Of all of the pain I have endured over the last few months as a result of a significant loss in my life, I have to say, both time and space have given me the ability to see this person for exactly who he/she/they really are. I have had some time to reflect on the recent years filled with scenarios that left me feeling full of guilt and shame. This person, who happens to be the ultimate gaslighter, loved to tell me that he/she/they were setting boundaries with me. The thing about being in toxic relationships is that when you’re in one, you inherently believe that this person is speaking the truth. You don’t question whether or not this person actually knows what he/she/they are talking about. And when you start to feel angry and offended by what this person says, instead of blaming that person, you automatically blame yourself!
Thank God I know so much better now. The fog has cleared and although this person is nowhere to be found in any aspect of my life any longer, I feel as though I can see this person for who she/he/they truly are for the first time in years.
As I am processing the depths of my relationship with this person, I have realized that if this has happened to me, it is likely happening to so many other people, so I want to provide a little bit of clarity on a rather fuzzy topic. There is a significant difference between someone setting a boundary with you and someone threatening you, but sometimes the lines can be blurred and what we think are healthy limits are actually threats.
So let’s break it down, shall we?
Boundaries are limits that we set with other people or sometimes, even ourselves. The point of setting a boundary is to protect our own physical, social, and emotional health. Setting boundaries with others can look like:
-“Thank you for the invitation, but I can’t go out this weekend.”
-“I won’t be joining you for the holidays this year due to the pandemic.”
-“I have let you know repeatedly that I do not want to speak about this topic. If you continue to bring it up, I am going to leave the party.”
-“I have told you that I am not comfortable meeting up without masks. If you are not able to wear a mask, let’s wait to meet up until it’s safer to do so.”
Again, boundaries are put in place to honor ourselves and protect all aspects of our well-being.
Threats are designed for us to get the things we want and/or need, often at the expense of someone else. Threats typically come in the form of a warning that someone or something might be harmed if we don’t get what we want. Some examples of threats might be:
– “If you are going to continue dating that guy, then I’m going to stop asking you how you’re doing since you’re only going to get hurt.”
-“If you don’t spend the holidays with us this year, then I’m not buying you those shoes you have been asking for.”
-“We aren’t having sex at night anymore since you clearly can’t even have the laundry done by the time I get home from work.”
-“I’m paying for this wedding so I think I should have some say in where you have it.”
Threats are about securing our wants and needs by taking something away from someone if things do not go our way.
THE THIN LINE
As you’ll notice in the section on boundaries, none of the examples I provided were about doing harm to the other person in any way. The only thing a boundary should do is help us to protect ourselves without doing harm to others. The line between threats and boundaries starts to blur when we start punishing other people for not getting our way. There is no punishment happening when we tell others, for example, that we aren’t comfortable meeting up with them unless they are wearing a mask. There is punishment happening, however, when we withhold sex, threaten emotional neglect, or hold money over people’s heads in order to get what we want. Sometimes it can be quite difficult to tell the difference between a threat and a boundary. Many people feel that they are one in the same, but that could not be further from the truth; and it is important to suss out the difference so that we are taking good care of both ourselves and our loved ones.
Now with all of this being said, I’d like to shift gears and speak directly to YOU – the one who is the epitome of the thin line. I know you lurk in the shadows of my life, reading every blog post, listening to every podcast episode, watching me rise from the ashes like the goddamn phoenix that I am. You are the thin line between threats and boundaries, the one who has been threatening me for years under the guise of being “great at setting boundaries”. I know your eyes will scan every word of this page, hoping to find evidence that you broke me but knowing deep down that you never had that kind of power. Let me take a moment to thank you for teaching me the difference between a healthy boundary and an insidious threat. You have allowed me to be able to share this critical information with others so that they can recognize a threat from a mile away and learn how to set appropriate limits with others. Allow me to express my gratitude for the blinding pain you caused me. While I would have preferred to live without your subtle threats, manipulations, and abrupt abandonment, I am proud to say that I am taking what you put me through and will use it to help others for the rest of my days.
As somebody who is rarely ever short on words, I find myself struggling to speak lately. I am quiet these days, possibly because I’m not too sure how to put words to the things that I have experienced over the last couple of months that have culminated in me being re-traumatized on multiple levels.
