importance and value of setting boundaries to teenage girls. I taught them how to set firm boundaries and that by doing so, they were respecting themselves and others. Somehow, I managed to teach the lecture without hearing a word, thinking it did not apply to me. Apparently, I have neither loved nor respected myself enough to believe I had the same rights.
Why would I believe this?
1. A lack of self-worth.
3. I have not understood the differences between setting a boundary, issuing an ultimatum, and how attempting to control someone else’s actions may be connected or disconnected to my own personal rights. This includes the extreme discomfort and other feelings that may arise when boundaries are not respected or if the recipient of the ultimatum is non-compliant.
I recently had the opportunity to reflect on the definitions and differences between the terms ‘boundary’ and ‘ultimatum.’ Setting a boundary is an act of self-protection, not an act of fear or cowardice. Setting boundaries requires that one NOT BE A PUSSY. It is a way of respecting yourself enough to say to another person that they are doing/saying/acting in a way that is offensive and unacceptable to you. When done with the highest of intent, setting a boundary has nothing to do with control or manipulation. It is simply stating where you draw the line, what your expectations are, and what you intend to do if it happens again (for example if you catch him in bed with another woman, you will promptly remove the parts that he was finding enjoyment in not 5 minutes earlier. Followed by the prompt removal of those body parts. Um, just kidding.) This is stated in an assertive, matter-of-fact tone, sans judgment or anger.
Conversely, an ultimatum is not unlike a direct assault, a poorly veiled attempt to take a person’s freedom and ability to choose away from them. Controlling and manipulative by nature, an ultimatum tells another how to act and often does so by offering the recipient a “choice.” The choices are almost always lose-lose for the recipient and will “force” the recipient to make a decision that is, of course, win-win for the Dictator. These “choices” tell you what you are to do and/or not do. Or else. The “or else” implies one or more threats and usually includes the ever-elusive “Do this or I will make your life a living hell.”
(Note: While setting a boundary doesn’t involve threats, it does involve consequences if those boundaries are crossed. If the consequences are not adhered to, an inconsistency between word and action is present. This creates a mixed message and once this happens, setting boundaries loses all meaning. After this, best of luck to you.)
Ultimatums are weak attempts made by weak, fearful people to exert (perceived) power over people and situations beyond their control.
This week I was on the receiving end of an ultimatum. The ultimatum came in the form of a clear directive: I was to choose “A” or to choose “B” and the “choice” must be made within a certain time frame. I, like most people, do not respond favorably to ultimatums. What Dictator failed to remember was the “or else” element that must be present when issuing an ultimatum. Dictator also failed to communicate directly with me, instead using a “go-between.” Knowing that this situation had nothing to do with me, nothing to do with what I was told to change, and nothing to do with anything other than Dictator and Dictator’s issues, did not ease the situation or my feelings regarding the situation in the slightest. Instead, my anger turned to rage. And of course, underneath this rage was fear. Not fear of Dictator, but fear of being controlled by someone other than myself, fear of losing control, fear of losing loved ones, fear of feeling the “need” to justify my actions (to others and to myself), and especially the fear that I would not be able to protect myself.
Dictator’s issues became my issues. I allowed this to happen, falling into an age-old pattern of taking on what isn’t mine, carrying someone else’s burden. I suspect that Dictator, too, was engaged in a pattern perhaps familiar to him or her, maybe a pattern involving the use of control and coercion. I do not know.
To the outside world, each of these patterns may appear as different as night and day. I would argue, however, that they are far more similar than they are different. Each relies on the other and needs the other to exist. There cannot be a Dictator without someone willing to be Dictated. And vice versa: there cannot be someone willing to take responsibility for others without someone willing to issue the orders. Each pattern traps its participants within a vicious cycle, severely limiting the options and alternatives available to each. There are no winners, only casualties – until someone becomes aware of what is happening and makes a conscious decision to remove him or herself from the cycle. Until then, the players may change but the cycle continues.
As George Santayana so eloquently stated: “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.“ I, historically, am a repeat offender. About the time I feel confident that I have broken this pattern and maybe even grown up a bit, I find myself back in the middle of the vicious cycle, angry and fearful. Apparently, it takes constant awareness and lots of practice to avoid repeating history, even on an individual level.
We cannot control anyone other than ourselves. This is a difficult pill for some, including me, to swallow.
No doubt I will be asked told? to pull this post. Perhaps this time I will be a little stronger and a little less like a doormat. Maybe I will be more apt to set a boundary. Firmly, maybe even kindly.