Archive for the ‘Setting Boundaries’ Category

Ahhh … finally some time to blog!!

To catch you up, I am over all of the health issues at the moment. I was battling migraines over the weekend, but I have been doing well all week and even went to the gym a couple of times. I have been working feverishly to catch up on to-do’s that had fallen behind in my offline life. I also took the day off today, including a well-needed nap. I am feeling much more like myself.

That being said, I have been dealing with several issues in my offline line involving other people’s “drama.” I put “drama” in quotation marks because it’s really not drama in the sense of people being difficult for the sake of being difficult. People who I care about are dealing with some difficult issues, and I have been trying to help them through it.

I told one of my offline friends that I had hoped that 2012 would be kinder than 2011 because surviving 2011 about wore me out. She pointed out that most of what I have been dealing with in 2012 involves other people’s stuff, which is a different dynamic. The nice thing about the issues being other people’s stuff is that I can take a break from it.

Let me tell you – When I was able to turn my brain off today to rest, it was so much easier to do than when I am triggered, as I was during various periods in 2011. I was able to lie in my bed and watch some of my favorite comedies without thinking about other people’s issues.

Learning how to be able to detach like that is such an important skill to learn in setting boundaries. It is one that I never learned as a child, and it didn’t come naturally to me. I used to think that I had to stay immersed in other people’s stuff if I really cared about them. I have come to realize that I have to follow the metaphoric version of the instructions provided on airplanes – put your own oxygen mask on before you place an oxygen mask on your child. This went against what I believed it meant to care about others. I now realize that I cannot be of help to others when my own tank is empty.

I cannot say that I have fully mastered this skill, but I am making progress. I don’t find it taxing or weighing to read comments on my blog. People can share all sorts of painful things with me, and I can care and be supportive without having to climb down into the pit with them. This comes from learning how to set boundaries – learning how to take care of myself so that I am able to take care of others.

I am still a work in progress and probably always will be, but it’s nice when I can look at myself now, compare to where I once was, and see true progress.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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I am still batting this #$%^ sinus infection, so I don’t know if I am “back” yet, but I can’t stop crying and need some advice. I have posted the full story of what happened on my professional blog. The short version is that my 11-year-old son, who has a bunch of special needs, scrubbed the toilet with my toothbrush AGAIN in retaliation for making him go to school on Monday, when he was tired after staying up to the watch the Super Bowl (and the two friends who watched it with him got to sleep in), and then again yesterday when he woke up feeling congested. He had no fever and has a history of “crying wolf,” so I told him to go to school for two hours so he could at least go to his core classes. I **think** he was feeling guilty, but he told me what he had done as I was already brushing my teeth with it. And, no, it wasn’t a bluff because I was wondering why my bristles felt softer before I found this out.

Please don’t start with the “you never say no” or “you don’t enforce boundaries” parenting advice. It’s not true and not what I need right now. What I need from you is support for working through triggers of the sickening awareness that I, once again, am living under the same roof with someone I cannot trust. I have locked up my toothbrush, my laptop, and other items he might damage or place in the toilet in my safe along with my son’s Ipod, his most beloved possession. I have told him he can have the Ipod back when I can trust him again, which might be a very long time.

I was hoping to feel better after sleeping (I took enough Xanax to make sure I slept), but I still feel nauseous and just plain sick (on top of the sinus infection) this morning. I feel like this is just another person I opened my heart up to that betrayed me. He did this toothbrush thing once before (that I know of) last year, confessing months later because he felt so guilty. We calmly talked through why it is so wrong to do and how hurtful that was. No amount of reward/punish or reason works with this child (I am sure his special needs have a lot to do with this), which leaves me feeling vulnerable and unsafe in my own home. I don’t think I can live like this, but I also don’t think boarding school is an option at age 11. Advice?

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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I find it interesting that I received very few comments on my blog entry entitled DID: Think I Lost Time Again and that the comments noted the fact that my husband and son each thought I was yelling at the other in the middle of the night. Since the comments seemed to zero in on that point, I thought I would blog about yelling.

Before therapy, I never yelled. Seriously! I was the world’s biggest doormat. I wouldn’t occur to me to raise my voice to anyone.

