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boundaries

Ten Thousand Days

No. More. Excuses

May 9, 2019

Photo: Analise Benevides

Day 1721 – Day 1727

When I was a  girl, I was bullied on the playground.  My mother taught me to try to overlook bad behaviour and with empathy, see what might be driving people to act so badly.  ‘Maybe there is something going on in their life that you don’t understand and it is making them behave in a mean way’, she would say.  I suppose that my mother did this to help me see that being bullied by a kid on the playground was more about them and their issues than it was about me.  But, as an overly empathetic young person, I grew up always trying to understand the psychology of people who treated me like dirt, rather than getting out of the way of their abuse.

Empathy is a great thing.  It is, in fact, one of the core underlying practices (along with mindfulness and authenticity) that makes practicing gratitude, magnifying joy, being of service, experiencing our oneness and living a life of meaning, with purpose possible.  Empathy and pro social behaviour are requirements for belonging to society.  Without empathy, I don’t think it is possible to actually be happy, because empathy is key to forming relationships.  Those lacking empathy, as far as I understand it, are often diagnosed with Cluster B personality disorders that include psychopathy and narcissism.

Empathy is a good thing.  Too much empathy, to the detriment of mutual respect and self-preservation, is a very bad thing.

Someone treated me badly recently and I was recounting the story to a friend.  The first thing she did was jump to hypothetical reasons why they might have behaved so badly “Maybe they think this or maybe they feel that.”  My feelings were not acknowledged.   I’m sure she had good intentions, but this is not empathy.  It is looking for rationalizations of bad behaviour.

I notice this is common with some women – at least women over 40 –  and I notice that my male friends do not bother to try to understand, rationalize, or find excuses for bad behaviour.  They say it like it is.  The behaviour was unacceptable.  Usually, they use more colourful words.  I also notice that those women who tend to look for excuses have stayed in situations where their potential has been limited or where their needs aren’t being met.  I put my hand up as one of them.

People of my generation were raised in an era where women were working full-time outside the home, en masse, for the first time.  My mother was a stay at home mom and while many of my friends had mothers who worked outside of the home, it was rare that they were ‘career women’.  We were the first generation who had no expectation or hope that we would ever be taken care of by a partner who was a breadwinner.  We were the first generation who would have to make our own way in the world, a world that was ruled by men.

Our mothers had no idea what it would take to get along in the world, for their daughters.  Our mothers had to practice the subtle art of persuasion and ego stroking, and they had to learn to overlook the flaws of their husbands.  They had to do this, no matter how bad his behaviour was, at times, because it was a matter of survival.  And for their part, some of our fathers – used to having their bad behaviour overlooked – modeled, for their daughters, that this was what men expect of women.  Many men of that generation still expect to be obeyed, no matter what their behaviour.

Mine is the first generation to make her own way in the world.  And, our parents did not prepare many of us to do that.

Even at my ripe (rotting?) old age, I have tended to still make excuses and try to be understanding of people who aren’t always pro social and in control of their mouths or behaviour.

But, something has changed in me, and it is growing stronger.

I wrote about germinating ideas and the need to change my life.  One of the first things I’ve found myself feeling is that I no longer want to make excuses for bad behaviour.

My life took a very hard turn in 2016.  I think about the young man who said he loved me and with whom I fell in love.  He had a charming and gentle exterior when we met in 2015.  That was who I believed him to be.  Who he turned out to be was a man who was self involved, opportunistic and exploitative, who had no empathy for others, and had a moral compass that was strongly anti-social.  I had believed his lies.  Like my mother, and her generation, I stood on my head and turned myself inside out for months that turned into years, trying to make sense of his treating me with disdain and cruelty and then vulnerability and sweetness in turn.  I tried to find a reason why the sweet and vulnerable man was lying to me and hurting me.  Like my mother, I chose not to see what was right in front of me if it meant I could not rationalize his anti-social ways.  I had clocked what was either embarrassment or disdain, towards a bouncer who didn’t want to let him into the pub for dressing shabbily, on the first night we met.   That was a red flag.  But, I gave him the benefit of the doubt on that first night and every night after, for over 2 years.   The bad behaviour was who he really was, and he had pegged me for a gullible target.  He exploited me, betrayed me and broke my heart, and when I finally got pushed to far, I reacted, in kind.  All that did was allow him to alleviate his own self hatred and position me as the bad guy.   While I am not victim blaming, I must admit that up to that point, I had made the excuses that let him continue, for years.  I’m sure I’m not the only one.  He likely lied to and exploited the other women who were, unbenownst to me, in his life, as well.

