Ah, boundaries

I had a slight problem with boundaries in the past. Let me give you an example: My friends and I were moving in to a house in college. One of the former residents had a boyfriend who had very little money.

The girlfriend called me one day and asked if her boyfriend could move in to the closet for a while until he found a better place to live. It’s true that my closet was large, but, like most closets you had to walk through the room to get into it.

But, I wasn’t thinking. I felt sorry for the guy, but didn’t say ‘yes’ right away. I mentioned the possibility of him moving in and was met without fail with laughter. Now I can see that is would be, but at the time, I thought it would have been a nice thing to do.

My friend told me, “You have definitely got some boundary issues.”

He was right.

A whole lot of us have serious boundary issues when it comes to family, and holidays magnify them. A cold, undemonstrative mother might make us hunger for praise. An alcohol father might only be able to talk to anyone is after he has a few, but it is a delicate balance between that and a few more beers. And a few more beers.

The good news to me is that none of their activities are my problem or my business, or perhaps most of all, not my fault. For years I struggled with my mother to make her and me happy and it didn’t work. She’d heavily criticize me, one day I was wearing what I thought was a very cute. She told me, “Every bit of fat shows up lumpy when you wear that.” She had a friend there that was agreeing with her.

Uh, thanks. Since then, I realized it’s not really her business to be critical of my clothing. If I have a large gravy spill on the back of my dress, I’d hope she’d say something, but something thinks like her comments about the dress were unacceptable and I had the right to laugh it away. I do try and wear something she would probably like when I see her, but my boundary is this: I don’t change clothes if what she sees she doesn’t like. It’s my prerogative if she’s being negative about my clothes, pleasing her is just not worth the trouble.

I’m a walking pharmacy. I take six prescriptions and some vitamins. It’s a serious thing. I have a large pill box with two weeks worth of medicine. A few times I’ve organized them in front of my parents. They wanted to know what drug was for what. I told them a quick bit of information for both of them. I figured they were concerned and it would be okay for them to see them and get information about them.

However, when we were visiting them, they did cross some personal boundaries. For one, in the morning my mother asked me if I’d taken my pills. In the evening my father ‘reminded’ me before we tucked in to bed. I did not think that was okay, but instead of just swallowing it, I answered “Have you taken yours?” or perhaps too bold, “Have you taken yours?” Drugs are my responsibility on a day to day basis. Sometimes if I’m having a bad morning Mr Malakoa would ask me if I’d taken them, and for me that was okay. But it is not okay for my parents to ask me. It’s none of their business.

I think this account demonstrates how I am capable of creating my own boundaries. It’s okay for Mr Malakoa to ask about those things, but it’s not okay for my parents to ask. It’s not hypocrisy, it’s self preservation – everyone in my life doesn’t have the same rules. As I think about it, the more I know this is the right way to handle my parents.

I overheard the other night that they wanted to put me in a conservatorship. Because I am not crazy, I don’t have to be worried about being forced in to such a relationship with my parents, where they treat me like I treat Small. Fortunately, two separate entities have to agree that I am unable to care for myself and that I am not of sound mind. They can’t prove that. So I’m in the clear. (I’d like to mention here that I really am married and if anyone would ever need to function in that capacity my husband would be the one to do so.) Did I tell you why my parents were talking about such an issue? It’s because I did not correctly balance my check book.

But, moving on, just because you’re invited to someone’s house for Thanksgiving, you don’t have to go. This could be your friend, Wanda’s house or your elderly parents. You DO NOT have to go. Especially if there are people there who are triggers for you. Why put yourself through that? Just because they’re there doesn’t mean you have to eat the green jello with Whip Dream. Also, just because you’re there with family or good friends, doesn’t mean you have to subject yourself to their issues or abuse.

Stay away from the second cousin that complains tirelessly about her marriage (while her husband is at the breakfast bar throwing back Kesslers.) Spend a limited amount of time with the great uncle that pinches your butt every time he sees you. Hang out with the kids a while. If they’re not little monsters, that can be relaxing. Help with cooking, if you’re allowed. If it’s your house, you can know it’s okay to kick ‘helpers’ out of the kitchen. It’s your kitchen, after all. You can say something like, “Boy, is it crowed in here. Aunt Georgia, let’s take a break until the salads are made. It may hurt her feelings, but that’s okay. You are not asking anything strange or excessive. Aunt Georgia needs to be responsible for her feelings, just like we need to be responsible for ours.

More about this later.

Oh, and bring your Xanax.


2 responses to “Ah, boundaries

  • Mai

    Yeah, holidays really are a superfun time to practice boundaries. I appreciate your thoughts on the matter. I’m about to visit a relative of my husband’s. In the past I have been both controlling and contrite, and this time I just want to be me. I do not want to be pressured into tasting the oyster dressing, but I will do my part by not making rude comments about it to begin with. I’m going to try to think of issues I’ve had with them & go in mindful of what I can do to establish & maintain my boundaries with them. I need to think both of not stomping on their boundaries as well as not caving when they intrude on mine. So I won’t call the grandma by a nick-name she hates, but I also won’t cowtow when they complain about my saying “you know” too much. Oh goody! It’s like a boundary workout!

  • Malakoa

    Yep, I totally agree with you about holidays being a great time to exercise boundaries. Let me know how you do!

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