I will never tire of the way in which I feel so alive when I sit with my patients. It feels so natural for me to enter their worlds and help them to make connections, process pain, and heal what hurts. But sometimes I don’t do so well when the roles are reversed. When I become the patient, looking back at my therapist, I am speechless. Perhaps this is because words simply do not feel like enough to describe what has recently transpired in my life.
I suppose I am doing as well as any one person could be doing after being re-traumatized. There have been moments, especially this past week, when I have wanted to crawl right back into the cold, icy arms of my eating disorder -anything to take the edge off and make me feel like I have some sort of control. I’ve had to fight like hell to maintain my connections with safe, supportive people instead of isolating. And once or twice this week, I even had to take the risk of reaching out to my treatment team to help get myself grounded.
The flashbacks have become more frequent and I am finding that the way in which I talk to myself or about myself has become increasingly negative. I’m having to focus nearly all of my efforts into the self-care department. It would be so much easier for me to constantly work so that I don’t allow time or space to process all that has happened, but I’m trying to be intentional about slowing down. My boundaries in both my professional and personal lives have gotten tighter (i.e., avoiding contact with potentially triggering people, setting limits on how many hours I am working a day, etc.). While this process has required an exhausting amount of introspection, I have become much more aware of the things that I can and cannot hold space for right now.
So what does this all mean? Does it mean I’m too sick to do my job? Does it mean I am unraveling and cannot function? Does my pain make me any less competent in my profession?
No. Not at all. If anything, being fully in touch with my emotions and having awareness of my limits right now makes me more competent in my profession than I’ve ever been. I am completely aware of how much I am hurting right now, and I am fully aware that I have more on my plate than I bargained for.
Therapists are humans too, and as a human, being in recovery from PTSD does not mean that I will never have bad days again. It does not mean that I am immune to being traumatized in the future, nor does it mean that I am immune to a relapse in my eating disorder. Relapse is not only possible, but is also probably given my circumstances right now. Healing is not linear. None of us will ever wake up one day and be 1000% cured. The simple act of being alive means we will most likely experience pain multiple times throughout our lives.
But the exciting news is that with every breath I take, I have become more aware and more empowered to take my healing into my own hands instead of self-destructing, which is what I would have done in the past. As distraught as I have been, I have turned away from self-destruction and instead, I have made every effort to take better care of myself than ever before. This is what healing looks like. Healing doesn’t mean that we never hurt again! Healing means that, when the pain creeps back in, we feel more equipped to cope and to persevere. I am healing because although I will never be okay with what has happened to me, I am choosing to love myself through it in every way that I can.
I truly don’t know what the days will bring given my current circumstances, but I do know that with every decision to love myself instead of hate myself, I heal a tiny bit more. I have the tools, the love, and the support I need right now. And when all else fails and I simply cannot turn down the intensity of the pain, the anger, or the worry, I turn back to one of my favorite fictional characters who, I believe, said it best:
“No good sittin’ worryin’ abou’ it. What’s comin’ will come, and we’ll meet it when it does.” – Rubeus Hagrid, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Articles Referenced in this Episode:
Seven Skills of Resilience | Psychology Today
Are we all drained right now or what? We’ve got election stress, COVID-19 anxiety, and good old seasonal depression waiting for us right around the corner. Not to mention we are all fighting battles that others know nothing about.
As we head into the colder months, when the flu meets COVID and political tension rises as power shifts from one President to another, let this be your gentle reminder to take the time to get back to the basics of your life so that you are well-equipped to handle what may be coming down the road.
-HYDRATE. Drink drink drink – not beer, not wine, not tequila (okay, maybe tequila). Drink water. As much as your body is telling you that you need. Take notice of how often you’re going to the bathroom and if you need to be consuming more water.
-SLEEP. I know, I know, it is so difficult to be in a regular sleeping routine when life feels like such a jumbled mess these days. But the world is going to keep turning, regardless of whether or not you get sleep, and nothing earth-shattering is going to happen if you log off of Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok for a while to give your body some R&R. Or maybe something earth-shattering WILL happen – and you’ll find out about it after you have slept. Try not to feed the urge to know everything that is happening in the world the second that it happens.
