Establishing boundaries sounds complex because our thoughts often give us mixed directions on what we should and shouldn’t be doing. Our logic and reasoning can sometimes tell us that something that feels wrong is “ok.” Or we fear what others will think of us if we behave a certain way and therefore stay silent or allow our boundaries to be crossed. Our ego is always trying to fit in and be liked, which can be at the expense of our integrity. I know this because, for many years, I lived duplicitously.
Only recently did I realize that in order to understand and establish boundaries that I can trust are right, it simply requires stillness and connecting with my body compass.
For example, my relationship with my father and my stepmother has always been strained. I stayed silent or smiled through painful interactions from childhood through adulthood. When they overly exaggerated stories to inflate their value, or to hide their embarrassment of the truth, I smiled and pretended to believe them. It wasn’t worth ruffling feathers to speak up. I was a peace-keeper. I told myself, “Just go along with it. It wouldn’t be nice to call them out.”
When they said and did painful things to me, personally, I told myself, “Be the bigger person. Shake it off.”
Stifling anger only created the cover emotion of sadness. Because I didn’t speak my truth, because I forced my anger and frustration deep into the recesses of my being, the relationship caused many outbursts of tears that I hid away…until the dam burst.
The Thanksgiving of 2013, I couldn’t keep silent and stand idly by as once again, I (and now my husband and fur-baby) was treated as lesser than a stranger…as a burden. We had been invited to holiday dinner and to stay the night so that no one was drinking and driving. I asked my father if it was alright to bring our dog, Tucker. They had three dogs of their own, and my half-sister who lived a few miles away was going to bring her dog as well. I offered to board Tucker at our doggy-daycare if it would be any trouble.
“Of course you can bring Tucker,” my father said.
That night, after the meal was finished and we all cleared plates, I noticed that all the dogs had been let into the house and Tucker was locked outside. My stepmother was feeding her and my sister’s dogs some left over turkey. As I went to the sliding door to let him in, my stepmom interrupted me with, “He can’t come in. Tucker needs to stay outside.”
I was shocked and hurt, but kept silent. I reasoned away my feelings in exchange for a less painful thought that she merely wanted to feed all the dogs except him. Rather than helping with dishes as I had originally intended, I went to the other room to converse with my uncle and aunt. About thirty minutes passed and I noticed that my husband hadn’t joined us. I walked around the house and couldn’t find him.
I texted him, “Where are you?”
“Outside freezing with our dog?” he responded.
“What? Why?” I asked.
“Because [your stepmom] told me to keep him quiet because he was jumping against the door to get inside and be with everyone else,” he said.
I went to the backyard to find him and Tucker cuddled up together, shivering on the patio furniture in the 30 degree cold.
“Can we go home?” he asked.
“Of course,” I said. “I just assumed he had to be outside while they were clearing up.”
As a side note, Tucker does not counter-surf or eat anything other than dog food. We’ve never fed him from the table and he doesn’t beg or eat scraps that may fall to the floor. He’s a super picky eater (and hence his svelte frame).
“No,” he said. “[Your stepmom] said he has to stay out here all night. It’s too cold for him out here, he’ll freeze. Plus, he’ll go nuts with everyone inside while he has to be outside. He’s never slept outside before.”
We made the decision to go home. I didn’t want to make a scene, so I quietly packed our things and brought them out to the car. As my husband brought Tucker around the back gate to the car, my father came out of the house.
“Where are you going?” he said. “I thought you were staying the night.”
“Tucker isn’t welcome in the house,” I said. “You should have told me that when I asked you if we should board him or bring him.”
“Stay right here,” he said. “Let me go get [your stepmom].”
Once everything was packed up, I got in the passenger seat and saw the two of them walking toward us in the driveway.
“We don’t bring our dogs to other people’s houses,” my stepmom snipped. “It’s rude.”
While what I wanted to say was, “I asked and you said it was alright. Your daughter doesn’t live here and yet she’s allowed to bring her dog. I’m not just ‘other people,’ I’m your daughter.” Instead – the well burst inside of me and I could only manage to cry a deep and guttural hurt that had been swirling for years.
I said goodbye and rolled up the window. As we reversed the car, I could hear them arguing. Finally, my dad signaled for us to roll down our window.
“[Your stepmom] said he can come in, but only if he stays in a crate in the garage,” my dad said like it was some sort of victory.
What I wanted to say was, “If we ever have a kid, will you make them stay in a crate too while the rest of your grandkids play in the house?” Instead, I just sobbed harder.
My husband slowly backed out of the driveway as my father told me I was being stubborn.
Six months later, I thought I had to be the bigger person and reach out to extend an olive branch. I offered that maybe I have done hurtful things or said things inadvertently and without realizing they might be hurtful, and if so, I was sorry.
The response I got from my father was that my perception of Thanksgiving was completely wrong. That Tucker had always been allowed in the house and once again, they expected me to go along with the lie. My stepmom quickly followed up with her own email telling me that I was domineering.
In slapping-shock, I asked my husband, “Did I imagine all of this at Thanksgiving?”
“No,” he said. “I don’t know what alternate universe your dad lives in. Sorry, honey.”
I knew at that moment that I couldn’t continue to live duplicitously. I had to stand in my truth and that meant cutting them out completely. I knew there would be ramifications for doing so, but every cell in my body told me that I did not want to continue playing the same charade I had been my whole life.
Over the four years since that moment I worried, “What will people think? Does that make me a bad person? What kind of person disowns their parents? Should I just suck it up and be the bigger person? Am I making a mountain out of a mole hill? You should forgive your family no matter what because they’re you’re family, right?”
Throughout Life Coach Training, I would work on my thoughts around the relationships and do the work on the dirty pain. I spent hours using Byron Katie’s The Work to find turnarounds and what I needed to own in myself. I also did work on processing the clean pain, and accepting what is…that they can’t and won’t be the people I want(ed) them to be. And that’s COMPLETELY OK!
Each of these started to wiggle at the base. It wasn’t until I started doing Gabby Bernstein’s Judgment Detox combined with Martha Beck’s Integrity Cleanse* that I finally cut the cord of attachment. The freedom and release happened during a simple, morning, guided meditation. It finally clicked and dissolved into a pool of light.
It was beautiful.
The love welled up inside of me for both my father and stepmother. I could finally see them in their light, as their own unique beings made of love at the core, and on their own journey. It felt easy, it was flowing. I don’t need them to be anything other than who they are.
As Martha Beck says in her Integrity Cleanse, “Integrity ultimately loves everyone, but it doesn’t cooperate with behaviors that feel dishonest, painful, or wrong. You can love destructive people unconditionally when you also honor your own integrity by keeping the destruction from invading your space.”
That doesn’t mean that I have to condone or approve of their past behavior. Nor do I need to maintain contact with people who’s vibrational frequency hurts mine. It’s ok to walk away – no matter who the person is. Forgiveness isn’t about healing the relationship, it’s about healing myself.
Especially when doing so tastes like freedom in the deepest, stillest part of myself.
I’ve started to use my body compass for evaluating what relationships in my life I want more connection or more distance. I’m learning to take a moment to feel into my integrity, notice any accompanying thoughts, before responding yes or no to requests and people.
If you want to decide for yourself what relationships are in (or out of) your integrity: Become still, climb into your body, and notice the sensations that arise when you think of that person. If it feels restrictive, like your whole chest is wrapped and bound by heavy chains, it’s probably not a healthy relationship and you might want to create more distance. (Tell me where I’m wrong?) If it feels light, airy and calm, the relationship is aligned with your integrity and serving your higher self.
That’s it. The answers are inside you. Be still, be present and feel it.
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