I once chastised someone about using state lines as boundaries. Twenty minutes later I found myself making amends because I was using Country borders. Since coming to ACA I have come to understand that my family of origin, for generations, has had little or no understanding of healthy boundaries. What I learned again and again from my family was to people please, to fix, to enmesh myself so completely that even when boundaries were called for, they couldn’t possibly work to keep anyone safe.
As I began to do the work of the steps in ACA, I also began to see a way forward. A fellow traveler told me a healthy relationship needs few if any boundaries. As I began to do the work to be healthier myself, I also began to see the opportunities for boundaries.
I am currently helping to care for my aging parents. Occasionally my siblings come into town to help or for special occasions. The first moment I recognized a need for a boundary was when my older sister found it necessary to tell me to calm down. My first instinct was to say, “Fine. Do this yourself!” and then bolt out the door. I didn’t. I took a breath and stayed for the event. I wrote about it later that day. I also spoke to two fellow travelers about it. When the second occasion happened, my brother telling me to take it easy, etc., I responded calmly saying, “You don’t get to tell me to calm down.” He looked at me as if I had grown a second head. I had never spoken up for my right to feel how I was feeling.
I realized when a fellow traveler had said to me that my feelings wouldn’t kill me, that I could also say my feelings wouldn’t kill my siblings either. If they or anyone else was uncomfortable with how I was expressing my frustration, they needed to deal with their own discomfort. I also realized that I could have a conversation when we were all in a good space and explain what I had been feeling and how I am working to be true to myself. My first healthy boundary had to be for me to be authentic with my feelings, not pushing myself down or silencing how I felt to please them, to make them feel better.
Out of these interactions, I realized that anytime I am feeling the pull towards people-pleasing that I probably need to ask, “What boundary is about to be obliterated?” or “What boundary needs to be put in place?”