I have been thinking about boundaries/lack thereof and how we’re taught to take care of ourselves. In a post last year I wrote about a friend who never gives anyone a second chance to treat her poorly and how for years I used the alternate method of assessing people based on the potential qualities I projected onto them. In contrast, my friend assesses people based on the plain-as-day information that they present to us through their behavior. Not surprisingly my friend has wasted less time on narcissists, solipsists and asswipes of all stripes as she has made her way through life.
It got me to thinking … where did I learn my poor people-assessment skills? Unfortunately for me I was brought up in an alcoholic household. Those who are familiar with the dynamic will not be surprised that in my home there were zero interpersonal boundaries. While it was often necessary for me to stand up for myself against my father, my mother discouraged it. Instead she encouraged me to think about him the way she did – as a tragic hero whose meanness was a cover for the sad little boy inside. I internalized this habit so thoroughly that I wasted years on people who, I erroneously believed, were better than their behavior made them seem.
Where my friend would have simply said “what a jerk,” and moved along, or, better yet, spotted the jerkiness far in the distance and not even gotten closer to investigate, I have spent more hours than I would like to admit, trying to extract better behavior from people who have given every indication that they’re not interested in improving themselves (but who, in many situations, are happy to participate in the drama in the meantime).
I realize now that while my father might have been quite sad inside (almost certainly, to have behaved the way he did), that wasn’t my problem and it was unreasonable of my mom to tell me to put his feelings ahead of my own. More generally, I now realize that the act of telling your child to stand down when she’s trying to stand up for herself is a trespass, which extends to how many of us who come from similar backgrounds are taught to think about our personal boundaries, our bodies, how we let others treat us and how we let others dictate what we should look like, what we should eat, how we should spend our time and how to conduct the whole of our lives.
I’m in my 40s now and have only recently developed the habit of telling assholes to hit the road sooner rather than later. I had a situation last year where a longtime friend I was kind of interested in rejected me romantically in the rudest way possible. Rather than try to preserve the friendship on the assumption that his nastiness meant that he was a wonderful person who was just sad inside I simply deleted him from my contacts and moved along. It felt good.