Hub and I were married for over 10 years by the time I entered into therapy. Sure, we had disagreements like any other couple, but there was never any yelling involved. For the most part, I just went along with whatever he wanted until it came to issues with infertility and adoption. Hub wasn’t quite sure what to do with me because I was adamant that I wanted to become a mother by whatever (legal) avenue it took. Up until that point, I just went along with whatever he wanted to do. My son was two years old when I entered into therapy, so yelling wasn’t an issue with my son, either.

My homework every week for my therapist (T) was to work on setting boundaries. He wanted me to practice, practice, practice setting boundaries, and that was very hard for me to do. Because I had never had any boundaries in over three decades of life, this was very difficult for me. Setting boundaries happened in baby steps. I am much better about setting boundaries today than I was when I started, but I still find myself having trouble saying no and overextending myself rather than disappoint someone else.

As I healed and got better at setting boundaries, I found that enforcing my boundaries was my biggest problem, especially with family. I could say, “No,” but they wouldn’t hear me. I had taught my family over the years that I would do whatever they wanted, so they didn’t take me seriously when I said no. I would say, “I would rather not,” and then, “I don’t want to,” and then, “No,” and then a firm, “No,” and then a louder, “No,” until I reached the point of yelling, “I SAID I AM NOT GOING TO DO THIS, SO BACK THE F#$% OFF!!!!!” The other person’s response would be, “You don’t have to yell,” to which I would reply loudly, “CLEARLY, I DO!!!!”

Sadly, that dynamic hasn’t changed as much I would like over the years. When I set a boundary, family members (mostly hub and child) simply disregard it as if I never spoke. I will get more firm as I hold my ground, and then after the FIFTH time, I will yell loudly, which seems to be the first time either of them “hear” me. We continue to have the same ending to those conversations: “You don’t have to yell.” “CLEARLY, I DO!!!!”

If anyone has been in this place and has found a more effective way of getting family members to “hear” them when they set boundaries, I would love to hear other strategies. Things have improved with hub … It’s been a long time since I recall raising my voice to him. My child is another story. He has attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning disabilities and is also stubborn, so we often have this exchange ending with my having to yell before he “hears” me.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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PhotobucketAs I shared in my last blog entry, I am working a ton of hours right now. I am preparing students for the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), which is on 10/1. This is my first time actually teaching an LSAT class, so I am putting in a lot of hours making sure I know my stuff. I have tutored on the LSAT before and am tutoring two students now in addition to teaching one class and covering three sessions for another class.

On top of that, I am working two part-time jobs online through my other job. One is teaching a class that I have been teaching for well over 18 months, so that one isn’t stressing me out at all. The other job is doing document reviews, which means that I provide feedback on grammar and APA formatting for student papers. That one doesn’t stress me out, either.

What is stressing me out the most is trying to juggle all three as well as childcare for my son since the LSAT classes are all in the evenings or on weekends. Closely behind that is having people in my life who don’t respect the boundaries I have set until I get through this crunch time. I’ll teach my last LSAT class on 9/27. Until then, some things are simply going to have to wait.

Perhaps it is because two of the part-time jobs are online, or perhaps it is because people are used to me dropping things to put their needs ahead of my own (or likely a combination of both), but I have multiple people in my life who have not been respecting my boundaries. In the past, I would feel guilty and stay up until 3:00 a.m. to make time for all of these other requests. This time around, I am getting pissed off, saying no, saying no louder, and then getting downright bitchy about the no. Many of the people in my life don’t seem to “hear” the word “no” from me until I get bitchy. That makes me angry.

Why do so many people think it is OK to make demands on MY time? I am not talking about my kid, who does need his mommy. I am talking about grown adults who think that because THEY want something done now, it is my job to drop everything and tend to it.

I don’t do that to other people. I try not to ask favors of other people unless I really need them (such as asking three friends to each take my son for one Saturday while I drive to another state on three consecutive Saturdays to cover an LSAT class – nine-hours days with five of them spent driving). I always think of the impact of my actions on the people around me.

So, why do many people in my life think it is OK to have a hissy fit about something that directly affects me and then try to bully ME into putting time (that they know I don’t have) into their problems? I don’t get it. I worked 12 hours on Tuesday, only breaking for meals, and people actually expected me to put time into THEIR issues that day! I didn’t even eat dinner until 10:00 p.m.! That is completely unreasonable, and I let them know it.

