I had had a glimpse into my future last night. Two old women sitting in chairs, silver white hair streaked with the occasional red flare, bodies worn and soft. The air is punctuated with laughter and soft sighs as they remember the intensity of their past lives. This is what will be for my dear friend and I. Last night, the connection was ear pieces in our heads and the conversation was in two different locations. But it will be as such sooner than we anticipate. Last night’s intense conversation was about setting boundaries. This is something I have struggled with and to some extent, so has she.
Boundaries: self-imposed cages in some manner but the barriers we need to create to protect ourselves and keep predators out. I have written a lot about predators and their ability to size up souls to devour. In intent to please, I have often offered myself up for sacrifice easily finding a willing diner. This is a character of people who have been in similar situations like I have where you will do just about anything to be accepted and loved. Do not judge until you have been in someone’s shoes.
It is also a skill not taught to young women as being compliant is often considered an attribute and expectation. Both my friend and I are caregivers. She devoted her life to the care of her parents until they both died. Her sacrifice was great and she put a lot of her own desires and needs aside in order for them to be cared for. My story is similar and has been documented in previous journals. It is what we do. I have no issue with being a caregiver as we are the ones who will be there when needed. But often this type of soul does not know when to set boundaries. People are too ready to cross them and take too much of the person, leaving them spent and voided. This is not what one would expect when you set out to give unconditional love and support. No, it is the opposite. That is because the boundaries are blurred and too often an invitation to those who feel entitled to more than their share. As I type this, I find myself getting angry, which is what my friend and I discovered last night. We have a new found chutzpah derived from so many years of being depleted. This new energy comes for me from multiple resources and age is definitely one.
I am writing from my perspective as a woman, the youngest daughter and sibling in a large family. I think it is the expectation that the role of caregiver will automatically be assigned to that rank, followed up with decision making by the eldest. Such was my lot. I do not have regrets for the time spent making the passing of my parents easier for them. The skill of learning to say no, however, was not one I had in my tool box and this lacking impacted my self-esteem as I became flattened by the constant steamrolling produced by the demands of others. Somewhere in my story I thought the ending would be “happily ever after” for those who sacrifice and give. Not so. The one person who I am totally in charge of taking care of was the one who was not being served. Myself.
I can remember the feeling of spending hours doing some chore only to feel used and angry because the receiver had no sense of their demand or offense. I remembered the rage as the demise of my first marriage was looming on the horizon. Why did this man not see my sacrifice that I offered up so willingly? How could he walk away from someone who had given so much of herself? He could because there was nothing of substance left, no backbone, no muscle. Just the shell of a spent soul who had no shape because there were no boundaries set.
Currently I am facing an issue with someone at work. There is always someone in our lives who seems hell-bent on making others miserable. I know in my heart that she is this way because of her own misery. And this is usually where the trouble will begin for me. I can see her faults and excuse her behavior in an attempt to not judge. She does not see this as a kindness, but as a door to walk in and all over me. My friend too has an ongoing issue with someone whose perpetual criticism and negativity is impacting the driving force of a community group. We both would choose not to have to defend our lines, as neither of us like conflict. But as we talked, the feeling of empowerment over the situation was more freeing than laying down and offering up a weak giving in. The solidarity on this choice was very satisfying and I think both of us will find more strength and joy in our lives when we speak up for ourselves on a continual basis. I know my friend has been able to do this much more consistently than I, but she still would rather not have to go there in the first place.
If I could develop a curriculum for young women growing up in our society, I would include a chapter on setting boundaries. Not all girls struggle with this issue. My stepdaughter, who now as a young woman, still feels she is entitled to more than her share. It is the opposite of the way I was at her age. Neither is correct. Instructions would include that the top priority is to yourself. You cannot serve if there is nothing left to give. The offering will be only sacrifice and will produce for the giver suffering as the soul is ripped to shreds and consumed. Setting a boundary with a gentle hand is the same as setting an expectation of a student. Too low, and you will get results that are less than their ability. Allowing people to cross the personal line is the fault of someone who has not figured out where that line should be. It is not a rigid line and needs to be flexible. But it does need to exist so that when the enemy is at your gate, you can pull up the plank.
As my birthday approaches, I feel a sense of awe as I realize how much I do not know at this age. Again, no directions, no concrete lesson plan to follow. One thing I am sure of is that the two old women of the future sitting in chairs will have many stories to share of their conquests of life. And still will laugh over passing gas!