SURVIVOR PRO TIP: Don’t deal with anyone who doesn’t always treat you with respect or kindness. The first time you catch somebody being rude you may mute them in your brain. Get them out of your life. Do it with zeal and quickness. You need not buy into a negative comment to reject the one who made it. And I encourage you to do just that, move away from people who are hurtful no matter who they are or what role they play in your life. Don’t go away mad, just go away. Eventually you’ll only know nice people whose company you always enjoy.
The Magic of Boundaries
I’m still alive today because I learned to set boundaries with the people closest to me. It started small and evolved into me having no contact whatsoever with my family for about 30 years and counting. That process was painful as hell, but nowhere near as bad as remaining among them. I would’ve died long ago.
My life is beautiful now. Mean people can’t get near me and it’s bliss. That’s my second survivor pro tip below.
Ending up back in the garden, as I have, started with baby steps. But my awakening was an epiphany. I noticed my whole gene pool echoing that one excruciating word. Thinking back on it their faces are a swirling mass of rejection and disdain. I parted ways with my entire family to stop hearing the constant refrain of their passive-aggressive mantra:
Before then my brain couldn’t begin to heal, not until I became an [e]scape[d]goat. I would never have found my equanimity within my family’s context.
I noticed that my family loved my sensitivity when it was applied to their needs. It was only “hypersensitive” when it was about empathizing with me.
Rather than accepting a negative label I can simply decide that the other person and I are incompatible. We don’t want the same things. The more I gravitate away from such people and conversations, the more my process becomes one of creative preferences and choices. Now that I’ve found my equanimity life is about what excites me.
I’ve been in countless unhealthy relationships that I wanted to work out. I’ve taken classes and not put in adequate effort. I’ve made too many excuses for people and situations, putting up with less than I deserve and losing more self-respect each time.
I expect change without changing anything.
I think I struggle with this for a lot of reasons: my strong avoidance of conflict, my busyness, my need to fill my resume or my bank account, my internalized and unhelpful judgment of quitting.
But the thing is, those reasons mean nothing if I’m being mistreated or not taking full advantage of good opportunities. Those reasons mean nothing if I’m not implementing the change needed for my situation to improve.
And the thing is, I’m not quitting— I’m just not settling. I’m respecting my boundaries.
I say this with intentional conviction, but believe me, it is a process. It is a staircase in which I am still learning how to crawl.
After dealing with unhealthy relationships, experiences in which my boundaries were broken, struggles with invalidation, and desperate hopes that had no foundation, I found it hard to believe I was worthy of good things.
I felt like I was doomed to living in a world where I wouldn’t be respected, where I wouldn’t feel good enough, where I wouldn’t be able to fix the problems at hand.
I felt like I was doomed to being someone who’s “too nice” and gets taken advantage of, and who puts other people and harmony before her own wellbeing. I knew the saying about not being able to pour from an empty cup, but I either thought I somehow could or that I had no other option but to try.
I said “It’s totally fine!” when it wasn’t fine at all. I said “yes” when I knew I needed to say “no.” I invalidated my feelings and perceptions. I got lesser grades.
The consequences of me not standing up for myself fell right at my feet time and time again, but instead of feeling empowered to fix them, I felt powerless.
Looking back on those memories in a much better place now, I feel sad for my younger self. I feel for her, knowing how lonely she felt when she told everyone but herself that we are inherently worthy and that we deserve the best.
But then I remember the Sunday I sat on a bench outside of the Undergraduate Library when I was in college at UNC-Chapel Hill when I realized I am worth more than last-minute plans and being someone’s second choice. I remember realizing that all that I put up with was a sign of low self-respect and self-worth. I remember realizing the relationships and problems that had brought me to that point.
I felt overwhelmed and sad and alone, but I also felt empowered. Taking control and power back when people have taken them from you for so long simply feels different. I knew that I had a lot of hard work in front of me, but I also knew that I was much closer to where I wanted to be.
I want to encourage myself and others struggling to do this: be the person your younger self needed. Forget the past negative memories and self-image struggles, unless you’re thinking about how far you’ve come and how you want to move forward. Know you are inherently worthy of good things. Understand that it’s okay to not give people 100 percent of the benefit of the doubt all the time and that taking care of ourselves isn’t an option.
Ultimately, live by the Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
If you mess up, don’t give up. Push away thoughts of powerlessness and believe in your strength. If you don’t fix the problem where it’s at when it comes up, it will only get worse.
I know how you feel! I struggle too.