I don’t understand why people think it is OK to treat me that way. Hopefully the loud no’s and bitchiness will enlighten them that this is not OK.

Photo credit: Rosanne Mooney

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On my blog entry entitled Being Willing to Try New Strategies after Child Abuse, some readers got into a discussion in the comments about the importance of setting boundaries. Here are some words of wisdom to consider from some of my readers about setting boundaries:

I found the thing that I needed the most was to be willing to set boundaries with people. Every time I did something out of a sense of obligation to other people I was hurting myself (and that girl). When I became willing to say no, and to spend my time and energy in the way I needed to, I built up a level of trust with myself. It was hard to do at first- e.g. telling my family I wasn’t going ‘home’ for Christmas when I didn’t appear to have a ‘good’ reason not to (I’ve always been way too concerned with other people’s feelings). It’s an ongoing practice but gets easier all the time. And I notice that other people treat me with more respect and consideration than they did when I was a nice door mat. I think this has been an incredibly important step in my healing. ~Christine

Once my inner child knew she could trust me to protect her, stand up for her, set boundaries for her, nurture her, etc…did I feel a profound sense of healing. And guess what helped me….setting healthy boundaries with EVERYONE in my life. Until then, I didn’t realize how important boundaries are for healthy relationships. Even setting boundaries with myself is healthy. I mean it is KEY! The two things I finally did differently that made a difference:

1) TRUST myself to make the best decisions for ME.

2) Setting healthy boundaries.

These made a huge, huge difference in my healing process. ~ AllyValentino

Also relate to what Christine says about keeping the inner child safe, a big turning point recently for us was stopping listening to people (especially therapists) telling us we needed more friends and closer ones. Sure, it’d be nice, but what we really needed (and have finally started doing) is to stop bending over backwards to please everyone else, regardless of how they treat us, just so they’ll be our “friends”. Yep, boundaries, so that’s what they are! So, ok we lost a few “friends” and don’t have so many now, no one ever calls (but it’s ok cos we don’t expect them to) but at least we feel safe and don’t feel taken advantage of. And maybe, just maybe, some of the people we are friendly with will become real friends in the future. ~ Bay

What everyone else said was so great that I don’t have much to add. My therapist made “setting boundaries” my homework assignment after each session, and he assured me that if I thought I was “being a b@#$%,” I was probably moving toward nearing normal boundaries. I couldn’t really “get it” until I worded it to myself in this way: Whenever I don’t say no, I am choosing to hurt myself rather than hurt the feelings of an inconsiderate person.

Setting boundaries made me feel safer and less “used.” It was eye-opening to recognizing that I was not obligated to do everything that other people asked me to do for them!

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Oh, the irony. We just spent yesterday talking about my mother/abuser (m/a), and then I got a letter in the mail from her in the afternoon. I was torn about whether to read it at all, so I decided to skim it. It did wig me out, but I am grateful that I read it because, as painful as it was, I finally saw the manipulation in it.

First of all, I have told her several times that she is not to write about reconciliation, and yet she did it again, just as she did in her last letter. Second, even though my sister told her that I would be out of town on the weekend that she is planning to visit relatives in a nearby city (over Mother’s Day weekend, no less), m/a asked about me meeting her along the Interstate to pick up an item from her, which leads to point #3.

Third, my sister told m/a that I would like to see a video of some fool thing that she has been doing. (Too long of a story to go into.) I said it to my sister because I would laugh my tail off at m/a looking incredibly stupid, but m/a took it to mean that this is something I really care about getting. M/a’s letter wants me to meet her along the interstate to pick up the DVD she had made for me. Of course, mailing a DVD is dirt cheap. This is a carrot.

And, finally, we have a lie that she is dating some guy, who she has specifically told my sister is “just a friend” and that she has no intention of dating. Why lie about it? My guess is that this is a manipulation as well. She has not dated since my father passed away back in the 1980’s, and maybe she is hoping that a dating story will pull me back in. It won’t.

