Tag Archive | process

Thoughts on tolerance and boundaries

In the last two days, the hot topic amidst my gaggle of female friends has been boundaries, and tolerance, as an offshoot of the boundaries discussion.  One friend asked, “Why are boundaries so hard?”  For those of us who have abuse backgrounds the answer is easy—we never learned boundaries as children, or if we did, abuse in adult relationships made us doubt and question our boundaries at time and again.  We got told we were in the wrong at every turn and we began to believe it, sacrificing our own boundaries, wants,  needs, and beliefs, to try to make the abuser happy, or simply to keep the peace.  While our boundaries were being dismantled most of us grew extremely tolerant of what was purely bad, toxic, unhealthy behavior on the part of others.

Because so many women who are abuse survivors go on to have issues with alcohol and drug abuse, boundaries are further blurred and lost.  We begin to do things that do not mesh with our own values and beliefs. We develop a great deal of guilt and shame because we are betraying ourselves, and those people that we love the most, so our tolerance for poor treatment goes up even higher, while our boundaries become even more fuzzy.  We are miserable and needy and unhappy and we attract people who are miserable, needy, unhappy, or outright personality disordered.  Women with abuse backgrounds, or substance abuse issues, are the perfect targets for those predatory people of the narcissist and sociopath varieties.  Who better and easier to manipulate than someone who has no set boundaries?  Of course, we want to be needed, so these toxic people who attach to us help us to feel better about ourselves, even if they are using us, or do not really love or care about us.

But a funny thing happens when a woman from an abuse background starts to heal. It really begins to upset the apple cart in our unhealthy relationships.  The same thing happens when an alcoholic or addict gets clean and sober.  As we get better, our boundaries begin to return, and we grow stronger, and more self-assured.  We begin to ask for what we need and set firm limits for what we will not tolerate.  Guilt and shame starts to drop away, and surviving begins to head towards thriving.  The unhealthy people in our lives hate that.  It threatens them, and so they revolt, usually in the most unpleasant of ways.  They lash out, they accuse us of having “a twisted sense of boundaries,” they blame us for their shortcomings, they get jealous, they undermine, they get mean, they set out to hurt us, demean us—anything in their bag of trick to try to get us to fall back into old behavior—seeking their forgiveness, accepting the blame that isn’t yours to own, and going back, once again, to tolerating bad behavior.  When that does not work, these folks tend to get madder and meaner in their desperation to regain control.

It sounds awful, doesn’t it?  It certainly feels awful when one is in the midst of if, but it is such a good and positive sign that you are moving in the right direction!  It is a sure sign that you are moving towards health and wholeness and the unhealthy relationships that you have been enmeshed in are dropping away.  It is unfortunate that the dropping away process is not more gentle, but the fact is that toxic and disordered people are not known for gentleness, or quietly disappearing into the sunset.  The relationship will end with them kicking and screaming and blaming you all the way.  You simply must not take their behavior personally.  You are getting better and leaving them behind and they are mad as hell—at themselves for not having the courage to follow–or for the disordered, they are mad that you are not falling for their crap anymore.

This is a time when your boundaries and tolerance will be tested in ways beyond belief.  You will feel torn and guilty.  You will question yourself.  “Is what he/she said really true?”  No, it is not.  It is far more apt to be true about them than it is to be true about you.  What you are being afforded is an excellent opportunity to firm up your boundaries even more by disengaging.  So many of us want closure, or the last word, or an apology from the one who lashed out at us.  None of those things are helpful.  What is helpful is moving away from the toxic person as quickly as possible.  Do not take on their “stuff,” and do not look to mend fences that were falling apart to begin with.  Love yourself enough to let go as completely as possible, with the maximum amount of compassion and forgiveness possible, for yourself, and for the person you are leaving behind.  Getting healthy is a process and this is a part of the process.  Do not beat yourself up for not seeing the person for what they were sooner, or for ignoring what you did see.  Know that you will not make the same mistakes again.

Once you enter “thriving mode,” you will attract other people who are happy, healthy, and thriving.  It is true, and I really want you to know and believe that.  You will also gain a sixth sense about people and you will be able to spot someone who is disordered or toxic with lightening speed, because as your boundaries become solid, your intuition will sharpen in the most magnificent ways.  Suddenly you will know, maybe for the first time in your life, that you are fully capable of keeping yourself safe and healthy and nothing, and no one, will stop you from doing just that.  There is a big difference between being needed and being well-loved.  You will choose to be loved rather than needed.  You won’t do it perfectly, but that is okay.  Just keep moving forward.

Boundaries are tricky in so many ways.  We have different boundaries with friends and family than we do with strangers or people on the outer edges of our lives.  We recalculate and relax as we get to know people.  I have found, for myself, that I am still an extremely tolerant person, even with firm boundaries.  I can tolerate political difference, different religious beliefs, child rearing practices, pretty much anything, unless it violates my boundaries, or the behavior violates the rights of those who cannot defend themselves.  That is where my tolerance ends. If you want me to respect your religious beliefs but will not do the same for me, something is wrong with the picture, and I will turn off the TV, and so on.

Yes, I will give you a chance or two to change your behavior as long as the offense is minor, because that is how I roll, but three strikes, and you are outta here!  If you cannot, or will not, respect my boundaries then I will know you do not care about me in a healthy way and I will say good-bye without a backward glance.  If your offense if major, know that there are some things I have zero tolerance for, such as abuse of any living thing, especially those that cannot defend themselves.  Not only will I remove myself from your life instantly, but I will do what I can to make sure you never hurt another soul, knowing full well that my power is quite limited.  And I will pray for you.  I will always pray for you.

