Listen, Learn, Repeat

This summer has been a summer for the books. (If that book was about patience-making and lesson-learning. But, for the books, no less.) I have had the pleasure of being able to enjoy the summer heat with my children almost every day and for that, I am eternally grateful. I don’t know if there will be a summer after this that I will have that same privilege.

There have been a few experiences that have been less than desirable. A summer of accidents, losses, falling-outs, and unforeseeable misfortunes: the types of things that make you feel tired but aware of the master plan, that you are worthy of such pruning. I’m continually being shown all the areas in which I need to tighten my game, trust my intuition, work a little harder, etc. I can undoubtedly say that Adam would say the same. But I see the light that seeks us on the other side of all this and it keeps me strong, motivated.

I feel like the word “boundaries” has been coming up a lot. Establishing them, respecting them, honoring them. A few years ago, when I was still living in Iowa, I read the book, “Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No and Take Control of Your Life” by Dr. Henry Cloud and John Townsend. This is a Christian book- its teachings corresponding to scripture throughout. I didn’t agree with everything that was written (and I encourage you to digest the things you read with a grain of salt, to not treat everything as gospel!) but there were so many great things that stuck with me long after I had finished it. You have to not only know yourSELF but listen and honor yourSELF in order to truly feel happiness in your connections, both internally and externally. 

For a long time, I had a tendency to give away a lot of my time and energy to those who sought my guidance. I felt like I had to “fix” things for the people in my life. If someone came to me with a problem, I was their armor. In my late teens, early twenties, it was especially toxic-looking something like a twisted-loyalty-call-out-syndrome. If someone had done something I perceived to be “wrong” to a person I felt loyal to, you bet your ass they’d be getting an earful from me.  Looking back, I feel shame about my behavior but I’ve learned to forgive that naive girl that I was and know she was just doing her best.

But, wow, did I hate it! I would constantly feel drained, complain (and even write stories about!) why I had to always be the ‘asshole to call out the asshole.’ Then one day, I realized I didn’t need to be that person. I was choosing to be that person. Once I didn’t offer that type of armor, a few of my “loyal” and “close” relationships shifted into a more distant connection. (Some would say that this is a classic case of the Emapth/Narcissist dance at play or even a bit of a Savior-Complex.) Though I mourned the connections I felt I had lost, I had gained something much more real: mySELF. I wasn’t dragging mySELF into dramas that really had nothing to do with me, I was able to listen and offer counsel without becoming the solution. I could express empathy with disconnect, no longer internalizing everyone’s problems, but merely being a warm and comforting presence that allowed those close to me to find peace and solutions THEMSELVES. Everybody wins.

There was a quote from “Boundaries” that stuck with me:

“When we begin to set boundaries with people we love, a really hard thing happens: they hurt. They may feel a hole where you used to plug up their aloneness, their disorganization, or their financial irresponsibility. Whatever it is, they will feel a loss. If you love them, this will be difficult for you to watch. But, when you are dealing with someone who is hurting, remember that your boundaries are both necessary for you and helpful for them. If you have been enabling them to be irresponsible, your limit setting may nudge them toward responsibility.”

I was clearly working through this boundary-making in my early twenties, though I wasn’t aware of it. And, still, at 31, I continue to work on boundaries.

If there are people in your life that choose to see you only one way, that do not honor the natural changes we all go through as we age, that insist you exist in a tiny box, that expect things from you, or constantly tell lies that make you feel uncomfortable: let them fall from you. Not every goodbye has to be dramatic, sometimes, like clouds, we just float away from each other. It hurts, but it doesn’t cause any harm. Which makes me think of this other quote by Dr. Henry Cloud:

“There is a big difference between hurt and harm. We all hurt sometimes in facing hard truths, but it makes us grow. It can be the source of huge growth. That is not harmful. Harm is when you damage someone. Facing reality is usually not a damaging experience, even though it can hurt.”

In many ways, this summer has taught me to create boundaries with myself. (This is probably true for most of this last year living in Minnesota.) We sometimes forget how important it is to stop and listen, to learn the rhythm of our heartbeats and what our physical responses are trying to get us to emotionally detect. When I’m anxious, yes, sometimes it’s because I’m in the city and there are toooooooo many people around (haha), but when I’m at home and get hit out of nowhere with a panic attack: it’s because I’m dishonoring myself in some way. I’m not eating well. I’m not being physical enough. I haven’t written. I haven’t sat down in the quiet and made a project that’s been on my mind. I haven’t told someone the truth of my feelings. I need to sleep. I haven’t been creating my own boundaries: telling myself what I need to hear. Like- No, I can’t do this because I need to do this. ie: No, you can’t watch the entire season of Riverdale this weekend because you should be getting outside and pulling weeds to feel the sunshine on your skin and the pride of taking care of your home. (I watched Riverdale, had Miss Grundy feelings about Jughead and now have a pretty bad cold. I’m still learning.)

Boundary making isn’t always going to be easy, and it is a continual learning experience. Give yourself and others grace. But don’t give up. Don’t stop listening. Keep going. Healthy boundaries allow you to flourish and bloom. We all deserve that.

*This post was originally published on August 9, 2017.


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