… NOT that there is anything wrong with therapy. I go to a counselor “as needed” myself! However, I learned early on in my living with disability, that boundaries are healthy, intelligent, and necessary.
“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others” Brene Brown
Boundaries are Healthy (part 1)
I have what I call a servant’s heart, which comes from the fact that one of my love languages is “Acts of Service“. Doing little (and sometimes BIG) things are how I express love to other people. Doing little acts of kindness for others makes my heart happy and fills my own “love tank”. This includes acts for those I love dearly like family and “chosen family”. However, I also prefer to express love to my fellow human-being with little acts of service. So even my students (I hope) benefit from due date extensions for valid excuses, my bringing little miniature candy bars or granola bars to the class, and personally signing Valentine’s Day cards or other holiday gestures.
A dangerous misappropriation of an act of service, however, is to allow people to mistreat me or to pick away at my self-esteem and soul. When I was younger I would think to myself, “I will be the bigger person and turn the other cheek”. Other thought processes included, “If it makes them feel better to belittle me, I can let them have that because I know my own value”. Also, excuses such as “They have significant problems for which they have not received any help for, nor recognize their toxicity. I can ignore something they don’t recognize themselves”.
My friends? This is actually very unhealthy thinking. Retaliation is not the answer. Going on the “offense” or even “defense” is not healthy either. Both reek of BATTLE energy. Who wants to constantly be at war? I truly believe boundaries are healthy. My belief in this important work extends to training others as I do a workshop for people with disAbility. My goal is to teach others to recognize when and where boundaries need to be constructed. Boundaries ARE healthy and accomplish two things:
- Boundaries speak volumes.
When we establish boundaries, we are telling another person who has been detrimental to our well-being, that “it STOPS right here”. It can be either an announced decision, or a quiet establishment of barriers that the toxic person discovers after a barb is deflected. At times, boundaries are necessary for family members and loved ones, for friends and acquaintances, for co-workers, well… really for any people we are (forced) into contact with by choice or by design that are detrimental to our good mental and emotional health.
Boundaries can include any of the following:
- Refusal to spend time in the toxic person’s presence.
- Blocking a toxic person on your phone.
- “Unfollowing” or “hiding” a toxic person on your social media,
- Filing a restraining order (if needed when the person is able to exact very real harm towards you).
The latter doesn’t even have to be a true legal “order”. At work on my college campus, another professor has a service dog – that isn’t. I’m not sure what skilled tasks her service dog does for her, but in the first year of her dog being on campus, I experienced 2 falls and 1 near miss as a result of her dog lunging for Finn (my service dog) and I. After numerous email exchanges and lots of defensiveness on her part, I finally had to go to HR and explain that for my safety (and I expect others) I needed to be able to avoid meetings with this other professor. Long story short, I knew I was a lot safer after requesting this boundary.
Boundaries may be either blatant creations or subtle constructions. It doesn’t matter which type of boundary you use, these boundaries tell the other person that you care enough about yourself that you refuse to allow them any form of abuse from this point forward.
- Boundaries are good self-care.
Boundaries also speak volumes to YOU. Once I recognized that the pain and suffering I was experiencing from certain people was not a perk I OWED THEM, real peace became the “norm” for me. Once I determined that I was not required to allow anyone time nor space simply because we were related, I really began to understand safe boundaries. Once I accepted that a healthy boundary might mean “losing others”, I determined that any loss I incurred as a result of a boundary decision, was a loss easily reconciled. I have experienced loss of family members after refusing to allow a human I was related to any power over me with their venom. I respected those who rallied around the person who was toxic to me and cut me out of their lives. I found it was not easy but I adapted to “losing” those folks too.
I think it is hard to refuse “Denise access” to someone I am related to when they may have loved ones that I truly do value. My disAbilities have especially exposed family members who simply DO NOT GET IT and prefer to question or criticize my life choices. They don’t understand nor condone my work as an advocate. I am reminded of a quote by Glennon Doyle (a blogger and author), “This life is mine alone. I have stopped asking people for directions to places they’ve never been”.
One of my good friends divorced about 8 years ago. She discovered that even though everyone knew her spouse was verbally and emotionally abusive, when she cut him out of her life she also lost some friends. These were friends they shared and in-laws she cared for a great deal. Those losses were harder than the divorce, but time (and therapy) also taught her that even losses that were true LOSSES – those she felt at the heart and soul level – were worth it because of the person she now was.
These two things, what boundaries say to others and what they say to ourselves, are important acknowledgments that justify why boundaries are not weapons. They are evidence of strength and character. Do you need some boundaries in your life? Don’t hesitate. Make the decision today. You won’t regret it.
Part 2… Why boundaries are intelligent next post!
L. Denise Portis, Ph.D.
2021 Personal Hearing Loss Journal