Whenever I talk about boundaries, I warn people about how others will “up the ante” when we try to set a boundary. This “upping the ante” has to do with others being uncomfortable with our boundary and not knowing exactly how to deal with the “new” us. We are showing a new and different person and those who are not used to it, even if they have our greatest interest in mind, react — many times unconsciously — by trying to get us back to the person they know and the typical interactions we have. When we “do better” or set a boundary or start taking better care of ourselves or become more assertive or change in positive ways, we may make others uncomfortable…unknowing how to respond to us. We also might get this reaction from our own selves. We know we should be doing these things but it makes us a bit uncomfortable. It’s new, it’s different. It’s SCARY.
These “get back where you belong” messages, tell us to get back to where we were before. The place where we’re not good enough, where there are things wrong with us. Where we don’t have boundaries, goals, ambitions. Where we don’t say no. Where we put our needs last. Etc, etc, etc. These messages tell us we’re not good enough or there are x number of things wrong with us. These “get back where you belong” messages, either from ourselves or others, serve to undermine us in our quest for change.
It is these internal messages that we listen for in our “observation” of ourselves and others. It is these messages we work to change in our affirmations. We work to change them in our “preparation” and we change them by continually cultivating the positive.
By doing our work, we not only build our self-respect, but we stop twisting in the wind at the behest of others and their opinions of us. We take back our own lives by caring, not about what others think of us, but what we think of us. We begin to measure our worth by own own yardstick and not the ever changing yardstick of others. We take back our own lives and answer to ourselves.
My earliest recollection as a child was that the “bad people” were coming to get me. I was about 4 or 5 and used to wake up at night with night terrors. I was in foster care. I was in foster care for 8 years. My message was my biological mother didn’t want me enough to take me home and didn’t care enough to let me go. She kept me spinning in a pattern. My foster/adoptive parents were considered “too old” to adopt me and yet they kept fighting for it until they wore down the Catholic Charities who had difficulty placing me anyway because I was getting “too old” for adoption by another couple.
Yet when my adoption was final, my adoptive (alcoholic) father left the home (the marriage had been horrible for years) and my adoptive mother became unbelievably abusive. As the only adopted child in a family of biological children, guess who was the scapegoat?
Can you say abandonment issues?
Can you say abuse issues?
Can you say validation issues?
I wanted to MATTER.
I wanted someone, somewhere, somehow to say that God’s green earth was a better place because I was in it….but until *I* said it, no one else said it.
During my teenage years I gravitated toward abusive, abandoning boys. This kept “the” struggle, MY struggle alive, convinced that I would one day be the victor over it.
The trouble was that I gravitated toward WHAT I KNEW .
I wound up in abusive relationships over and over again and was, as Stephen Levine says, “surprised by the same old thing.”
Over and over again.
When I left my last abusive relationship with a man who was cheating on me, I had no self-esteem and was scraping the bottom of the proverbial self-respect barrel.
I not only didn’t like myself, I HATED myself. For years I was told I was worthless and meaningless and I believed it.
But slowly and with a great amount of effort–affirmations and journaling–I was able to slowly change my opinion of myself and start to say to myself, despite all evidence to the contrary by others, that I mattered.
And for a long time, I was the lonely (small) voice in the wilderness saying (whispering) “I matter.” (I think).
I had to free myself of what others expected of me and tune into what I expected of me. In the beginning it was just to survive from day to day. I had no grand expectations. The thoughts of becoming a therapist, a motivational speaker, a lawyer were the furthest things from my mind.
Those things only came over the years as I expanded my comfort zones and my frames of reference.
In the beginning, my work was simply to stop trying to please others, stop trying to be that foster kid who wanted to be adopted (pick me! I’ll be perfect! I promise!) and who rebelled, often in self-destructive ways, when I didn’t get picked or I was picked by the wrong people.
It was going to be a long, uphill battle from where I was, but it had to be done. I had to start telling myself I was worth something and to stop trying to live up to others’ expectations of me. The others in my life would never be happy anyway.
I had to tell myself that it only mattered if I was happy with me. I affirmed this several hundred times a day..I had to nurture and give wings to that tiny voice inside me that said “I matter.”
When that voice took hold and gained strength, other people, healthy people started to be attracted to me, as friends, as lovers, as people who CARED about me. Until I cared about me, no one else did. As soon as I did, others came along to lighten the load.
When I started to believe that I mattered, the abusive and abandoning people fell away and healthy people, started to see it/think it too…damn, she does matter. Caring about yourself, above all else, is the gift that keeps on giving. The paradox of self-love is that it brings MORE love from others. The paradox about being self-sufficient is that giving people come into your life. The paradox about not needing anyone is that wonderful people come along to help you.
When I left that abusive relationship, my youngest son was 4 years old and I learned what happy and healthy was and raised my children in a fairly healthy environment…I let them know that self matters and self-respect matters and not to sell their souls for the expectations of others. When he was 18, my youngest son gave me a card that read: “ I know a woman of strength and beauty. I have watched her for years.” Inside it said, “She is my mother.”
I know the words by heart because I’ve read it hundreds of times and have recently framed it. All of my children have send similar ones over the years.
But without my self-esteem, without the years I worked on myself and cared about what I thought, that card would not have been possible.
By freeing myself of the expectations of dysfunctional others, by insisting that I matter, others, the most important others, think so too.
Nothing is really possible without thinking that you matter. That you are important. That you are worth it (“it” being care and effort from others). You cannot be healthy and happy without knowing that you matter. My parents may have thrown me away, abandoned me and abused me, but I fought the fight to say, “I matter.” And my family knows it, my friends know it, the world knows it. I was married to a man who thought that the world was a better place because I was in it. And he thought that every single day from the day we met until the day he passed away. And he was the most wonderful human being I’ve ever known. If I could secure the love of such an incredible person, it was because–AND ONLY BECAUSE–I knew I mattered.
You can rise above the old messages, the destructive messages…the patterns…whether from yourself or others…and give yourself the one truth that you need to know in order to make any change happen…and that truth is simply this: “I Matter.” Say it. Own It. Believe It.
Because you do.