I thought about putting the letter back in the envelope and writing “Return to Sender,” but I ripped it when I opened it, so she will know that I read it. I have decided that any further letters will get “Return to Sender,” and I will not open them. I never feel like I have the option of not reading a letter she sends, so this will be huge for me. As for Mother’s Day weekend – I will be out of the state, so it won’t be my problem. If she does choose to drop by, I guess hub will have to deal with her, which will be quite amusing.

There is truly not one ounce of me that feels grateful for this correspondence. I hyperventilated and got a bad headache. That is the little girl inside of me saying, “Enough!”

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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On my blog entry entitled Letter was for Me, Not Mother/Abuser, a reader asked me the following question:

I really hate to quote Dr Phil but sometimes he does make sense here goes…”What are YOU getting out of this “relationship” with your mom? There has to be a payoff for you or you just wouldn’t do it.” “People just don’t do things that don’t pay out for them in some way” I do not mean the above statement in a malicious or rude way just a thought provoking healing way. ~ EB

I think this is an excellent question, and it is one that I have given some thought. I used to watch Dr. Phil when he was on Oprah and the first couple of seasons with his own show. He used to ask people why they continued to do something that was harmful to them. They would answer, “I don’t know.” Dr. Phil would then say, “How many times have you stuck your hand in a blender?” The guest would laugh and say, “Never.” Dr. Phil would point out that we don’t do things that don’t “work for us” on some level, so you need to identify what your motivation is for choosing to engage in a destructive behavior.

My answer would be that what I get out of having some sort of relationship with my mother/abuser is fulfilling a duty. Nobody has ever told me that it is my duty to stick my hand in a blender, but numerous people have told me that it is my duty to have a relationship of some sorts with my mother. Religious people quote the Bible. A spiritual leader told me that spiritual healing surpasses any damage done in the physical realm. When I have numerous people in authoritative positions telling me that I have a duty to maintain a relationship with someone, I feel conflicted about what is right for me versus what I am being told my duty is.

I feel a duty imposed by outside influences to continue to have a relationship with my mother/abuser simply because she is my mother. I would be happiest if she would just drop dead and be out of my life forever. (Sorry, but that’s the truth.) However, in church and in society at large, there is a lot of “pressure” to do your “duty” of forgiving and reconciling, particularly when the transgressor is your mother. I have fought this influence for many years, and it was HUGE for me to set any boundaries at all.

I feel guilty just telling her to go to hell forever because I feel like I don’t have the right to do it, and it goes against my underlying belief of all of us being interconnected. A part of me feels a duty to help everyone, even her, heal, but that feeling of duty is in direct conflict with the wounded little girl inside. So, I stay conflicted, vacillating between reaching out and cutting out. Can anyone relate?

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Sorry to be posting so late today. My son is still out of school on Spring Break through today, so he has kept me hopping. I am sooo ready for him to go back to school tomorrow!

Last night, I watched the TV show V for the first time. I was a big fan of the original miniseries back in the 1980’s, but one of my favorite shows conflicted with the airing of this remake. I have since learned that my DVR can record two shows at once (Hooray!), so now I have added V to my queue. (I am in the process of catching up on TV shows I missed while I was out of town for Spring Break.)

Anyhow, the premise of V is that alien “visitors” are pretending to be friendly but are actually manipulating humans for their own nefarious purposes. They promise one thing but then push and push the boundaries until they get their way.

Sure enough, when I went to sleep last night, I dreamt about V, and the dream segued into people in my life that keep pushing the boundaries, such as my mother/abuser. I woke up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night, and I was sooo angry! I decided at 2:00 a.m. that I would blog about this.

Setting and maintaining boundaries is the key to feeling safe. Because my mother/abuser has no concept of respecting boundaries, I continue to feel unsafe whenever she tries to worm her way back into my life.

I don’t know why watching V gave me such an aha moment, but it did. Well, that combined with all of your comments and observations about how I keep telling my mother the same thing – she just keeps refusing to listen. I am not being unclear – she is just being hardheaded and determined to get her way.

