A big reason I’ve had such a bad time in my past relationships is that I’ve been unable or unwilling to set boundaries. Inability or unwillingness to set boundaries is often the residue of trauma or childhood abuse and can lead to more abuse. If you feel you don’t have the right to say ‘no’ you can imagine how that would lead to sexual abuse, for instance. Until this year I truly didn’t know what boundaries were or why they were necessary. I thought everybody hated themselves when they had to say no. I thought it was normal to put others’ needs in place your own. (Not before, in place of.)
I already wrote about this incredible book I’m reading called Boundaries and I’ve had the opportunity to set some with a person who has caused me lifelong anxiety and who’s also largely responsible for my lack of boundaries in the first place: my mother. Although she has not been diagnosed, a few people I know with psychology expertise have estimated that my mother may have what’s called “borderline personality disorder“. I feel she may also be alcoholic but she’s not admitting to anything.
Anytime I have attempted to say no to my mother or even express an opinion or taste different from hers she has retaliated in very cruel ways. These include ceasing communication (and then starting again without explanation or acknowledgement); sabotaging me at work, including leaving cruel comments on my blog and calling my boss; and assassinating my character to other family members.
If you’re a girl, there’s no more influential person than your mother so to endure lifelong emotional abuse without understanding that your abuser is mentally ill is devastating. As a result of my mother’s abuse, I always felt I was wrong, that I had no right to my feelings or desires, had no idea what I wanted or needed (much less that I had the right to ask for anything), thought I deserved to be taken advantage of, that other people’s needs and wants were more important than mine, and of course that I should sacrifice so other people can be happy. Basically, I hated myself.
Now, that I understand I have been dealing with a mentally ill person I can begin to heal and stop taking the attacks personally. I can slowly learn to set boundaries and understand that she WILL retaliate. That doesn’t mean I don’t have a right to protect myself. Before, I knew if I stood up to her that she would react in anger so I would avoid the issue, apologize for things that weren’t my fault and feel guilty for being a “bad daughter”.
I set my first boundary with my mother a couple of days ago and she retaliated immediately in a cruel and public way. Of course, I began to second guess myself and feel guilty but then I remembered what the book said: BOUNDARIES CARRY CONSEQUENCES. If it were easy, you would have done it a long time ago! So I accepted the consequence and carried on. Then I set another boundary and suffered another attack. Again, my confidence took a huge shot and I went into quite a funk over the morning. Then I remembered again what the book said and my mood began to change from one of victim to empowered.
I’m proud of myself for setting boundaries with my mother. I have a right to protect myself. My needs are just as important as anybody else’s. I am worthy of good treatment from others. I am willing to establish boundaries that will teach people how to treat me. I am worth fighting for. I am going to keep setting boundaries and dealing with the retaliation. What’s the worst that can happen? She’ll disown me? Well, at least I’ll own myself.