Anger, grudge holding, and the cure—Forgiveness

I’ve never been any good at holding a grudge, though I have admittedly tried.  In the past, I have been more apt to forgive easily.  Some would say too easily.  The problem was not that I forgave, it was that I also forgot, which meant that I stayed in bad relationships too long, or looked past completely unacceptable behavior, which kept me wide open for hurt after hurt, and certainly to abuse.  There is a middle ground, I believe.  We can forgive, let go of anger, hurts, and bitterness, and still remember that the behavior and actions were awful, and that we did not deserve that type of treatment.  We can then make healthy choices about who we keep in our lives, and who we do not.  Keeping anger in our lives is never healthy, nor is holding grudges, yet may people do, to their great detriment.

I know some lovely people who hold grudges and carry around things that should have been forgiven long ago.  We can all do this at one time in our life or another.  For instance, for the longest time I could not completely forgive my first husband for moving me away from the west coast, my family and homeland, against my wishes.  Despite all of the rotten things that happened during, and after, our divorce, we’d come to a point of forgiveness, but this was the one thing I could not let go of, try though I did.  I’d forgive him for the move over and over, and think that I’d finished the job, only to get triggered by something and realized I was far from done in my forgiving.

I hated that I could not forgive him completely.  It took me moving back to Montana for nine months, and coming back to Maine of my own choice, more or less. (The state of Maine fairly insisted that I come back to go to prison 😉  I am here by choice now, having realized finally that my home is wherever my heart is, and my heart is with my children, all on the east coast.  He also did something amazingly cool by taking my 7 year old into his home while I was in prison.  We talked two days ago, and when I got off of the phone with him I realized that it was finally done.  I had forgiven him completely.

There are a lot of what I term average grudge holders in the world.  I have a dear friend who has a friend she adores.  Of her she says, “She’s always been a very good friend to me, but there was the one time in high school where she said something that really hurt me.”  High school for her was about 60 years ago.  She carries other things around that she’s been unable to forgive, and they have added up, and I can see how they weigh her down.

There are other people who are masters at grudge holding.  They carries their grudges around with them, heavy in their pockets, and at the end of the day they take out their grudges, and look at them, and polish them up like precious jewels, then they return them to their pockets to carry around the next day.  Rinse, repeat.  So, why do some people hold grudges?  Many people use grudges to cut themselves off from the person who hurt them.  They feel that this distance protects them, but in reality it effectively cuts off the chance for positive communication, resolution, and forgiveness.

Chronic grudge holders often have anger problems that they are too afraid to face, so they hold grudges, and shame and blame, because it’s easier, and safer for them, than looking at themselves and taking personal responsibility for their part in the conflict, or events.   Grudge holders do not understand that people are human, and say and do things that hurt others, often with no malice involved.  The anger festers, the grudge grows and takes on a life of its own, and the person holding the grudge is left miserable, trapped my their own anger, and depleted of joy.  Oftentimes, their pride it too big to recognize just how badly they are hurting themselves with their undying anger.

When you are dealing with a narcissist, or a narcissistic sociopath, you are dealing withe a whole different ball of wax completely.  The narcissist, or narcissistic sociopath, will not just hold a grudge, they will hold a grudge and they will seek revenge, often stopping at nothing to right the perceived wrong.  God forbid you leave leave one of these people and try to divorce them.  The abuse that they exacted upon you will generally only escalate, and often they will use, and abuse, the court system to try to see to your ruination.  So distorted is their world view, and so disordered is their personality, that it is impossible to them to forgive, and let go, because they simply do not care what their vengeful acts are doing to others, even their own children.  They hurt, so they want to make you hurt, without taking a speck of responsibility for their own behavior.

I know a whole family who operates like this.  They blame and shame and tear down but never stop to see the hideousness of their own behavior.  The son held a grudge towards his parents for favoring his little sister, something he felt set him up for a life of failures.  This lead to several, years long, estrangements between him and his parents.  They’d say something he didn’t like, and he’s cease all contact with them for years.  I simply could not “get it” until I spoke to his parents during one of these estrangement periods.  His parents told me stories of his lifelong habit of lying, his inability to keep a job, and about the time, when he was 19 or 20, when he came home from work late at night and woke his father up several times in a row, so they told him to move out.  That had happened 25 years prior!  Yes, I did have an “aha moment” about the son’s behavior at that point.  It had been modeled for him all of his life.  I have seven kids and I have been awakened more than once by one coming home late at night.  My response was always, “Thank you,God!  They are home and safe.”  Then I went back to sleep.  Sadly, narcissists do not learn to forgive, and let go, and move on, nor do they want to learn.

Forgiveness is the cure for anger and grudges, though, and it is an excellent cure with many benefits.  People who forgive have less stress in their lives, lower blood pressure, sleep better, have a stronger sense of spirituality, better relationships, and are more loving and giving.  Forgiving people are happier, healthier people.  Forgiveness is good for you!

Forgiveness, like love, is not just a feeling.  It is a conscious choice and an definite action.  You have to make the choice to forgive, and keep working at the forgiveness.  This is especially true when the person you are working to forgive is still trying to hurt you.  Keep working at it anyway, for yourself, and your family. Forgive as many times as you need to forgive.  Ask God for help.  Forgiving does not condone the behavior, words, or actions, of the one who hurt you, but it frees you from needing to hold onto your hurts.  Freedom is an excellent feeling, and place to be.

It’s never too late to begin to forgive, and today looks like a great day to me. Like any dance, it will be two steps forward, one step back, but with practice and resolve, it is a dance that you can master.