I’m not sure where to begin with this blog post. I’ve wanted to write it for awhile, but I’m groping for the words to express what my observer brain wants to say. It’s all fine and dandy for my observer brain to observe things, but if it expects me to blog about them, it needs to come up with the goods.
Let’s start by saying this: I am no longer able to tolerate other people’s expectations of me. That’s quite a premise. That statement presupposes two things. First, that I have tolerated expectations in the past, and second, that something has changed. Both of those statements are true. And that just about takes the biscuit as the understatement of the century.
Why start at the beginning? Let’s start with the change. Was there a single event that brought about this change in my outlook? In fact, no. It was actually a combination of events and factors of great magnitude that conspired to hammer my life to paper thinness all at the same time. That was a few years ago now.
I haven’t been able to track the progress of this change in any way. It was just there one day. The veritable ‘snap’ moment, in which suddenly all the thousand things other people expected of me and required of me and wanted from me became intolerable. Was the wafer-thinness of my substance so fragile? Quite the contrary. Overnight, it went from a debilitating weakness to tempered steel. Extruded out to a thin sheet of enormous tensile strength. I have spent quite a bit of time since then looking askance at my reflection in that steel and wondering who this resolute person is. It can’t be me, surely.
The first thing I noticed was the space. All of a sudden, where no boundaries seemed to exist or be recognised, where there was a melding of their needs and wants and my responses, there was . . . . a space. I suddenly perceived for what I think was the first time in my life where the people in my life ended and where I began. And there was a big gap between them. I’d never noticed it before. It’s a wonder I never fell into it. Or tripped over it. When did that happen? I asked myself. How did that happen?
The effect that space had was surprising. It acted like a kind of buffer zone. Where expectations and needs communicated directly from their minds and mouths to my brain, there was this floating, slow-mo pause where I had a moment available to discern and examine those needs and . . . . . wait for it . . . . . decide whether I wanted to comply or not. That was the second thing. Choice. Wow.
The consequence of that was that I suddenly learned a lesson I’ve been ‘working on’ and desperately needed to learn all my life. I learned how to say “no”. Prior to learning this lesson, I now know I had absolutely no concept of what it was I was supposed to be ‘working’ on. Good heavens, has it always been this easy? That little space started to account for alot. That little moment of disconnect, of observation made a space for choice. And suddenly, I could choose whether I wanted to participate or not. That never happened before either. The sense of empowerment was pretty heady, let me tell you.
It was more than that though. I suddenly started to see the separation between me and other people’s reactions, filters and expectations. That’s them, this is me. Now come on, I’m not real young here. I’ve been around. It all seems so obvious now. Has it always been like this? How come I didn’t see it before? So now, I had TWO sentences! “No, that is not OK”, and “that is what you want, but I don’t feel the same way.”
OK, so some of the effects weren’t so great. The affected people in my life sure didn’t like the change. We’ve heard that the change itself was instantaneous. The fallout, on the other hand, was not. The fallout has taken more than two years to settle and stop polluting the atmosphere. It’s still coming down some. Well, come on. We’re talking an entire lifetime’s worth of behaviour we’re trying to change here. First there was disbelief. Then there was manipulation. Then there was anger. Just about every form of twisting and writhing and squirming to try to sneak one past me. Some eventually realised they couldn’t sneak it past me any more. Most haven’t accepted it yet. But that steel resolve has remained calmly in place. Some of those people are still part of my life and we’re still working on it. Others? Not so much.
Well, and therein lies the change. I’ve always been the kind of person who gives alot. That’s not a bad thing, that’s a morally good thing, a good thing for a community, for a family, for friendship. I’ll always be that kind of gal. But there are limits, and I guess my limit is where I got to. Where giving becomes a bad thing is where it becomes reflex. To excess. To exhaustion, with nothing left to replenish your own reserves. Where it becomes a bad thing is where it is expected. When you are not allowed to say no. Or the price that has to be paid for a ‘no’ is so high, that you can’t find the strength to say it. It does a great disservice to both of you, and denies you the opportunity for loving understanding and for give and take. Resentment between people who care for each other is not a great recipe.
Take it from me, people don’t like change. Especially when they are really nice and comfortable. In that case, people will only change if they are forced to. So, I know I have forced a change to the status quo. I’ve tried to do it in a way that was calm, firm, consistent and loving but unbudging. I haven’t always been successful in that, and I haven’t been forgiven for it yet. That’s a shame. It really is, because I love these people. I don’t like conflict any more than the next person. But I think I’ll be holding those boundaries. It’s a funny thing. Once you’ve made that change, there just is no going back. I’ll be pouring on alot of love to smooth the path, and I feel faith that we’ll work it out eventually. The payback for all of us is deeper and more honest communication, less resentment and a more truthful relationship. I’m all up for that. How about you?