His sweet exterior was a necessary mask he wore to disguise his anti-social self, in order to make his way in the world.

I went through the worst time in my life, and I sort of sleep walked through 2017, but I’m awake now.

I have forgiven him, not because he is remorseful or because his behaviour is excusable.  Whatever made him the way that he is, whether nature or nurture, it was not in his control.  I don’t feel any joy in knowing that he is probably still stuck in a spiral of anti-social behaviour and shame, but Il struggle with the knowledge that his shame is not remorse.  I feel sad for what has become of him, but don’t mistake me – he is still accountable for his behaviour.  He could have behaved differently.  He’s certainly capable of being charming and likable with those who aren’t particularly close to him.   He can behave pro-socially when he wants to, he just chose to lie and behave badly with me because he didn’t care how his anti-social behaviour would hurt me.

Empathy is good, but not everyone has our best interests at heart and deserves our efforts to understand their less than shining moments.  I’m grateful for this lesson, though I wish it had come earlier in my life, and I wish it had come at a much lower personal cost.  But, we learn when we learn.

And I do feel joy that I am free of it.

Having come through that I’m working on forgiving myself for making the wrong (overly empathetic) choices with him.  A part of forgiving myself for letting it go on too long is to have zero tolerance for disrespectful behaviour being directed at me and to resist the need to rationalize, that I learned from my parents.     Yes, sometimes we can’t completely end toxic relationships (example: co-parenting) but we can enforce our boundaries with people who do not have our best interests at heart.  We are all One at the level of the soul and spirit.  At the level of the mundane, where most of us live our day to day life, we must honour the light of our own soul by protecting ourselves against abuse.

To let anyone dump on us is to dim our own spiritual light.

No. More. Excuses.

Photo: Sandeep Swarnkar

For what are you most grateful this week?

Ten Thousand Days

Private Lives

March 27, 2018

Photo: Nathaniel Dahan

Day 1259 – Day 1319

I’ve been thinking about privacy and lately I’ve been feeling crowded.  An old friend from childhood spotted my comment on someone’s post in an online forum for people in recovery from toxic relationships.  From there, he tracked down my website and my public Facebook page.  I guess this is what can be expected by being online.  I didn’t think too much about it except that the man had been determined to reach out to me.

When he happened to know my dating history of more than 20 years ago, I felt really uncomfortable because I was sure I had not mentioned that old boyfriend by name and I wondered if my privacy had somehow been invaded.  A few days later, I learned that he was involved in some way with the ex-wife of that long ago boyfriend.  She contacted me and asked about my friendship with him. She had spotted his and my new online friendship on Facebook.  She seemed to know the whole story of how my friend and I had reconnected after so many years.

I didn’t like the feeling of being talked about by people separated by decades and thousands of miles in my life.  This crossed my boundaries.

When I first starting writing online, I did so under a pseudonym but my branding advisers encouraged me to write under my professional writing name on this site.  So, I’ve had to turn to disguising the identity of the people in my life to protect theirs as well as my own privacy.  But, the recent Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal aside, protecting our privacy online has become somewhat of a challenge.  We are tracked by our mobile phones, by the data chips in our shoes, listened to by our digital assistants 24 hours a day and our webcams can be used to watch us even when we haven’t turned them on.  Privacy is something we need to protect, but new challenges to this come up as technology moves faster than our understanding of the implications.