MOVE. Gyms have stricter regulations. It’s dark by 5pm. The weather is getting cold. We want blankets, and hot chocolate, and Christmas movies, not long walks or cardio or yoga. But as great as all the holiday vibes can be, sitting on the couch or in bed for hours on end can lead to a black hole of depression that can be so hard to get out of. So break up your day a little – go for a walk, stretch, take a 15 minute mild yoga class, or blast heavy metal music and go crush some weights. Either way, the movement will mitigate symptoms of depression and anxiety and will help your body to feel its best.
EAT. November is upon us so everywhere you look you’re going to see diets and holiday fitness programs all designed to help you avoid weight gain during the holidays. This season of life is stressful enough for all of us, don’t throw a diet into the mix and start detoxing or counting calories. If anything, be intentional about eating. Don’t skip meals. It doesn’t matter if all you did was sit on the couch all day – you still deserve and need to eat.
CONNECT. Make plans with friends and family in whatever way feels safe for you these days. Don’t use COVID as an excuse to feed into your depression and stop connecting with your loved ones.
LOOK AROUND. Shut off the TV. Put down your phone. Look away from your laptops and desktops and smart bikes and smart watches, etc. Look around at your environment. Love up on your partner. Snuggle with your pets. Stand outside for a few extra moments after getting out of your car just to feel the crisp air on your face. Be wherever you’re at. Tune in to your surroundings and let the stress of the world melt away, if only for a moment.
In these difficult times, I struggle to maintain all the of above, especially the last one! But when we feel overwhelmed with life, it’s crucial for us all to get back to the basics of living so that we can build strength for the future. So take the time to rest up everyone, for when we wake, we will get back to trying to change the world!
I’M NOT A NICE GIRL. People laugh when I say that because it sounds ludicrous that I would need to convince someone that I’m not a nice girl.
But let me tell you why referring to a woman as a “nice girl” isn’t always a compliment:
There was a debacle with one of my neighbors not too long ago. I was out with one of my dogs and my once-friendly neighbor felt that I was too close to his property line and began 1. taking pictures and videos of me, and 2. yelling at me for coming too close to his home.
I was not only stupefied that a man whom I’ve had nothing but positive interactions with in the past was yelling at me, but I felt threatened that photos were being taken of me without my knowledge or consent. With my history of assault, the last thing anyone wants to do is approach me angrily and start snapping photos of me. Cue PTSD symptoms!
But I’m not the silent woman I used to be. If you’re coming into my space in a way that is uninvited, I will let you know. If you are not listening to me when I tell you to back off, I will become louder than you to make it known you are not welcome in my space. So when my neighbor started with his shenanigans, I held my ground. And by “held my ground”, I mean I let him have it –
-Not in a “sir, you’re making me uncomfortable” type of way. More like a “Unless you want a stalking charge, get those photos of me off your phone and get the hell away from me because I know you aren’t screaming at me that way.”
But what does that mean about me? That I’m a bitch? Apparently so, because as my husband came out to assist me, this man turned to my husband and said (pointing at me) “I don’t know what happened to her. I thought she was such a nice girl.”
And I LOST IT. Not explicitly, but implicitly. I knew I had been triggered and it was time for me to exit the scene and let my husband take over. But believe me you, I did not walk away without stating firmly “I am not a nice girl.”
If setting boundaries makes me mean, so be it.
If letting you know that I don’t want you taking photos of me makes me mean, so be it.
If digging my heels into the dirt because I refuse to shrink in the presence of your unwarranted rage makes me mean, so be it.
If correcting you on what my name really is instead of hearing you call me “Amanda” for the 9 millionth time makes me mean, so be it.
If I ever gave off the impression that I was “too nice” to do any of the above, then I will gladly be labeled as the “mean” one. But to be honest, none of what I did makes me a mean person. It makes me be seen.
“Nice girl” really isn’t a compliment in this context. It’s degrading and oppressive, as if I’m not allowed to have a voice and stand up for myself since I’m such a nice girl.
What in the hell does niceness have to do with setting boundaries?
