I started setting boundaries and speaking my truth. Here’s how.

I started setting boundaries and speaking my truth. Here’s how.

I still have the journal entry. It says, in striking black pen, “I wish I could say what I mean. If I can learn to say what I mean before I die, I will die a happy woman.” 

I’d written it the morning after I’d been the recipient of unwanted advances at a bar. A stranger had engaged me in aggressive conversation, peppered in flirtation, and every so often slipped his bony hand around my waist. For 30 minutes I’d tolerated his behavior with a fake smile before feeling it was appropriate to escape to the bathroom.

I could’t bring myself to say “Thank you, but I’m not interested. ’’ I’d waited in silence, hoping the man would mind-read my discomfort and give me space. My stomach had churned with discomfort. The next morning, I took my pen and articulated what I saw as my Great Frontier in life: speaking up, resisting the impulse to people-please, and not settling for less than I deserved.

My tendency to people-please at the expense of my own wellbeing manifested in all areas of my life.

It was why I worked in a job that didn't reflect my values; why I felt emotionally isolated in my imbalanced relationships with friends, lovers, and colleagues; and why I relied on external distractions and addictions to numb myself to my emotional landscape. Sometimes, my people-pleasing manifested as mildly as staying too long in a conversation that bored me, or offering to help a friend when I didn’t have the time. Sometimes, it was as extreme as sleeping with someone I didn’t want to sleep with because I didn’t want to “hurt his feelings.”

I knew that my difficulty setting boundaries was largely a consequence of a culture that encourages women to be people-pleasing, accommodating, and self-sacrificial. As Harriet Lerner says in The Dance of Anger: “Our society cultivates guilt feelings in women such that many of us still feel guilty if we are anything less than an emotional service station to others.”

Though I understood the cultural roots of my behavior, I didn’t want my socialization to define me. I wanted to develop the capacity to speak up for myself. The less I heeded the wishes and warnings of my inner self, the more her cries went unheard - and the more her anger, instead of directed outward, became directed inward, at me.

I felt like I was constantly betraying myself, constantly designing my life around others’ desires. The result was a life that felt mediocre, underwhelming, and not quite my own. 

Read More

9 Dos & Don’ts: How To Hold Space For Someone Who’s Hurting

9 Dos & Don’ts: How To Hold Space For Someone Who’s Hurting

Does this sound like you?

You experience something painful. It hurts. You feel anxious, angry, or frustrated, as if you’re on the verge of boiling over. So you self-isolate—sometimes for hours, sometimes for days—and wait for the pain to subside.

You don’t call a friend or a loved one, even though you know you technically could. You know that using your support network is supposed to enable your healing process, but you just can’t pick up the phone. The thought of having one of “those conversations” again is simply too exhausting…

Published on Elephant Journal. Read here.

Read More