Sometimes I feel like I am surrounded by people like that – people who just push and push until I give in. I feel like I am b@#chy a lot, and yet that seems to be the only language that hub and my son seem to be able to “hear.” I will say, “Please don’t do that,” then “Don’t do that,” to a firm “Stop,” to “Stop f@#$ing doing that before I f@#$ing rip your head off!!!!!!” Both hub and my son will look at me surprised and say, “You didn’t have to yell,” to which I reply in an exasperated voice, “Clearly I did!!!!”

I sometimes think I would have to leave my entire life behind and start over in order to have relationships where people are not constantly pushing my boundaries. I am making improvement. It just sucks that I have to be in a battle of wills constantly with those who are supposedly closest to me (all family). It is hard to trust when you always have to be ready to do battle.

Photo credit: Rosanne Mooney

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I have thought about the comments that readers have posted about my draft letter to my mother/abuser as well as comments made by my sister and one of my close friends. I have reached the conclusion that I needed to write that letter more than I needed m/a to read it. I needed to know that I had the courage to say what needs to be said, even if m/a will never be in the place to “hear” what I have said.

Unfortunately, m/a is not sane, so she is never going to be able to “receive” any message I send like a sane person would. No matter what I tell her, she is going to hear what she wants to hear. If she was willing and/or capable of respecting boundaries, she would have done so long ago, and there would be no need for me to write her yet another letter explaining the boundaries.

So, what do I do now? At the moment, I do nothing. Silence won’t be misconstrued, although if there is a way to do it, I am sure she will find it. I have a busy enough life that I don’t need to be wasting time trying to construct the “perfect” letter that an insane person will read in the way that it should be read. My sister has relayed the message that I will be out of town on Mother’s Day weekend (when m/a will be in a nearby city visiting with relatives), so there is no urgency on my end to write to her.

Thank you for helping me work this out. I am proud of myself for writing the draft letter, and I am reassured that I am not too weak to confront her. This breakdown of communication is not because I am not strong enough to say what needs to be said. The problem is on her end – an inability to “hear.”

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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As I shared last week, I am at the beach for Spring Break with hub and my son. We are having a good time, so please don’t think I am spending all of my time thinking about my mother/abuser because I am not. However, I am continuing to be plagued by nightmares, causing me to wake up feeling shaky every morning.

I read three of your comments to my Monday blog entry before I lost Internet access where we are staying. We stay my father-in-law’s beach house, which does not have Internet access, so I am at the mercy of obtaining wireless Internet access from wherever I can get it, and I lost it here after the first couple of days. Alas. I plan to go to a local restaurant that offers free wi-fi so I can post this blog entry and read your other comments.

I also spoke with my sister. I emailed her a draft of the letter, and her response was to do whatever I needed to do. She just wants me to let her know before I send anything so she can avoid answering the phone when our mother/abuser calls her to complain about it. However, to this day, m/a never told her about my “Back the f#$% off!!” note, so she isn’t sure if m/a will contact her about a confrontation letter or not.

The part that makes the angriest is that my mother’s insanity takes away so many of my choices. I would like either never to see or hear from her again OR confront her about what happened. I hate this in-between crap. I am sick to death of hearing (whether in her letters or secondhand through my sister) that m/a is baffled as to what she could have done to deserve being treated like this. She is being treated much more kindly than she deserves because she deserves to rot in a prison cell, but I haven’t pressed any charges.

Mia makes a valid point that my letter would be good for a sane person but not an insane one. Because she is not sane, any letter to my mother probably will just encourage her as it would any other stalker.

I don’t know. I am frustrated and angry because I could not have been clearer about my boundaries, and she won’t respect them. I have the tools in my arsenal to “force” her to obey them (the truth), but that could cause her to have a psychotic episode which could hurt someone else. It isn’t fair, just like nothing in my childhood was fair.

The good news is that my sister already relayed the message that I will not be in town over Mother’s Day weekend, so I can check relaying that information off my to-do list. (I purposely did not ask my sister to get in the middle of this, but my mother put her there.) Mother/abuser actually had the gall to go on about all of the “excuses” I am making not to see her. I don’t recall making any excuses. Saying, “I don’t want to see you,” and “Back the f#$% off” sound pretty direct to me.

Edited to add — I really like MFF’s suggestion of a very short version:

If you can respect my boundaries, then we can write letters monthly. If you cannot, then I am not interested in maintaining a relationship with you.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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