Do you find advice dropping into every conversation in your life these days? So much so that you’re wondering if the ease with which everyone around you is using the language of transformative psychotherapy and personal development is because of some new kind of fertilizer, chemical or otherwise. (Wink!)
You know the lines, right?
The one-liners that get tossed into conversation with the same logic and ease that we spit the pits out of a watermelon. They come from the best friend, the coach, the hairdresser or the co-worker. They slide into chats with your sister, your neighbor and the yoga instructor. Have you heard these, too?
You know what you need? You need to love yourself more.
You know what you need? You need boundaries.
You know what you need? Just get away for a while, completely away.
According to the people around me there isn’t much I’m doing right, or so it feels when I don’t choose to see past the message to the meaning in their words. If you’re like me you often only hear what you expect to hear. If I explain that I’m run down, not able to sleep or not enjoying things in general right now, I expect the causes to be tossed back at me. Here’s the thing, and forgive me for sounding ungrateful for seemingly sage advice but Friend, let me be saucy for a sec – as if I don’t know that I’m treating myself poorly. Of course I do. No revelation there. Well intentioned pals and loved ones – if we knew how to love ourselves well or if we knew how to create and enforce boundaries, we’d be doing it. Right?
Recently a fantastic therapist came into my life. Right place, best possible time. She dared to approach the topic of boundaries. Not an easy one to bring up with me, especially with my attitude that I don’t want to be told what’s wrong. Rather I’d love for you to help me learn to do it better. Gently she poked the topic with her eloquently worded rhetorical questions, and I let her, because well, she’s my therapist, you know? “I don’t really see that you are comfortable enforcing boundaries for yourself,” she said. That was a new one for me. I just gawked at her. I sat there. She wasn’t about to explain or insinuate because she’s that good. So I just responded with the first thought that came to mind. In retrospect it’s one of the most revelatory statements I could make about myself: “I actually don’t think I even know what a boundary is.”
There she had it…me, the reason I use myself as a punching bag and the obvious lack of self-kindness in my life was explained. I was naked, even more after my admission than I had been before. It’s true that I don’t know what a boundary is, because the word “No” has pretty limited use in my conflict-averse life. She took me through the basics, applying the concept of boundaries, barriers and lines in the sand, to different areas of my life. Rather than tell me that I needed to learn what boundaries were, she showed me, modeled them for me and provided language for creating and enforcing them with the people in my life. I was so pleased that she didn’t just say: “You know what you need? You need to learn to say no.”
I’m still doing poorly in the self-care/love/kindness realm and the boundaries in my life look more like piles of sand than the knee-high stone walls I’d conjured in my imagination. But because someone took the time to realize that I needed a supportive strategy for doing something I had no precedent for in my life, I give myself more permission to fail, weaken and crack now. The other key piece of learning is: don’t assume someone knows how to do what we are giving them unsolicited advice to do. I will be speaking differently with my close pals from here on. Chances are your peeps already know what the problem is. What they need from you is a helping hand and permission to not understand. I learned what boundaries are and I’ll be learning what they are in my life for the rest of it. But it took me all these decades to realize the knowledge gap was one of the reasons for my self-destruction.
Sometimes we backslide into rough places because we do not have the knowledge we need to keep climbing. Offer help, not words. You can teach an old dog…