Ya know, there’s nothing like a little heath scare to wake you up! This past week I experienced an opportunity to find a lesson/gift in what felt like things outside my control were ganging up on me.
The Cliff Notes version of the health scare story for background… After having some on-going tummy trouble, I saw a specialist. He said my symptoms could be originating from a different issue. Tests ensued, several of them, in a very short few days. There is that period of time between having the tests done and finding out the results that is where the wake-up call opportunity happens. I was really trying to keep my mind on the positive, and not go to worst case scenarios. I did okay, yet I wouldn’t give myself an A+ by any means.
The results showed that my overactive imagination of the worst was a waste of energy. With a fairly simple surgery in a few weeks, the benign problem will be removed and otherwise I am super healthy. Thank you, thank you, thank you is all I could say for several minutes after talking to my favorite M.D. about the test results. Everyone I worked with throughout has been amazing and wonderful. My appreciation is HUGE on many fronts!
So! In my last Sandy Chat installment, (you can scroll down and read it here) I wrote about the “Dreaded Drama Triangle”, how most of us are operating on an auto-pilot orientation in relationships and life that puts us all in the “Victim” role. I also shared how the antidote to this model of life is “The Empowerment Dynamic”. This is where instead of a victim, we become CREATORS in our lives by focusing on what we want and on the solution versus the problem. Turns out I had a great opportunity to test drive this stuff on myself in the last week!
In the three day span of not knowing the test results, I asked myself many times “what is the gift in all this?”, “What is this here to teach me?”, “What can I learn here?”. My answer was pretty consistent… “Take care of yourself and stop spending so much time and energy on what you think others are doing “wrong” or not enough of or how they are not behaving the way you wish they would!”. In other words, focus on how I WANT to feel emotionally and let everyone else off the hook for my happiness.
This is exactly what it means to be a DELIBERATE CREATOR in your life. To decide how you want to feel emotionally, then reach for the highest feeling thoughts you have access to and do not let the words, actions, opinions of others or circumstances take you out of where you want to be emotionally. Easy to intellectualize, harder to do.
The “Persecutor” in the Dreaded Drama Triangle isn’t always a person – sometimes it’s a condition, like a health issue. I kept bringing myself back to remembering that I didn’t want to be in the “Victim” role so I tried to think about what I wanted to CREATE as a result of this situation. What I find is that my boundaries are where I seem to lose my balance and dis-empower myself. Let’s look at a definition…
Boundaries are something we must have in order to get off the Dreaded Drama Triangle model and shift to The Empowerment Dynamic. Boundaries are about self-care, self-compassion, healthy, normal and necessary. And look at that second part of the description above If we continually rescue someone we deny them the experiences THEY need in order to grow. So while boundaries are for YOU they also serve those you are in relationship with. Boundaries are about empowerment because they are all about taking responsibility for YOUR part in any situation or relationship you participate in. To rescue people from natural consequences of their behavior is to render them powerless, and put them in the Dreaded Drama Triangle in the Victim role. You DIS-empower others and yourself when you don’t have boundaries.
In their book “Boundaries” by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, they say this: “Boundaries are not about setting limits on others. We can’t do that. What we CAN do is set limits on our own exposure to people who are behaving poorly; we can’t change them or make them behave “right”. We can choose to accept others as they are, let them be who they choose to be without judgement – and if they choose to behave in ways that don’t feel good to us, we can become a CREATOR by separating ourselves from them. We can limit our exposure to behaviors or people that don’t feel loving to us. It’s about setting our own internal limits and then honoring them.
I used to think having boundaries would make me a “bitch”, “unfeeling”, “selfish”, disliked, and many people unwittingly hold this false belief and distorted attitude about responsibility. Turns out it’s quite the opposite. Each of us is responsible for our OWN feelings, choices and behaviors. Boundaries are also an indication of your relationship with YOURSELF. If you are unable to set and honor boundaries, it is kind of a reflection on how you feel about YOURSELF, because in order to say to someone “ENOUGH!”, you must first believe that YOU are enough. Lack of personal boundaries indicates we have some work to do on how we feel about OURSELVES. This is also a big deal because our relationship with ourselves, sets the tone for every relationship we are in.
Dr. Brene’ Brown says that “Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves. Even when we risk disappointing others”. She additionally says that one of the greatest barriers to compassion is the fear of setting boundaries for ourselves and what we are willing to accept. When we fail to set boundaries, we end up feeling abused and mistreated. This is why we sometimes (or for me OFTEN!) we blame and attack who they are, which is far more hurtful than simply knowing what is true for us and honoring our own boundaries. We end up blaming and judging due to lack of boundaries and also to take the spotlight off of ourselves and dealing with the only thing we actually have any control over - ourselves.
When we don’t have or honor our boundaries, we tend to put meanings on things that put the other person or condition in the “wrong” somehow, to justify our unhappiness or hurt. My counselor, Joy, echoes all this research in what she suggests to me. It’s so interesting that when we get in a habit of being in the role of “Rescuer”, we sort of believe that the people we are saving aren’t capable of handling pain and disappointment. That we must protect them or not tell them what it really true for us, because we may hurt them and they somehow can’t handle that. Which is, of course, not true. When we don’t stand in our own light and speak our truth in an effort to “protect” someone, we rob them of an experience that they need to learn in order to be empowered. The tricky part is being able to witness the other person and how they experience our decisions without feeling responsible for the way they choose to feel or the meanings they put on our decisions. To quote Joy… “We need to focus on our own path even/especially when other people shake their heads and don’t understand it.” OH MY!!! I think I need to tweet that one out!
So boundaries are about COMPASSION. More research from Dr. Brown: The heart of compassion is really acceptance. The better we are at accepting ourselves and others, the more compassionate we become. It’s pretty difficult to accept people when they appear to be hurting us or taking advantage of us. If we want to practice compassion, we have to start by setting boundaries.
Buddhist nun Pema Chodron makes an amazing statement. She says that "the most boundaried people are the most compassionate". At first this seems counter-intuitive, yet if we think about what happens when we tolerate poor treatment, or put up with things that don’t feel good to us – we DO end up blaming, complaining about and judging people and situations and this puts us smack dab in the Victim role.
I’m thinking that boundaries require us to know what it important to us, what are our priorities? If feeling the highest feeling I possibly can emotionally is what is most important to me, what will I need to do to honor that priority for myself?
If your boundary question is around your role at work for example, consider what is the most important aspect of your role there? What is the priority of what you do and what you want? This will help you determine what your boundaries need to look like in order to contribute to the company and at the same time not take responsibility for things that are not your priority. I think it helps to remember that if you are feeling angry, resentful, or blaming that you need to tune into where you haven’t set a healthy boundary and then take responsibility for YOURSELF. It’s not about what someone else or a condition is doing TO you when you are being a CREATOR.
If you come at it from the aspect of all of us being "created in the image of", God is a CREATOR. So if we model that example, we would know that we don't need someone to behave in a certain way in order to experience our truth. We wouldn't rely on conditions to determine how we feel, we would CREATE our feeling state and learn to bring ourselves there independent of what is going on around us. We humans are quite that enlightened to be able to stay in that state, yet we can train ourselves to bring ourselves back to how we WANT to feel rather than think we are at the mercy of others or conditions.
Let my wake-up call be YOUR wake-up call. Simply notice when you are blaming or judging. Don’t kick your own butt for slipping into The Dreaded Dram Triangle or Victim orientation, just notice and choose again. Choose compassion and taking responsibility for your part in your relationships and situations. When you do this, you choose empowerment and that means you choose LOVE.
Sandy Edie Hansen
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