I cannot wrap my brain around this for the life of me. All I know is that I’m not a nice girl. I’m a multi-faceted woman who is so much more than “nice.”
Since that incident with my neighbor happened, I have found myself going back to when I was around 14 and would babysit my two little cousins. Their mom, who was also my cousin, gave me the best advice that I never understood at the time but live by now. Before she would leave me with her little ones to head off to work, she would say to me “If anyone comes to the door or comes anywhere near you, act crazy.”
I would giggle, but I didn’t really get it. Sometimes, the only way women are feared, respected, or taken seriously is if they “act crazy” – and by crazy, I mean engaging in all of the actions I mentioned above that would seem perfectly acceptable if a male were doing it.
What my cousin meant was “Don’t take anyone’s shit. Don’t let anyone take advantage of you. Don’t let anyone make you feel threatened.”
Besides, the only time I ever get mad or “act crazy” (by the way, I am not endorsing the use of the word ‘crazy’) is when I feel unheard, unseen, attacked, misrepresented, or taken advantage of. And in the words of my girl, T-Swift…
There’s nothing like a mad woman.
YOU made her like that.
Not A Nice Girl
If you have not picked up on this by now, the amount of down-time I let myself have is minimal. I consider myself to be a homebody and always say things like “I cant WAIT to relax tonight.” But let’s be real – I never relax. I don’t know how to relax. A few weekends ago I sat down to watch Hamilton (which by the way, if you haven’t seen it, drop everything you’re doing and go watch it right now because it’s amazing), and I had a really hard time focusing. I found myself on my laptop, working, while watching the movie, because it felt too unproductive for me to just sit there and enjoy the show.
Now, please don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s a good thing to be busy 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Chronic business is often an attempt to avoid difficult emotions. This is especially the case for me. I keep myself so busy that I constantly feel drained; but the second I have down time I start to panic because I don’t know how to sit with the feelings that come up when I am still.
For the reasons above, I really hated the practice of yoga when I first discovered it. I tried going to yoga classes on and off for years, but I couldn’t stand to sit with the feelings that would come up when I was on the mat. The last time I took a yoga class was when I first started uncovering repressed memories of trauma. I quit because I got sick of never being able to pace my breathing or move through the poses in a mindful way. And don’t even get me started about the savasana at the end of each practice. I’d rather endure torture than sit in savasana with nothing else to do but simply be.
It has not been until recently that I gave yoga a try again. Over the last 6 weeks or so I have been trying to regularly incorporate the practice back into my life because I am working on trying to “be with myself.” This might sound strange, but many of us trauma survivors spend a whole heck of a lot of time running from ourselves. The yoga mat itself is a scary place for me because I know I’m stepping into myself every time I step onto that mat. Yes, I sweat, I shake, I stretch, I breathe – but most importantly, I feel. There’s nowhere to run, there’s nowhere to hide, there is just me, as I am.
What I have been surprised to find is that over the last six weeks, any time I try yoga, I have been having these moments where big feelings spill over me in the middle of a pose. To be clear, the feelings don’t hit me like a ton of bricks. They don’t knock me out and send spiraling into a crisis. Rather, they spill over me in a way that I’ve never been able to experience before. It’s grief and anger and immense gratitude. It’s disappointment and sorrow mixed with joy and hope for life’s next adventures. It’s fear and guilt and shame but also laughter and chaos because life is so beautiful even in its darkest moments. When I’m on that yoga mat, I sink back into myself, owning every part of my history.
While I’m not yet at peace with so much of my past, I have made major strides in being able to sit with my memories without the urge to run. So for those of you who have tried yoga and didn’t enjoy it or couldn’t sit with yourself, don’t write it off just yet. Yoga will be there for you one day, when you’re ready to feel your emotions instead of running from them. Lately, yoga has been a life saver in helping me to heal outside of my therapy sessions. For the first time ever, when I meet myself on the mat, I like myself, depression and all. That woman on the mat is brave and strong and loving and smart and has a purpose in this world. She will not, can not ever be tamed. Thank you, yoga, for allowing me to tolerate, and even like myself. And thank you to me, for being brave enough to step back onto the mat after years of running.