I have no idea where the phrase, “keep someone at arm’s length,” comes from and believe me I looked it up. I do think that whoever thought it up was on to something. Boundaries, I never had them and I still have to remind myself to keep them.
As far as relationships go, I was taught at home and at church to love everyone unconditionally and that if I could unconditionally love that I was a really good person. Being good was very, very important to me. I always thought the phrases like, “as I have loved you, love one another,” confirmed that I should open my arms fully, no matter what. The more damaged the other person appeared the more I opened my arms and tried desperately to fill holes that I had no place trying to fill. I was not only fiercely determined to love them, I was determined to get others to love them too. Hey Jesus hung out with the prostitutes and street people, not the Pharisees and Sadducees, right?
I was loving and loving hard while never really thinking about the fact that if there is a God and if he does have a son, that their words are chock full of boundaries, conditions, limits and exclusions. It did not compute. I always heard the love everyone part and somehow missed the whole conditional part (hence my conflict with religion in general, a discussion for another day, if you want to hear it). May I just mention that I also realize even bringing up religion here puts me in troublesome territory. We could totally dissect the appropriateness or inappropriateness of religious boundaries and rules, but again, that is not where I am heading with this, at least not today. Let me say, I sincerely do not care what you do or do not believe in. I was also raised in a religious household and no matter how I feel today those experiences will always be a part of who I am.
Back on track, and may I also say, my brain was not registering the fact that there are better, more constructive and healthier ways to love. In fairness to this story and at a very young age, I must admit that I finally did keep a boundary. After our neighbors watched, did nothing and let their giant sheepdog eat through my rubber boot, even when I was asked to play with them, I somehow always managed to say, “no.”
Except for my neighbors and their big dog, I took the suggestion to love everyone to literally mean that I had to give of myself fully no matter what, even if the other person was not doing the same. It took me a very long time to digest that my inability to keep boundaries was actually making me a lousy friend, daughter and sister.
Oddly enough I think part of the problem is that I am a visual learner. I could not see boundaries. I just heard what I was supposed to do and then inaccurately interpreted those words. It was not until much later in life, when I was deep in the pit of my own despair, that a dear woman offered a suggestion. Hearing my pain, she, not knowing the full extent of my crappy boundary keeping, insightfully painted a picture. She said, “Beth. Shut your eyes. Notice the red flags. When you do, see yourself on one side of a door and the red flag on the other. I hope you see a really heavy, strong door. Now, shut that door. If the red flag is pushing through or even knocking, then lock, dead bolt and barricade that door. Do what you need to do to keep that that red flag on the other side.” Then she continued with something that caught me completely off guard. “Now that the door is shut. I want you to pray for that person, bad thought or thing that is bringing you down.”
“What?” I thought.
She ignored my oppositional look and continued, “If you don’t pray, chant. I do not care if you are religious or not. Pray. Keep praying until the negative energy is gone. Pray for healing. Pray for the highest and best for all involved. Pray until the negative energy is gone. Stop giving others so much power over you.”
Quickly, and maybe because she said it so directly, I realized that it was not the other person who was bringing me down. I was (and am) my own problem. It does not matter if the other person is crazy, terrible, mean or ugly. I get to choose. I get to choose how involved I want to be. Genius! I get to choose how sad or mad or crazy I want to be. If I do not want to answer the phone, I do not have to! Crazy, and I was getting it. I was getting that it was not about love or God or doing the right thing. It was simple. I get to choose and so do you. If you want to act crazy, I cannot fix you. If I bug you, then choose to forgive me or you don’t. It is not my problem. I am kind and I am good. I think 99.9% of us are.
I was seeing so clearly that I had been consumed with hurtful words and unkind actions. Oddly, I was not even mad at the other people. (Remember, I was taught to love?) I was just consumed with making it right. I wanted my family right. I wanted my friendships right. I even wanted my crazy neighbor who put up crazy signs threatening us not to disturb her cats to be right. Crazy!
What seeing all of these visual boundaries helped me understand is that all of these issues were completely out of my control. If I do not like how someone acts, I cannot change them. I can choose to get along or I can choose to leave. Likewise, if someone wants to stay mad at me, there is nothing I can do to make it right. Sure. Ok. Yes, I can apologize and yes, I can try and make amends. After that, if they won’t accept or forgive, I CANNOT FIX THEM! When they tell me my apology does not meet their standards, well, that’s their problem. Believe me I have spent a lifetime thinking I had the power to make things right. I somehow believed if I tried hard enough, you would feel better. You would be ok.
This has not been an easy pattern to break. In the past six years, I have visually shut so many damn doors and have sent millions of healing prayers out into the universes. And what I finally get is that I was healing myself. I have no power over you. My love was this belief that I could make you right. I was wrong and I am very sorry. It was never about you, (and if you think I am talking about you, I probably am. Get in line. There are a lot of YOUs.) And ironically it was always about love. I have spent this time shutting doors, learning to say, “no,” accepting that you are you and I can like it or not like it. Through it all I totally and completely like you all more than I did before. I like you without “my loving” strings. I have learned that I am ok being who I am. It has been tough to stand on these two feet and own it,
Yet totally and completely worth it!
Probably the greatest gift I can pass on to Kyle and Eli is that I have learned to like me and mostly, I have learned to start loving myself, the person I should have been loving all along.