 

The contact from my childhood friend was initially a delight.  He reminded me of the happiest 2 years of my childhood.  We had come from the same place and we had ended up in this a similar place in our lives.  It was an odd coincidence but not something that, alone, was sufficient to re-forge an old friendship, no matter how sweet our childhood times had been.

He could not stop focusing on the woman from his toxic relationship.  My childhood friend wanted to commiserate and discuss his ex-partener’s possible personality disorder as the answer to it all.

I was in a different place in my journey.   It had taken me a long time to understand that I would never know why someone I had loved and someone who said he loved me had behaved so badlyand with such cold cruelty towards me.  And more, to the point, why he did it really doesn’t matter; all that matters is that he did.  And because he did, that relationship is over and I’m moving on.

After some concession to ‘sharing’ experiences, I set my boundary.  To rehash a painful relationship for the sake of commiseration seemed an abuse of my privacy and was harmful to my wellbeing.  I told my childhood friend that my relationship was in the past and that was where I was leaving it.   I did not want to discuss it further.

When, a few days later, my childhood friend announced that he was reuniting with his toxic ex-lover, I ended our engagement with one another.

In a few weeks, all sorts of drama had come into my life through my childhood friend.   That kind of drama wrecked havoc in my life once already, via that toxic love relationship.  I don’t want it in my life directly or vicariously any more.

In a way, this crazy episode of intrusiveness and boundary pushing was a gift.  It held up for me the mirror of where I would otherwise be, had I continued the toxic relationship with the man I loved, who said he loved me.  And, it made me consider again my absolute need for peace, for privacy and for strong boundaries – especially as regards anything I might allude to in my writing.

I come here and I mine my life for specific details of my personal narrative that might speak to the universal in all our lives.  That is the hook by which I engage a reader into witnessing my journey as I attempt to demonstrate one person’s attempt to live a grateful life despite the obstacles – and, hopefully, this inspires others to do the same.

I feel a Oneness with anyone who has ever loved and been devastated by another’s cruelty.  I hope my childhood friend will eventually find peace in his love life – if that is what he wants.  I hope that the man who treated me so cruelly will also find peace, too.  But those are their lives to live.  In living my own, it is my own peace that is my priority.  Peace can only come, for me, with strong boundaries.

Reflecting on the ways I’ve been vulnerable through writing here, I’ve taken a break.

Instead, I have been painting a lot lately. And, for that I’m grateful.

I’m grateful that one good thing that came of my toxic relationship was the drive to learn to paint.  I took the courageous step of painting because of my love for that man.  One of my first paintings was created, with love, for him.  I asked him to teach me to paint, but he never did.  I learned anyway.  Painting had long been a secret desire and it has been a gift to emerge from that toxic relationship as a burgeoning painter. I’m not grateful to him for that, but I am grateful for the impetus and the natural talent to paint.  It brings me joy and a fair helping of frustration, too  – just as any relationship of love will do.

 

I’m not sure how I will proceed with this website.  Writing publicly is fraught with all sorts of infringements – not just of privacy.

Six months ago,  I discovered that an article I wrote on this website about Monsu Plin was lifted verbatim and published on a site that pays crypto currency for content.  This was done by a friend of his.  I’ve since password protected my article but that is a bit like closing the gate once the horse has run away.  I’ve sought out and had a public apology for the failure to seek permission and properly attribute the article.  But my article is under someone else’s byline now, and cannot be removed from the blockchain.  The blockchain is an evolving technology that is presenting threats to our privacy and what is in some jurisdictions, a right to be forgotten.  To have it published without my permission was a violation – if not of my privacy, certainly of my rights.

I am confident that the meaning-making in writing about gratitude is part of the purpose of the rest of my life and living a life of gratitude is the best way to move beyond any sort of toxicity.  But how I will do this, and the future of the content on this website, is still uncertain.

 

 

For what are you most grateful, today?